2019 MLS Awards showcase both new and familiar names
(Photo: Erik Drost/Flickr)
by Russell Varner
Without an MLS team to follow in Charlotte (yet), we here at the Chronicle want to spend the next, oh, fourteen months or so, introducing you to the league as a whole. This week, we look at six players and a coach you really should know about: the winners of the 2019 MLS Awards.
Most Valuable Player - Carlos Vela (LAFC)
Like there was any doubt. Yes, Atl*nta's Josef Martinez was effective when he played (though not as deadly as he was in 2018). Yes, Zlatan Ibrahimovic did have a hand in more than half of the LA Galaxy’s goals in 2019 (he had 30 goals and seven assists and the Galaxy scored 58 goals). But… I mean… just look at Vela’s stats. He set records for goals (34!!!) and goals+assists (49!!!), finished third in the league in assists with 15, and captained an LAFC team that broke the record for the most points in a single MLS season. These numbers are what happens when you play Career Mode in FIFA on Rookie difficulty. This was an easy pick, and the biggest landslide in voting amongst the awards this year.
Comeback Player of the Year - Jordan Morris (SEA)
Let’s see… you completely tear your ACL, and then in your first season back from said injury, you score 10 goals and a career-best seven assists in 26 games. To put that into perspective, in his first 54 games in MLS, Morris had 15 goals and five assists. Total. He is arguably the most in-form American right now (go ahead and @ me) and just narrowly beat out LAFC’s Mark-Anthony Kaye for the award. Morris more than earned the honor, but shout out to Kaye for coming back from his own horrific injury too.
Defender of the Year - Ike Opara (MIN)
Minnesota fans must be beaming: Their club's trade for Ike Opera worked out preeeeettty well for them, I’d say. One year after putting forward one of the most porous defense in league history, the North Carolina native and Wake Forest alum (and future MLS Charlotte target??) helped Minnesota concede TWENTY-EIGHT fewer goals in 2019 and lead the Loons to their best ever season in MLS. Oh, and he is the fourth player ever to win multiple DOTY awards, joining Chad Marshall, Carlos Bocanegra and Robin Fraser. Decent list.
Goalkeeper of the Year - Vito Mannone (MIN)
The Loons’ suddenly stout defense was also greatly aided by their Italian offseason addition. Mannone played in all 34 regular season games, kept 11 clean sheets and at one point went 259 minutes without conceding a single goal. Also, of note - prior to this year, Minnesota had kept a grand total of seven clean sheets in MLS play. And now Mannone, on loan from Reading in the English Championship, might not be returning in 2020. All that being said, Bill Hamid - who just missed out on the award - had better analytical numbers and in my opinion should’ve won the award anyway.
Newcomer of the Year - Carles Gil (NE)
This was the toughest decision voters had this season, as just 2.01% separated Gil from New York City’s Heber, who finished in second. Gil more than earned it though - he was one of just four players with double-digit goals and assists, the Spaniard won more fouls and possessions in the final third than any other player (by a wide margin), and he missed just EIGHT minutes of action all year. It doesn’t hurt that he also helped lead the Revolution’s second half renaissance, giving the club their best offensive weapon since Lee Nguyen.
Rookie of the Year - Andre Shinyashiki (COL)
For years, the Rapids have struggled finding goalscorers. In 2019, they added stars Kei Kamara and Diego Rubio, but the biggest surprise was Shinyashiki. After dominating at the University of Denver, Shinyashiki had little issue adjusting to life in MLS, finishing third on the club with seven goals and tallying three assists in just under 1,700 minutes. He ended up starting 17 of the Rapids final 21 games - which also just so happens to be when the team began to turn things around - and Colorado was unbeaten when Shinyashiki had a goal or an assist. Should’ve figured the Brazilian would be due for big things when this was his first career goal.
Coach of the Year - Bob Bradley (LAFC)
Again, who else could this award have gone to? In just LAFC's second year of existence, Bradley led them to a season in which they set a new record for most points in a MLS season (72), tied the record for most goals in a season (85) and finished with a goal difference of +48, more than double the next closest team (NYCFC: +21). It’s his third time winning the award - tied with Bruce Arena for the most all-time - and there was no coach in the league more deserving in 2019.
How closely do you follow MLS at this point, Mint City readers? Do you have favorite teams? Favorite players? Do you already miss Zlatan Ibrahimovic? Let us know in the Mint City Collective Slack or on the Chronicle's Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram. (And then find me, Russell, and tell me how much you dislike/won’t miss Zlatan, his ego, or his lack of defensive effort.)