MLS 2021 Awards: One candidate for every MLS team


This column started with a simple question.

The answer is absolute. Muhktar is the most influential and productive offensive player in the worst case the fifth best team in the MLS. He’s with Carles Gil (still the clear and obvious favorite) Daniel Salloi and Ola Kamra for combined goals and assists at 19 (10 G, 9 A).

Muhktar has a strong and convincing argument! But is he a finalist at all as things stand? How likely is it really that he’ll win the award? If Nashville put all the eggs in one award basket, is Muhktar a better MVP candidate than Gary Smith a Sigi Schmid Coach of the Year candidate?

Think about it and I’ll give you my answer in a few hundred words.

Here’s who I think is the most likely winner of all 27 teams when the playoff push begins. We’re going in the order of the week 24 power rankings, and you’ll clearly see that the candidacies are getting weaker over time. I reserve the right to include the Extratime Awards categories for clubs that do not have viable traditional award candidates.

My mentions (@andrew_wiebe) are open! Hit me with your prize locks and quibbles with my decisions.

Matt Turner, Allstate Goalkeeper of the Year

How can you narrow it down to just one awardee for this rampant Revs team? Listen to the first 15 minutes of the extension on Monday. What they are doing this season is extraordinary.

New England could well win four of the eight traditional prize categories. In fact, I’d personally bet on three: Carles Gil for MVP, Bruce Arena for Sigi Schmid Coach of the Year, and Turner nodding his first goalkeeper of the year. Hell, Tajon Buchanan would almost certainly be AT&T Young Player of the Year as well, until the Pepi train started rolling.

I chose Turner because I don’t see any plausible scenario other than injury (knock on wood … why did I put those words in?) That would keep him from winning. I feel basically the same about Gil and Arena, but I think the candidates around them are stronger.

Raul Ruidiaz, Landon Donovan MLS Most Valuable Player

The scenario is pretty simple: With six points from their two hand games against New England, the Sounders, now with Stefan Frei, Nico Lodeiro and Nouhou, use the only average form of the Revs to basically lead the table and win the supporters ‘ Sign.

Who drives the run? Who else? Raul Ruidiaz, your Golden Shoe 2021, presented by the Audi winner. Oh, and it delivers the Leagues Cup glory too. Gil was great, but Ruidiaz becomes MVP in this scenario.

Interesting for a team on the level of Seattle and thanks to numerous injuries to the best XI talent, Brian Schmetzer is the only other real prize candidate. However, they have several favorites from the Extratime Awards, most notably Alex Roldan for Fullback of the Year and Joao Paulo for D-Mid of the Year (currently an IMO ban).

Robin Fraser, Sigi Schmid Coach of the Year

The Rapids don’t really have traditional stars, and anyway, they don’t have award winners. You have the collective, and it’s a damn good one. The roster created by Padraig Smith puts him in the running for the Extra Time Executive of the Year award, but Fraser built the culture and style of play and has an outside position as Coach of the Year.

Now he’s not going to win it – neither with Bruce Arena, who will make MLS history, nor with Brian Schmetzer, who rallies full strength for a dramatic shield of games in hand in this other Seattle universe – but if the Rapids have one of them Can Sporting or the Sounders jump them and finish second in the west and third in the shield race? Fraser would be an easy finalist and a deserved winner in many other seasons.

Daniel Salloi, Landon Donovan MLS Most Valuable Player

13 goals, six assists… He’s one of the most attacking players in the league. Period. At the moment Salloi is a finalist in my mind with Gil and Ruidiaz.

Note: Gianluca Busio may have had a chance for AT&T Young Player of the Year before moving to Venezia.

Hany Muhktar, Landon Donovan MLS Most Valuable Player

If Walker Zimmerman had played more this season, he would be an easy pick here to repeat himself as Defender of the Year. As it stands, I think Nashville is getting hidden in the traditional price ranges.

Both Muhktar and Gary Smith (Coach of the Year) have candidacies to be proud of, but not the overwhelming ones they would need to be finalists, let alone win their respective award categories. Leave the individual applause to others, Nashville. You can focus on making some noise in the playoffs.

Julian Araujo, AT&T Young Player of the Year

Two words: Ricardo Pepi. That won’t happen for Araujo, but it is a good opportunity to add even more praise to the 20-year-old right-back. There’s a reason Mexico and the United States are tough on Araujo. He’s in the top cohort of right-backs in the MLS this season.

Alexander Callens, Defender of the Year

Make your choice on this NYCFC backline. You could either argue full-backs – Anton Tinnerholm or Gudmundur Thorarinsson are best in class (or close) to their position – and between Callens, Maxime Chanot and, depending on the game, James Sands, the blue side of New York is absolutely stacked in the middle back.

I’ll take Callens, who has had an incredible year for both the club and the country, even though he’s unlikely to win the actual award.

