MLS End-of-Season Awards, Best XI Picks

Posted By Harrison Hamm on October 8, 2019

With the end of the MLS regular season, it’s now Awards Time. And with a full international break to sit through until the playoffs start, we have plenty of time to argue about the races.

Let’s get right into it.

MLS Most Valuable Player

  1. Carlos Vela (LAFC)
  2. Josef Martinez (Atlanta United)
  3. Zlatan Ibrahimovic (LA Galaxy)
Nobody will argue that record-setting Carlos Vela is MLS MVP of 2019.

I don’t think I really have to defend myself here. Everyone is going to pick Vela. The man had 34 goals and 15 assists on the best team in league history. He is the best player MLS has ever seen and he has no competition for this award.

Most people will have Josef and Zlatan behind Vela. For fear of over-valuing goal-scoring, I considered for a brief second throwing a guy like Maxi Moralez or Eduard Atuesta here over Ibrahimovic, who negatively impacts his team more than an MVP candidate should. But both Martinez and Ibra had incredible scoring seasons, and established a clear elite tier alongside Vela, the likes of which MLS has never seen.

MLS Goalkeeper of the Year

  1. Matt Turner (New England Revolution)
  2. Daniel Vega (San Jose Earthquakes)
ATLANTA, GA OCTOBER 06: New England goalkeeper Matt Turner (30) makes a save during the MLS match between the New England Revolution and Atlanta United FC on October 6th, 2019 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, GA. (Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

This is a tough award. Turner was fantastic this season, but he played only 20 games thanks to injuries and the bumbling incompetence of Brad Friedel. There is a reasonable argument that a keeper has to play more games to see serious consideration for this award, barring some otherworldly performance.

I settled on Turner after considering the other options, none of which were enticing. Brad Guzan and Stefan Frei, two stalwarts, weren’t good enough. It would have been tough to seriously consider a guy like Tyler Miller, despite his team’s success. Analytically, Steve Clark and David Bingham are near the top, but neither really inspires confidence.

Choosing Nick Rimando as a sort of legacy award was the closest I came to usurping Turner. Rimando has somehow never won a GKOTY, and while his final season wouldn’t normally merit this award on its own, Rimando might be the best keeper in league history. Given the lack of clear favorites, Rimando isn’t a terrible choice.

After last year’s Zack Steffen-Frei debacle (in which Frei should have easily won), I couldn’t bring myself to give the award to someone who hasn’t been the best goalkeeper in the league. Thus, I come to Turner, who was certainly the best in the league this year, despite his smaller sample of games. Turner blows his competition away statistically with an outrageous -10.14 g-xG figure, meaning he’s making tougher saves than other keepers.

The Revs would not have made the postseason without Turner’s performance in the last stretch of the season, adding a certain layer of importance to his argument. Turner was clutch and crucial to his team’s performance.

Vega isn’t my favorite candidate, but he performs well by the underlying metrics. The Quakes improved dramatically, despite their late-season collapse.

MLS Defender of the Year

  1. Walker Zimmerman (LAFC)
  2. Ike Opara (Minnesota United)
HARRISON, NEW JERSEY- August 5: Walker Zimmerman #25 of Los Angeles FC in action during the New York Red Bulls Vs Los Angeles FC MLS regular season game at Red Bull Arena on August 5, 2018 in Harrison, New Jersey. (Photo by Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images)

Some have started to favor Opara and Atlanta’s Miles Robinson over Zimmerman, but I’m still leaning toward LAFC’s rock. However, I will concede that Zimmerman has not been quite as good in the second half of the season as he was in the first. A mistake-free, comfortable-on-the-ball force for such a dominant team is hard to pass over.

Opara and Robinson are both worthy contenders. Opara, especially, has a very good chance of winning for a second time, and he would be deserving.

Shout-out to all the fullbacks are consistently snubbed for this award. American Soccer Analysis made the case for Jorge Moreira, and while I can’t quite get there, I understand their case.

MLS Rookie of the Year

  1. Brenden Aaronson (Philadelphia Union)
  2. Hassani Dotson (Minnesota United)
CHESTER, PA – MAY 29: Philadelphia Union Midfielder Brenden Aaronson (22) dribbles the ball during the second half of the MLS match between the Colorado Rapids and the Philadelphia Union on May 29, 2019, at Talen Energy Stadium in Chester, PA. (Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

There are numerous good Rookie of the Year candidates this year. Aaronson, who has been a critical part of the Philadelphia Union’s success, is the best pick. He has excelled as an attacking midfielder, and has pushed star DP Marco Fabian out of the lineup.

Dotson has been a consistent starter for Minnesota. He’s worn a number of important hats for them, and the Loons’ success helps his case.

Shout-out to Andre Shinyashiki, who came close. Shinyashiki appeared in 31 games and scored seven goals for the revitalized Rapids. I also would have considered Keaton Parks, if I were convinced that he’s eligible for this award.

MLS Newcomer of the Year

  1. Carles Gil (New England Revolution)
  2. Heber (NYCFC)
FOXBOROUGH, MA – SEPTEMBER 29: New England Revolution forward Carles Gil (22) reacts as a ball gets away during a match between the New England Revolution and New York City FC on September 29, 2019, at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Gil and Heber are the consensus favorites for this award. Orlando City’s Nani wasn’t too far off here; OCSC’s lack of success pretty much eliminated him. Cristian Espinoza would have had a better shot if San Jose hadn’t lost their last six games and choked away their playoff chances.

Heber was close. It’s true that his arrival as a No. 9 was a huge reason for NYCFC’s spring revival, but when Valentin Castellanos had to fill in up top as a result of Heber absences, NYC fared similarly.

Gil started all 34 of New England’s game, an impressive feat. 10 goals and 14 assists is a good haul, and Gil has been the Revs’ best player all season.

MLS Coach of the Year

  1. Bob Bradley (LAFC)
  2. Jim Curtain (Philadelphia Union)
KANSAS CITY, KS – JULY 03: Los Angeles FC head coach Bob Bradley in the first half of an MLS match between LAFC and Sporting Kansas City on July 03, 2019 at Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City, KS. (Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

These Coach of the Year awards tend to go to managers who turn bad teams around.

There are the usual slate of candidates who tout their club’s turnaround as their COTY case, but Bradley deserves this award over all of them. His LAFC, as we’ve mentioned plenty of times already, dominated the league. Bradley’s ability to develop players internally (Mark-Anthony Kaye, Latif Blessing, etc.) and maximize the tools at his disposal allowed LA to grow as much as they did.

Curtain improved as a tactician, successfully adjusting the Union’s formations and set-ups throughout the season. He crafted a team-oriented approach and integrated youth, deepening Philly’s player pool. He deserves second-place here.

Matias Almeyda, who completely turned the San Jose Earthquakes around, would probably have been here if not for the Quakes’ aforementioned collapse. Bruce Arena, Dome Torrent, and Luchi Gonzalez are also hanging around this race.

MLS Best XI of 2019

My only questions on this XI came with the full backs and in the midfield. Kai Wagner, Philly’s stalwart, deserves the left back spot. (I also had a hard time finding another deserving left back.) Anton Tinnerholm has long been underrated at right back. He is effective as a possession option in the final third for NYCFC.

Moralez and Eduard Atuesta weren’t difficult choices. Moralez is one of the more important players for his team in MLS, and Atuesta has by this point made a compelling case as the best d-mid in MLS. Darlington Nagbe has had a career year in Atlanta. The front three writes itself.

Shout-out to Jonathan dos Santos, Latif Blessing, Mark-Anthony Kaye, Miles Robinson, and Gil.

Onto the playoffs.

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