TORONTO, ON – MAY 07: Sebastian Giovinco #10 of Toronto FC dribbles the ball during the first half of an MLS soccer game against FC Dallas at BMO Field on May 7, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)

Picking the MLS award race and the MLS Best XI for 2016

We’re in the middle of the MLS Cup playoffs now, but we’re also in the middle of award season. MLS released the finalists for their end of year awards and there are fierce debates all over soccer twitter since. Debates about who should win MVP, Coach of the Year, Rookie of the Year, and other major awards. I don’t have a vote to help decide who actually wins these trophies, but I can give you my opinions. So here we go:


MVP: Sebastian Giovinco (Toronto FC)

The MVP race comes down to an elite group of six players: Giovinco, Bradley Wright-Phillips, Sacha Kljestan, David Villa, Ignacio Piatti, and Mauro Diaz. The first four are the players who will mainly contend for the award.

There definite arguments for all of these players. BWP won the Golden Boot; Kljestan finished with an incredible 20 assists (and played a big role in Wright-Phillips’s Golden Boot); Villa was right there with BWP in the scoring race; Piatti often single handedly carried Montreal with 17 goals and six assists; and Diaz was the best player on the best team in the league.

But it’s Giovinco who wins my vote. The Atomic Ant should repeat as Most Valuable Player. And somehow, Giovinco isn’t even a finalist.

Giovinco finished with the most impressive raw statistics of any player in serious contention — with 17 goals and 15 assists, numbers that would be higher if he hadn’t gotten hurt for the entire month of September — but the reason he should be crowned as MVP is because of how much he does for Toronto FC. Greg Vanney bases his entire system off of Giovinco’s ability to do pretty much everything.

He plays as a second forward next to Jozy Altidore and basically runs around and drags defenders all over the place for the entirety of games. He’ll drop back and hit exquisite balls through the channels; he’ll fire off wicked shots from every possible angle; he will make creative runs through gaps on the ball and off the ball; and he will sprint past teams on the counter thanks in part to the balance provided by his diminutive stature.

There’s really nothing he can’t do in the attack. Because of this, he is crucial to everything TFC does.

Other contenders: Wright-Phillips, Kljestan, Villa


Coach of the Year: Pablo Mastroeni (Colorado Rapids)

This might be the award that sparks the most debate out of all of them. Coach of the Year will come down to FC Dallas’s Oscar Pareja and Colorado’s Pablo Mastroeni, and it is a really tough decision.

Pareja took a team that he built and put it in the best possible position, leading them to both a US Open Cup win and a Supporters’ Shield win. Mastroeni coaches a team that he ruined last year but fixed this year to second place in the Western Conference after finishing last in 2015. I love Oscar Pareja and all he’s done for FC Dallas, but I have to go with Mastroeni on this one.

Colorado were able to do so well this season because of the performances of players who we never thought would be at the forefront of a Shield-contending team. Players like Sam Cronin, Axel Sjoberg, Mekeil Williams, Michael Azira, and Marlon Hairston were improved greatly by their coach. Mastroeni made a team of journeyman veterans and career substitutes into a well-rounded, defensively dominant club that has a real shot at a trophy.

Other contenders: Oscar Pareja, Patrick Viera


Newcomer of the Year: Nicolas Lodeiro (Seattle Sounders)

I went over the contenders for this award a lot more in-depth a couple weeks ago on, and the conclusion I came to was that Nicolas Lodeiro should be the Newcomer of the Year.

He stepped directly into the Sounders lineup and in late July and immediately put himself at the top of the list for MLS No. 10s. The Uruguayan gave Seattle the chance-creation they never really had and pretty much single handedly drove the Sounders back into the playoffs. For more on Lodeiro, read the article I linked to above.

Other contenders: Jelle Van Damme, Carlos Gruezo


Rookie of the Year: Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders)

It took me a while to decide who I was going to pick for this award. Jordan Morris and Keegan Rosenberry both have such great cases to win this award that it’s basically a 50-50 decision.

But it’s Morris who I went with, and no, the fact that he plays forward was not the deciding factor. He scored 12 goals this season and kept Seattle afloat long enough in the first half of the season to allow them sign Lodeiro and be able to storm back across that red line. The former Stanford prodigy got himself into goal-scoring positions over and over again, and I think his finishing concerns are way overblown.

Morris finished 10th in MLS in Expected Goals, per American Soccer Analysis, with 13.05. His pace and tactical movement both proved to be valuable elements of his ever-evolving game, and he was a huge threat on the counter-attack thanks to that pace and his ability to run with the ball at his feet. He should be taking Chris Wondolowski’s spot on the USMNT permanently any day now.

