World soccer being such the transient place it is, there are always abundant choices for Newcomer of the Year in MLS, where players come and go like it was taco night in the dorm cafeteria.
This year is no different. And so far, we don’t have a choice that’s obvious as two soccer balls on the field, as we did last year in Columbus’ Federico Higuain.
So, here goes our best effort to sort out this one. (Fifteen rounds of play remain … a lot could happen, including introductions of new players from the summer transfer season.)
My pick is: New England’s Jose Goncalves
First up, you say it “gon-SAL-vez.” I mean, if the guy is going to win a major award, we probably should know how to say his name.
Any way you say it, he’s way up in the conversation. New England was hanging on in matches in the season’s early days even though they needed about three games just to score once. A big part of the reason was Goncalves’ steady work in the back. Even now, New England’s 14 goals allowed is best in MLS.
More than just the body of work at center back, Goncalves is helping tudor some of the Revs’ promising young talent in the back, like rookie right back Andrew Farrell and converted midfielder Stephen McCarthy.
Others to monitor over the final 15 rounds (in alphabetical order):
- Vancouver Whitecaps Nigel Reo Coker
- FC Dallas Raul Fernandez
- FC Dallas’ Michel
- Sporting Kansas City’s Claudio Bieler
- Portland Timber’s Diego Valeri
- New England Revolution’s Diego Fagundez
There are certainly already some comparisons between new Premier League record holder Jamie Vardy and fictional Santiago Munez from the “Goal!” movies.
But that isn’t going to stop “Goal” screenwriter Adrian Butchart from heading to Tinseltown and pitching the Vardy story as a basis for a new film, according to The Sun.
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And he’s got a who’s who of young actors in mind for the role of Vardy.
From The Sun:
Butchart believes Hollywood A-listers Robert Pattinson, Andrew Garfield and Zac Efron all have potential to fill Vardy’s boots in a film version of his life.
Unfortunately, they don’t ask Butchart who should play Claudio Ranieri, or Ruud van Nistelrooy.
Fortunately, we’re here with our cast (The first one is easy):
Aaron Paul as Vardy.
Robert Downey, Jr. as Van Nistelrooy.
James Franco as Riyad Mahrez.
Tommy Lee Jones as Ranieri.
Ryan Gosling as Kaspar Schmeichel.
Liam Neeson as Nigel Pearson.
And Danny Drinkwater as himself.
The Eastern Conference’s second-stingiest team is looking to enhance its already-strong back line.
Joining MLS Best XI defender Laurent Ciman could be Siaka Tiene, a longtime international teammate of Didier Drogba on the Ivory Coast squad.
[ MORE: Timbers hold off Dallas | Crew advances past RBNY ]
The 96-times capped Tiene will be 34 when next season starts, but will have fresh legs having not played since last season ended for Montpellier.
MLSSoccer.com does the translation work for us:
A report from RDS.ca states that the Impact have signed 33-year-old left back Siaka Tiéné, an Ivory Coast international who boasts World Cup and African Cup of Nations experience.
Aside from Ciman, Ambroise Oyongo is the only Impact back currently under contract.
Tiene played relatively well last season, but was limited to just 17 appearances in Ligue 1.
Phil Neville is one stroke of the pen from opening his full managerial career at a vaunted La Liga stop, with a club in the group stage of the UEFA Champions League.
Nuno Espirito Santo stepped down from his manager’s role at Valencia on Sunday, with the Bats in ninth place, five points outside the Top Four.
[ MORE: La Liga & Serie A roundup | Bundesliga wrap ]
In his place in former Manchester United and Everton legend Neville, who will take charge of the team in the interim.
As weird as it would be to give the job to a man who has only led Salford City — a club he co-owns — on a caretaker basis, the hire would be no weirder than Tim Sherwood being allowed to run Tottenham Hotspur.
Would it be a surprise, given the time of season, if Neville was at least given through the end of the year?
And consider, from the BBC:
The club’s Singaporean owner, Peter Lim, has a stake in Salford City, the non-league club co-owned by Neville with his former Manchester United team-mates Ryan Giggs, Gary Neville and Paul Scholes.
Valencia needs to beat Lyon in its final UCL Group H game, and hope Gent draws or loses at home to first-place Zenit Saint-Petersburg. Otherwise, it’s on to the Europa League.
Midway through the season, it was reasonable to question whether Caleb Porter could hang onto his job as Portland Timbers coach. With two games to play in the regular season, the Timbers were on the verge of missing the playoffs entirely, that job status still hung in the balance.
[ MORE: Timbers hold off Dallas | Crew advances past RBNY ]
Yet, this is Major League Soccer, where anything is possible. “Hot at the right time” is a mantra, and Portland hasn’t tasted defeat since early October. The Timbers are 6W-2T since losing to Sporting KC on Oct. 3.
Whether that’s “more exciting” than another league’s system is a conversation for another day, because today’s conversation is about what Porter and the Timbers have done in rising to within 90 minutes of an MLS title.
“When we started the year, we wanted to get into the playoffs and win a trophy,” Timbers head coach Caleb Porter said in his post game comments outside a champagne and beer-drenched locker room. “That was the goal, and here we are. We’ve won one, and now we want to win the big one. So it’s very satisfying.”
And that’s the thing: You just have to get in. I imagine most Portland fans aren’t thinking, “Does this feel good in relation to how it would feel if we went wire-to-wire as champions?” They are thinking, “This feels good.”
The Timbers just needed to get in. Columbus, too. And now they are playing for a title with some of the better all-around players in the league, running the gamut from veteran savvy (Nat Borchers) to youthful flair (Lucas Melano).