Awards season is nearly upon us in MLS, with official voting for the league’s 2019 awards already over. To get ready for the real deal, and to have the local experts, our MLS team bloggers, weigh in, we took our own vote and here’s the results. We threw in a few new categories, too.
MVP: Carlos Vela, LAFC
No surprise here, as the Mexican attacker who broke the league’s single-season scoring record (34 goals) while also notching 15 assists on the team that won the Supporters’ Shield was a nearly unanimous pick from our voters. The only player who got a first-choice vote other than Vela was his crosstown rival, the LA Galaxy’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic, although Vela was on every voter’s ballot. Both Josef Martinez and Maxi Moralez were popular second-choice picks for MVP.
Defender of the Year: Ike Opara, Minnesota United
Often, Defender of the Year goes to a leading defender on the team that conceded the fewest goals, but a different kind of logic was at work here. Opara joined in the offseason from Sporting KC, who had their worst season in nearly a decade, partly because Opara had left. Meanwhile, Minnesota’s defensive record was substantially better, as they conceded 28 fewer goals in 2019 than the season before, going from “hovering around breaking the record for most goals given up in a season” to “top half defense, capable of getting some results.” As always, it was a team effort, but the stark difference in two clubs with and without Opara made him a landslide pick. LAFC’s Walker Zimmerman and Atlanta United’s Miles Robinson were distant contenders for this honor in the eyes of our voters.
Newcomer of the Year: Heber, New York City FC
The Brazilian striker was transferred from a Croatian club near the beginning of the season, the kind of inauspicious transfer that led most to think he’d be a supporting piece at best for NYCFC. But Heber led NYCFC in scoring with 15 goals and on a team built to spread the scoring load around, he was the attacker who took on the greatest burden in the goals department. The only other player who gave Heber a run in this category was New England Revolution playmaker Carles Gil.
Comeback Player of the Year: Jordan Morris, Seattle Sounders
This award, perhaps the most confusing of MLS offerings (is it for players who overcome something extraordinary? Players who got hurt and are now well? Players who stunk last season and were good this season?) did not go to the player who survived cancer, D.C. United defender Chris Odoi-Atsem, who did get a few votes, but rather to Seattle Sounders attacker Jordan Morris, who missed the entire 2018 MLS season with a torn ACL. Morris did have arguably a career year (10 G, 7 A), while playing a new position, and he played his best at the end of the season. The other contender for this award among our voters was from a similar vein, LAFC midfielder Mark-Anthony Kaye, who came back from a broken ankle last year.
Goalkeeper of the Year: Bill Hamid, D.C. United
Ending the season with five consecutive clean sheets is a great way to boost your GK of the Year case, and that’s just what Hamid did, making him the clear pick among our voting panel. D.C. allowed the second-fewest goals, behind LAFC, and Hamid played all but one game, while LAFC used a platoon.
Top U-20 Player: Paxton Pomykal, FC Dallas
Instead of going with “Rookie of the Year,” which is becoming an increasingly arbitrary award in MLS, SB Nation opted to go for best young player. FC Dallas’ star midfielder – likely bound for Europe in a year or two – edged just ahead of a few other players, Philadelphia Union midfielder Brenden Aaronson, Pomykal’s versatile FCD teammate Jesus Ferreira, and mercurial Atlanta United midfielder Ezequiel Barco.
Top Domestic Player: Mark-Anthony Kaye, LAFC
Another SB Nation special category, the somewhat surprising winner in the award for best American or Canadian player in MLS is that a Canadian won, as Kaye narrowly beat out Morris for the honor. Sure, a Canadian has won MLS MVP before, but it’s still a bit of an upset, even though the men’s national team programs are at their closest point in decades.
Breakout Player: Heber, NYCFC
Heber just took this prize ahead of defender Miles Robinson, perhaps the player who got the most out of Frank de Boer replacing Tata Martino in Atlanta.
Coach of the Year: Bob Bradley, LAFC
Like Vela, Bradley was a near-unanimous first pick for this award, which makes sense considering LAFC won the Supporters’ Shield, broke the league’s points record (72), broke the record for biggest goal difference (+48) and tied one of the marks previously believed unbreakable, the 1998 LA Galaxy’s goals mark (85). Bradley still gets a lot of grief in global soccer for his brief tenure managing Swansea City and in American soccer for the end of his stint running the U.S. Men’s National Team, but unlike a lot of coaches, he’s grown over the past 20 years. If you don’t pay close attention to how LAFC plays and think you know him, think again.
Storyline of the Year: LAFC
The best player and the best team breaking records all over the place made LAFC the top story among voters. Other smaller narratives within that: Vela turning down a chance to return to play for the Mexico national team, seemingly content to live the good life in LA, Zlatan negging on Vela every chance he had, and Bradley successfully pulling off the strategy of playing no “pure” holding midfielder in Year 2, instead making all midfielders play a full two-way game, something that had been unheard of in MLS.
2019 Best XI
F: Josef Martinez (Atlanta United)
F: Zlatan Ibrahimovic (LA Galaxy)
F: Carlos Vela (LAFC)
M: Maxi Moralez (NYCFC)
M: Eduard Atuesta (LAFC)
M: Mark-Anthony Kaye (LAFC)
M: Alejandro Pozuelo (Toronto FC)
D: Ike Opara (Minnesota United)
D: Miles Robinson (Atlanta United)
D: Ryan Hollingshead (FC Dallas)
GK: Bill Hamid (D.C. United)