Earlier this week, Major League Soccer released the 2015 list for end-of-season awards, which included MVP, Coach of the Year and Rookie of the Year, among others.
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This is my would-be ballot for each of the top awards in 2015, with a little bit of reasoning included below…
Rookie of the Year — Cyle Larin, Orlando City SC
Larin, a 20-year-old rookie from the University of Connecticut (born in Brampton, Ontario), scored 17 goals and singlehandedly kept the expansion side alive in the playoff race until the final day of the regular season. There was no “hitting the rookie wall” for Larin, who only got stronger as the season went on (11 goals scored from July 26 on).
Runners-up: Matt Polster, Chicago Fire; Fatai Alashe, San Jose Earthquakes
Coach of the Year — Oscar Pareja, FC Dallas
With all due respect to Jesse Marsch, who became Red Bulls manager under difficult circumstances and went on to win the Supporters’ Shield, part of being a manager is also building something for the long term, not just the season at hand. 14 players appeared in more 20 or more league games this year for FCD — their average age: 25.4 years old. FCD not only missed out on the Supporters’ Shield by virtue of goal differential this year, but they’re also perfectly positioned to come right back and challenge for it again next year.
Runners-up: Jesse Marsch, New York Red Bulls; Carl Robinson, Vancouver Whitecaps
Defender of the Year — Kendall Waston, Vancouver Whitecaps
No team in MLS conceded fewer goals than the Whitecaps (36 in 34 games), and Waston, the Costa Rican behemoth that he is, was a vitally important piece of that defensive title. Since Waston arrived in MLS, he’s been the scariest defender in the league. This year, he combined that fear, his massive frame (6-foot-5, 195 pounds) and an aerial dominance maybe never before seen in MLS to anchor the best defense in the league.
Runners-up: Laurent Ciman, Montreal Impact; Matt Besler, Sporting Kansas City (not on list of nominees); Matt Hedges, FC Dallas
Goalkeeper of the Year — Bill Hamid, D.C. United
D.C. United conceded 43 goals on the season. Without Hamid between the sticks for 25 of their 34 games, that number could have easily been 55, or higher. Part of the allure to Hamid is that his midfield and defense was so bad by the end of the season that he was asked to make five, six, seven or eight spectacular saves each game. That shouldn’t take away from his resume, though, because he still made them in the end. Hamid was probably ready for regular minutes with the U.S. national team this time last year. He got very few in 2015, though he’s without a doubt ready to challenge Brad Guzan and Tim Howard for the starting job.
Goal of the Year — Krisztian Nemeth, Sporting Kansas City
Here’s the problem with the quality in MLS continuing to improve year after year: there are entirely too many great goals scored to pick just one. Nemeth’s marathon, twisting, turning, elusive, pinpoint tally against the Portland Timbers last month comes out on top for me, though, if only for 1) the number of players taken on in the build-up, and 2) the quality of said players — Diego Chara and Nat Borchers are borderline elite players at their respective positions. Nemeth was a delightful surprise in terms of a relatively unknown foreigner coming to MLS and regularly displaying this level of quality.
Landon Donovan MLS Most Valuable Player — Sebastian Giovinco, Toronto FC
22 goals and 15 assists (an MLS record for goals and assists combined in a single season)…in his debut MLS season. Need I say more? There’s also the undeniable fact that, without Giovinco, TFC get nowhere near the MLS Cup Playoffs this year (first berth in club history), while Columbus, Montreal and Kansas City are all borderline playoff teams without their respective MVP candidates. Giovinco’s the best player to ever do his thing in MLS, the first player in MLS history that could walk into the starting 11 of just about any title-contending team in Europe.