Picking the most deserving MLS award winners

Posted By Harrison Hamm on November 17, 2020

MLS officially unveiled the finalists for their 2020 awards last week, and we already know the results for a couple of them.

Diego Rossi is Young Player of the Year, for one, and Andre Blake won Goalkeeper of the Year on Monday.

But we can still evaluate all of the awards, even the ones that have already been confirmed, and predict winners for those that haven’t. I’m only ranking the finalists, even if I think other players were more deserving.

Goalkeeper of the Year

  1. Matt Turner, Revolution
  2. Andre Blake, Union
  3. Eloy Room, Crew

It was a good year for goalkeepers. There were a handful of good contenders for this award, which does not always happen. But Blake won in a landslide, a decision that seems to have stemmed from basic goalkeeper statistics: goals-against-average and shutouts. But those are, mostly, team statistics. 

The best goalkeeper statistic we have (publically-available) is American Soccer Analysis’s goals-minus-expected goals, which helps us understand how well a goalkeeper performed relative to the shots that he faced. Turner, as he always does, dominated this category. His figure of -7.27 was easily the best in the league this year, a full two goals ahead of NYCFC’s Sean Johnson. Blake landed at a respectable -2.26. 

I wouldn’t trust that stat completely, but Turner has the eye-popping saves and game-saving performances that Blake does. His performance has been crucial for his team, which relies on its defense to win games. Blake, somehow, was a finalist for MVP because MLS award voters can be misguided. It seems that Blake, who has been elite this year, is being overly credited with the Union’s Supporters’ Shield win.

Room was great, but he missed time with injury and finished below both Turner and Blake in G-xG.

Defender of the Year

  1. Walker Zimmerman, Nashville SC
  2. Mark McKenzie, Union
  3. Jonathan Mensah, Crew

As often happens with this award, a full back was snubbed. NYCFC’s Anton Tinnerholm should probably be second here (or arguably first), but most voters can’t stomach putting a fullback on their list for whatever reason, so he missed out. 

Zimmerman is a shoo-in. He has a more credible MVP case than Blake, as he’s pulled a lot of the defensive weight for Nashville, an expansion team that stayed afloat with defensive competency. McKenzie has a pretty solid case, being an elite starting center back on a Shield-winning team. Mensah’s Crew got off to a ridiculous defensive start, but tailed off as the season went along. This award will be Zimmerman’s.

Newcomer of the Year

  1. Robert Beric, Fire
  2. Lucas Zelarayan, Crew
  3. Alan Pulido, Sporting KC

Zelarayan officially won this award already, despite losing the media vote handily. I’d have voted for Beric, who played 1,000 more minutes this season than both Zelarayan and Pulido, and scored 12 goals as the heartbeat of a disjointed Chicago Fire team. Zelarayan had six goals and four assists for the third-place Crew, playing as their No. 10, and Pulido had six goals and five assists in just 962 minutes.

Beric was more important for his team and played way more often. He was the right call here.

Coach of the Year

  1. Jim Curtin, Union
  2. Oscar Pareja, Orlando City
  3. Greg Vanney, Toronto FC

I debated between Curtin and Pareja for the top spot. They both have credible cases, Curtin as the coach of the regular season’s best team, and Pareja as the leader of Orlando City’s dramatic turnaround this year. I went with Curtin because the Union won the Shield despite not having the sort of star players that Shield winners usually have. He deserves a lot of credit for maximizing his players and implementing a system that maximizes all of their talents. 

Most Valuable Player

  1. Alejandro Pozuelo, Toronto FC
  2. Nicolas Lodeiro, Sounders
  3. Diego Rossi, LAFC
  4. Jordan Morris, Sounders
  5. Andre Blake, Union

I took a much closer look at this award in late October. I had Pozuelo as the winner then, and I imagine that he will take home this award. I had Zimmerman second (he wasn’t a finalist) and Rossi third. It’s a tough award this year, with no one really jumping out as a dominant winner and fewer players making credible cases down the ballot. 

Pozuelo is a deserving winner. I went with Lodeiro second because he is still everything for the Sounders, playing big minutes and controlling play. Rossi and Morris are fair choices as finalists. I remain surprised that Blake snuck in here.

Harrison Hamm Avatar
Written by
Harrison Hamm

View all posts by Harrison Hamm
Privacy Policy