The case for Rosenberry is considerably less flashy than Morris’s. The right-back will almost certainly earn a best XI place (if the formation is four-in-the-back, which it should be) thanks to several important defensive traits: 1v1 defending, run-tracking, passing out of the back, and selectiveness going forward. He played every minute of every game — the only other players to do that were goalkeepers Luis Robles and Joe Bendik — and managed to continue to be elite at the above criteria every match, some games better than others.

The reason Morris wins is mainly because 1) Rosenberry hit a sharp decline at some points later in the season and 2) Philly’s defense was never all that good, and Rosenberry was not a difference-maker. Morris was a difference-maker, and by the way, he made an appearance in all 34 games, starting 32. That’s why he should be Rookie of the Year, if only by the slightest margin.

Other contenders: Rosenberry, Jack Harrison, Brandon Vincent


Defender of the Year: Matt Hedges (FC Dallas)

This is another award that has no clear-cut answer. There are a variety of contenders across the league for this award, and they all will probably get plenty of votes.

Matt Hedges is the best of them, though. He is arguably the best in MLS in the air, he can defend 1v1, he can cut off passing lanes with the best of them, and he is a better passer than most give him credit for. He can exploit space in the back and advance play forward, and he almost never makes a mistake. Hedges is a well-rounded center back who has proven himself to be the best in the league.

His teammate, Walker Zimmerman, is among those who also has a realistic shot at the award. It’s even possible that they both make the best XI.

Jelle Van Damme of the Galaxy is a similar player in that he is elite in the air and can dribble the ball up the field like a midfielder. He will also have a chance, as will Drew Moor, Axel Sjoberg, Rosenberry, and Justin Morrow.

Other contenders: Zimmerman, Van Damme, Moor, Marshall


Goalkeeper of the Year: Jake Gleeson (Portland Timbers)

I don’t think Jake Gleeson will be voted Goalkeeper of the Year because Andre Blake and David Bingham appear to be the players getting the vast majority of votes, but I think he should win.

Stepping into the Timbers lineup in mid-April after Adam Kwarsey went down with a finger injury, Gleeson ripped the job away from the incumbent Kwarsey, who ended up being sold Norwegian club Rosenborg. The New Zealander certainly should be the top player in his national team’s pool, especially given their keeper’s error-prone performance against the US in an October friendly.

Gleeson has struggled dealing with set pieces at times and has made a couple of crucial mistakes (most notably against the Whitecaps on May 7), but more often than not, he’s stood on his head.

He’s made too many incredible diving saves to count, and his reactions are among the best in the league. He is fearless coming off his line in 1v1 situations, he has strong hands, and he has saved a number of points for Portland.

Other contenders: Blake, Nick Rimando, Luis Robles


Comeback Player of the Year: Kevin Molino (Orlando City SC)

Coming off of a devastating season-ending ACL tear last year, the Trinidadian-international has had a magnificent season for Orlando City, putting up 11 goals and 8 assists in a free-roaming attacking role.

Molino is a dynamic, skillful attacker who excels in 1v1 situations and is getting increasingly good at coming up with that final ball. He’s a deserving winner, but there aren’t a whole lot of candidates for this award.


Best XI (4-4-2):

GK: Jake Gleeson

RB: Keegan Rosenberry

CB: Matt Hedges

CB: Jelle Van Damme

LB: Justin Morrow

CDM: Osvaldo Alonso

CM: Sacha Kljestan

LM: Ignacio Piatti

RM: Sebastian Giovinco

FW: Bradley Wright-Phillips

FW: David Villa

The only player who isn’t playing the correct position is Giovinco, who is a second striker for TFC, but I’m sure he can just as easily play on the wing.


Best XI No. 2 (4-4-2):

GK: Andre Blake

LB: Ronald Matarrita

CB: Drew Moor

CB: Walker Zimmerman

RB: Harrison Afful

CDM: Carlos Gruezo

CAM: Mauro Diaz

RM: Diego Valeri

LM: Joao Plata

FW: Dom Dwyer

FW: Ola Kamara

I know Diego Valeri plays in the middle, but he deserves a spot, and there weren’t any wingers who were going to take it from him.


Rookie best XI (4-4-2)

GK: Andrew Tarbell

LB: Brandon Vincent

CB: Jonathan Campbell

CB: Joshua Yaro

RB: Keegan Rosenberry

RM: Alex Muyl

LM: Jack Harrison

CM: Tsubasa Endoh

CM: Julian Buescher

FW: Jordan Morris

FW: Fabian Herbers

It was a good year for MLS rookies. It says a lot about this crop of rookies that you can make a full best XI made up of only first-year players.

About Harrison Hamm

Sports stuff for The Comeback. Often will write about MLS. Follow me on twitter @harrisonhamm21.