In the past few years, MLS’s Newcomer of the Year award has been a good barometer of who the best teams and players in the league are. For a stretch of time in the second half of the 2010s, it was passed around among MVP-level superstars: Sebastian Giovinco, Nicolas Lodeiro, Miguel Almiron, and Zlatan Ibrahimovic won it from 2015-18. Last year, it was Lucas Zelarayan, who helped lead Columbus to an MLS Cup championship.
The award honors the best new transfer who arrives in MLS with professional experience. Introduced in 2007, it has always been given to an attacker up to this point.
I wouldn’t expect the run of attackers to end any time soon. While it’s always been hard to predict how new transfers will perform in their first seasons in MLS, let’s take a look at some candidates to watch this year.
Rodrigo Pineiro, Nashville SC
We’ll start with more of a dark horse. Pineiro is a 21-year-old winger who joins a really solid Nashville squad entering its second season in MLS. If he turns out to be their best attacker and produces at a high level, he could be part of a team that finishes high in the standings. That’s a good formula for winning this award.
Pineiro came up through top Uruguayan club Penarol, which produced Diego Rossi and Brian Rodriguez, and put up good numbers in 2020 for Danubio FC. He was teammates with Rossi and Rodriguez on Uruguay’s U-20 team. Nashville already has three DP attackers (Jhonder Cadiz, Randall Leal, Hany Mukhtar), and Pineiro will look to put them over the top.
Alexandre Pato, Orlando City SC
It won’t be easy to replace Daryl Dike, but Pato has a good chance to be a quality center forward for Orlando, who also decided not to re-sign Dom Dwyer. Pato is the opposite of Pineiro: he’s on the older side (31) and has an extensive club reputation, playing for six years as a high profile player at AC Milan before playing for clubs like Chelsea, Villareal, and Sao Paulo.
He may not have completely fulfilled the potential many assigned to him when he was younger, but he tore it up in a stint in the Chinese SuperLeague and has stuck around all these years for a reason. He joins a well-coached Orlando team on the come-up.
There’s a chance, theoretically, that Dike returns from a loan to Barnsley in the summer, but the way that Dike’s been performing in the Championship means that Orlando is more likely to accept a giant bid from a bigger club before Dike returns, clearing the way for Pato.
Brenner, FC Cincinnati
We should note that FC Cincinnati has rarely had success signing players. In their short time in MLS, they’ve become notorious for missing on signings. Brenner could be different. Their offseason was a mixed bag, but Brenner could prove a big step forward for the club. Cincinnati had to shell out for the striker.
Brenner is young, just 21, but he is as highly-touted as they come. He scored 21 goals in 39 appearances (30 starts) for Sao Paulo, including four goals in six games in continental competitions. The man knows how to score goals, and he did it at the top level in South America. We’ll see how he translates to America, but one would expect him to keep up this level of production.
Cincinnati surrounded him with Luciano Acosta, who returns to MLS after a year at Atlas, and winger Isaac Atanga, an under-the-radar promising signing. Acosta has been mediocre for most of his MLS career outside of one elite season with D.C. United in 2018, coinciding with Wayne Rooney’s arrival. Brenner could be that sort of force for Acosta and FCC.
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