The 2019 Major League Soccer regular season concluded on Sunday, and all eyes are now on the MLS Cup Playoffs which begin on Oct. 19. Los Angeles FC is the clear favorite in the Western Conference, while the Eastern Conference is wide open as New York City FC has the No. 1 seed and Altanta United is eyeing a return to the final. But before then, it’s time to hand out some awards for top honors. You can find the list of candidates for each award here, and below you’ll get a look at my favorites for each award.
Most Valuable Player
Predicted winner: Carlos Vela, Los Angeles FC
Honorable mention: Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Los Angeles Galaxy), Maxi Moralez (New York City FC)
Why: How could it not be Vela? Sure, Ibrahimovic is the better player, but Vela had the better season. Hissaw him break Josef Martinez’s single-season goal-scoring record and set the bar high at 34 goals. It’s pretty clear-cut.
Defender of the Year
Predicted winner: Ike Opara, Minnesota United
Honorable mention: Omar Gonzalez (Toronto FC), Aaron Long (New York Red Bulls)
Why: It’s a tough award to pick sometimes because most of the salary in the league goes towards those in attack and midfield, and at times it hurts a bit of the quality of teams defensively. Just look at the Los Angeles Galaxy for example, who can put four past you but also concede five. But this year, I think Ike Opara deserves his second award. He looked sharp in his first season with Minnesota United and helped them get into the playoffs, while also showing his goal-scoring ability on set pieces. Minnesota is the third-best defense overall in the West.
Comeback player of the Year
Predicted winner: Jordan Morris, Seattle Sounders
Honorable mention: Roger Espinoza (Sporting Kansas City), Ethan Finlay (Minnesota United)
Why: Morris has come back strong from his serious knee injury to produce some dazzling performances, while also getting back into the United States men’s national team. He had just three goals in 25 games in 2017, missed all of last season and has come back strong with 10 goals in 25 games for Seattle this season. He also played 10 times for the USMNT this year.
Goalkeeper of the Year
Predicted winner: Sean Johnson, New York City FC
Honorable mention: Bill Hamid (D.C. United), Jesse Gonzalez (FC Dallas)
Why: Hamid likely doesn’t win this award since he joined only in August, yet he had some absolutely world-class saves. Johnson, meanwhile, has been a mainstay at NYCFC for the second-best defense in the Eastern Conference. The 30-year-old is as acrobatic as they come, thrives in one-on-ones and has his team in a spot to possible win its first MLS Cup this season.
Newcomer of the Year
Predicted winner: Heber, New York City FC
Honorable mention: Cristian Pavon (Los Angeles Galaxy), Brian Fernandez (Portland Timbers)
Why: Fifteen goals in his first season for NYCFC has helped this team earn the No. 1 seed in the East, and he’s quickly gotten on the same page as the team’s creator Maxi Moralez. Together, they form one of the top attacking duos in the league. His 15 goals have come in just 21 games.
Coach of the Year
Predicted winner: Bob Bradley, Los Angeles FC
Honorable mention: Bruce Arena (New England Revolution), Domenec Torrent (New York City FC)
Why: Arena deserves the award because he inherited a terrible situation in New England and managed to get them into the playoffs. That said, it’s really tough not to go with Bradley. LAFC set a league record with 72 points and is far and away the favorite to win it all. He’s gotten a lot of his signings right and currently has his team in an amazing spot, not just this season but for the future.