There are so many great things to say about Sebastian Giovinco and, to a lesser but still significant degree, MLS rookie sensation Cyle Larin and the goods they delivered in bulk in 2015. But if we’re picking nits, here’s one: They sure subtracted a lot of drama from awards season. Thanks a lot, guys!
Most Valuable Player and Rookie of the Year are two of the awards to which we pay the most attention. Coach of the Year, too. At least there is some drama and debate over that one.
So here’s where we went with the MLS awards that matter – and a few awards that we made up for Major League Soccer’s just-complete 20th regular season:
Most Valuable Player: Toronto’s Sebastian Giovinco
Honestly, how much time do we need to spend on this one? We pretty much said it all here. Since then, Giovinco has become the first MLS single-season leader in both goals (22) and assists (16). For some perspective, he was the first 20-10 man in MLS history (first to record 20 goals and 10 assists).
His MVP season was much more than raw numbers. The Atomic Ant scored good goals, great goals and freakin’ otherworldly goals. And how about Toronto FC, member of MLS since 2007, finally getting past the post-season velvet ropes! Congrats, guys! It wasn’t Jozy Altidore or Michael Bradley most responsible for getting the Red there. That was all about Giovinco.
In another year, we might be talking about Columbus’ Kei Kamara, who challenged for Golden Boot. And some in Los Angeles thought Robbie Keane’s rate of production in a season slightly abbreviated by an early injury and by international call-ups (20 goals, 8 assists in 24 appearances) deserved consideration.
Oh, that’s so cute that they think anybody but Giovinco even has a shot at MVP!
Rookie of the Year: Orlando City’s Cyle Larin
We need to say even less about this one. The league’s previous rookie scoring record was 11 goals. Larin scored 17 this year. In some MLS years, that would have gotten you a Golden Boot!
Larin was the top pick in January’s MLS draft, and he more than exceeded expectations. Remember, it’s easier for young defenders or even midfielders to make the jump into professional soccer. Between Damani Ralph in 2003 and Tesho Akindele in 2014, only one forward became Major League Soccer’s Rookie of the Year (Sporting KC’s C.J. Sapong in 2011). In between, MLS Rookie of the Year went to five defenders and four midfielders.
Like the MVP race, there’s no one else in this conversation. Larin struck regularly for a team that was mid-pack in MLS in team scoring, a club that regularly missed one of its top two creators, Brek Shea and Kaka. What he achieved would have been commendable for a veteran, accomplished striker. As a rookie, what he achieved was nothing less than sensational.
Defender of the Year: Montreal’s Lauren Ciman
This was a toughie. If we were picking winners in July, it’s a no-brainer, because Ciman went from MLS first-year man to “best center back in the league” in a big hurry. After July … well, something happened. He had been playing for a full calendar year without a break at that point, having arrived in January from Standard de Liège, where he started all six Europa League group matches in the fall of 2014. So, maybe he wore down. Or perhaps he was trying too hard for a club that couldn’t climb above the playoff red line for much of the summer.
Ciman dropped off. Still, looking around the league, we see a lot of defenders who had good years – but were they having exceptional years? Chad Marshall is in that group, especially as he had a rotating cast of central partners with Seattle. Others in that worthy group: San Jose’s Clarence Goodson, Vancouver’s Kendall Waston, New England’s Andrew Farrell, Dallas’ Matt Hedges, DC United’s Bobby Boswell and a scattering of outside backs.
Ciman was dominant for a period, at least; he was merely “quite good” over the back half of 2015. But stack that onto his first four months, and that was enough.
SEE MORE: MLS knockout round matchup capsules.
Goalkeeper of the Year: Vancouver’s David Ousted
We all know the old saw about how this country produces great goalkeepers, and it’s certainly true. Only this year in Major League Soccer, the best of the best were frequently from lands beyond.
Stefan Frei (Swiss, Seattle Sounders), Adam Kwarasey (Ghanaian, Portland Timbers) and David Ousted (Danish, Vancouver Whitecaps) were among the best in the net this year. Even fast-rising 20-year old Jesse Gonzalez (Mexican international, FC Dallas) finished with the league’s top goals-against average.
In the end, Ousted and D.C. United’s Bill Hamid were the best of the best, even if their seasons looked quite different. Hamid was called upon time and again to rescue D.C. United, an average team (well, a “bad” team toward the end of the year) that finished with a better record than it deserved thanks to Hamid’s habitual heroics.
Ousted was simply the picture of consistency, a solid presence in goal wire to wire for Vancouver. Carl Robinson is taking one of the league’s youngest rosters to the playoffs, and the steadying hands of his 30-year-old veteran backstopper is a big reason why.
Coach of the Year: New York’s Jesse Marsch
Marsch edges Dallas’ Oscar Pareja in the closest two-horse race imaginable. Hard to imagine this is the same Marsch who had to hold off the pitchfork-and-lantern crowd at that surreal supporters club meeting in January.
He sat there and took it that night. Then he took the club that had just lost Tim Cahill and Thierry Henry, remade it with a stylish, pressing, dynamic ethos and captured Supporters Shield along the way. He also did it with a back line that was average at very best, with 20-year-old Matt Miazga (admittedly a potential star in the making) as his best defender.
Oddly, Pareja hurts himself in this year’s debate. Because if we’re being honest, what he did in 2013 with Colorado (taking a team with essentially five rookie starters to the playoffs) and what he did with Dallas last year (dismissing an awful run of injuries to take a young FC Dallas team to the playoffs) probably represented a better coaching job than what his did this year.
Either way, Pareja may deserve a “lifetime achievement award” vote at some point. Because for the second year in a row, FC Dallas led the league going away in minutes played by homegrown, academy products. With them, he came within a whisper of Supporters Shield.
One more thing deserves note here: the Red Bulls and FC Dallas had two of the league’s lowest salary budgets.
MLS Innovator of the Year: Uh, someone
Whoever in the league office (step forward and identify yourself!) finally pushed through the sticking point and made “Decision Day” a thing. The drama factor was tamped down a wee bit because most playoff spots were decided (although the ordering wasn’t) and because Golden Boot had more or less been decided. (Again, thanks a lot, Giovinco!) It will be better in years ahead, but for the first go-round, simultaneous conference kickoffs in 34 worked well enough in creating intrigue.
Best MLS Old Guy: Real Salt Lake’s Javier Morales
The guy is 35. Going on 25.
Morales was one of the few bright spots around Rio Tinto Stadium, where RSL’s seven-year playoff streak (best in MLS going into the year) just vanished into the Utah mountain air. His numbers this year (8 goals, 12 assists in 26 matches) are remarkably consistent with his production in 2013 and 2014. He passed the eyeball test, too, still stylish in performance, still doing enough of the two-way work.
SEE MORE: MLS average attendance up 13% in 2015.
Latecomer award: Montreal’s Didier Drogba
It doesn’t happen every year, but in plenty of MLS seasons, the long summer transfer window allows a talented man to jump into the pile late and still make a big impact. This year, no one did the deed like Drogba, the Ivorian international who has made Montreal a real playoff threat. Perhaps he couldn’t replicate such outstanding production (11 goals in 11 matches) over an entire MLS season, but that doesn’t really matter to 2015, does it? Besides, some of his goals were absolute beauties. We throw around the word “inspirational figures” a bit much, perhaps, but he is definitely a presence – a man who inspires a useful sense of bravado and belief around Stade Saputo.
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