Note: Taty Castellanos just barely missed qualifying for Young Player and would get MVP calls if the field weren’t so full of quality (and NYCFC were higher on the table).

Emmanuel Reynoso, Landon Donovan’s most valuable player

Once upon a time, Reynoso had a chance. Now? Well, it’s time to stretch out to find viable candidates!

Antonio Carlos, Defender of the Year

It’s a shame our newest pic of Carlos is dipping in and being left behind by Ezequiel Barco. The bigger picture says he’s been one of the best defenders in the league for almost two years.

Ezequiel Barco, AT&T Young Player of the Year

I would have bet almost my life that Josef Martinez would be Comeback Player of the Year in February. That could still happen, but Barco seems to be building some serious late-season dynamic in the Young Player of the Year discussion. He now has six goals and five assists, Atlanta United is in full swing and Josef has returned alongside Marcelino Moreno and Luiz, the best XI caliber to date, Araujo.

Good recipe for an award push.

Sebastian Blanco, comeback player of the year

It’s strange how the Timbers’ potentially season-saving road trip success got back into the starting eleven with their lucky charm No. 10. Strange.

Andy Najar, comeback player of the year

I’m not going to lie, I thought Najar’s career might be over. The injuries and missed time just seemed too much to overcome. Think again! The OG Homegrown is back in DC, doing its thing and also leaving its mark on Concacaf with Honduras.

Apologies and kudos to Ola Kamara. He can still win the golden shoe presented by Audi (16 goals !!!) … but he has almost no chance of the MVP title. In another season, Hernan Losada might have been in the discussion about coach of the year.

Gregore, Chris Armas D-mid-year

Boy, Chris Henderson really knows how to look for defensive midfielders in Brazil, doesn’t he?

Kai Wagner, Defender of the Year

What a signature from Ernst Tanner. Wagner is truly one of the best left-backs in the league. How long can Philly keep it? And can you replace him when you sell? This is the game they play. The answer to the second question must be yes.

Cristian Arango, Newcomer of the Year

Five goals in five starts + a weak newcomer class (especially from the winter window) = Arango has as good a chance as anyone if the LAFC makes the playoffs.

Honorable Mention: Jose Cifuentes, AT&T Young Player of the Year

Quickly, who was the LAFC’s best player this season? Cifu. That is the answer.

Djordje Mihailovic, AT&T Young Player of the Year

Yes, Mihailovic is still eligible for the award! After the end of the regular season, he will be 23 years old. It was a sensible decision by Montréal and Wilfried Nancy to trade large allocation funds and give him the keys to attack.

  • 2017: 1 G, 2 A in 732 minutes
  • 2018: 1 G, 4 A in 582 minutes
  • 2019: 3 G, 2 A in 1,448 minutes
  • 2020: 2 G, 6 A in 1,171 minutes
  • 2021: 4 G, 10 A in 1,943 minutes

Since Pepi will win this game, I’ve also nominated Mihailovic as a finalist for the Extratime Level-Up Player of the Year.

Damir Kreilach, Landon Donovan MLS Most Valuable Player

Kreilach will never come close to a win – actually we will never talk about it again – but I have so much respect for his game.

Deiber Caidedo, AT&T Young Player of the Year

Four goals and four assists are a bloody encouraging return for a 21-year-old joining a new league and country during a pandemic. Among many other reasons, Caicedo’s growth makes 2022 quite a promising year for the Whitecaps. Hell, they’re not out of the playoff race either.

Cade Cowell, Teenager of the Year

Young Player of the Year is out of reach, but Cowell could well win an Extratime Award. Chofis for newcomers? That should tell you something about the newcomer class.

Ricardo Pepi, AT&T Young Player of the Year

Put this in ink. Chooooooooo chooooooooo !!!

Miguel Berry, Freshman College Player of the Year

OK, we’ve got to the point on this column where I admit I’m cheating. No, this isn’t Berry’s first year as a professional. That was in 2020 he didn’t play a single MLS minute so I’m not counting it. Five goals in 330 minutes is damn good.

Caden Clark, AT&T Young Player of the Year

It says a lot about the Red Bulls season that Caden Clark is actually not a serious contender for that award.

Ignacio Aliseda for young players? This is the only team I have nothing for.

Brenner, Newcomer of the Year

Let’s say Brenner scores double-digit goals (takes four) and a few are dramatic winners. Not bad for a 21-year-old striker who plays for a – it is best to be friendly – underperforming team.

Fafa Picault, up for a rival prize

Nine goals and four assists. Played for Tab Ramos almost every minute. Why did you let him go, Dallas FC? Picault was so good that I had to invent a price category.

Brad Stuver, Allstate Goalkeeper of the Year

Credit where credit is due. It would be the strangest GOY season ever. It’s not going to happen.

Yeferson Soteldo, Newcomer of the Year

Maybe 2022 will be better, right?

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