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2018 MLS Player Awards: Who I think should win

The award ballots are out, so here’s who I think should win in each category.

MLS: New England Revolution at Atlanta United FC Adam Hagy-USA TODAY Sports

The 2018 MLS year-end awards ballots are now out, so I decided that it would be interesting to compare who I think should win each award to who actually wins. If any of you reading have any opinions on who should win in any of these award categories, be sure to leave them in the comments. Please note that I have skipped a few categories (like ref of the year, or humanitarian of the year) and such, because I’m not too knowledgeable about those categories. So here are my 2018 MLS year-end awards:

MVP: Josef Martínez (Atlanta United)

MLS: Atlanta United FC at San Jose Earthquakes Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s be honest here, this one is pretty hard to argue against. Martínez has scored 30 goals in 33 games played this season, meaning that he has one more game to add to his goal tally and has already beaten Bradley Wright-Phillips’ MLS regular season goal record of 27, which is an absolutely extraordinary accomplishment.

To go along with his goals, he has six assists as well this season. Based on the minutes that he’s played (he has played for 2,818 minutes), he scores about once a game on average. He has been almost impossible to stop this season, and is a vital aspect of Atlanta’s high-scoring attack. Without him, the 5 Stripes would be a significantly worse team. I would say the only real competitors to him would be Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who has scored 21 goals this year, averaging around the same amount of minutes for each goal as Martínez does, but he has also got nine assists, which is four more (in a shorter amount of time) than the Venezuelan has.

Ignacio Piatti of the Montreal Impact, as usual, is also another candidate for MVP, as he has taken a somewhat mediocre front line and made it something to be afraid of with his 14 goals and 13 assists in 30 games. Though despite the tough competition, Josef should take the MVP award this year — or else it will be a huge shock to most followers of MLS.

Defender of the Year: Aaron Long (New York Red Bulls)

MLS: New York Red Bulls at Montreal Impact Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

In terms of recognizing defenders, I think Aaron Long from the Red Bulls has been the best defender in the league for the 2018 season. The Red Bull back line has only conceded 33 goals — tied with Seattle for the fewest conceded by a team in the league; the only difference is that New York actually plays positive soccer and doesn’t put half of their team in the box for most of the game and hope that no one scores.

Although Aaron Long is the best defender on the Red Bulls, he could have faced some fierce competition with the likes of Tim Parker for the Defender of the Year award, who’s also on his team, but for some reason they didn’t even include him in this ballot. Long has played so well over the past two years that he’s gone from playing for New York Red Bulls’ USL affiliate, NYRB II, to starting for the U.S. Men’s National team. He certainly has had a roller coaster of a career!

I would say his biggest competitors would be Chad Marshall of the Seattle Sounders, and Michael Parkhurst of Atlanta United. I wouldn’t pick Marshall because as I said before, Seattle plays extremely defensively so no wonder they are tied for the best defence in the league. No doubts he should be in the conversation though. On the other hand, Michael Parkhurst is a great captain and defender for Atlanta, but I think Aaron Long tops the lot a little bit more than Parkhurst did this season.

Goalkeeper of the Year: Andre Blake (Philadelphia Union)

MLS: Philadelphia Union at D.C. United Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

I could have gone a little more interesting and picked someone like Tyler Miller from LAFC, or Evan Bush from Montréal, but I’m going to go safe and pick the 2016 MLS Goalkeeper of the Year, Andre Blake. Last year, the Jamaican finished second for this award, just behind Tim Melia, but since then, Melia has declined a bit, and overall he has continued to show why he should be considered as the best goalkeeper in MLS.

He’s consistent, he makes great saves, and even on the occasion he has some of the best games you’ve seen from goalkeepers in soccer in a long time. This season he has saved roughly 69% of his shots, which is a fairly decent percentage for MLS goalkeepers. I would say that his biggest competitor for this award is Evan Bush, who has gotten a few more shots on him, and has saved 71% of the shots that he’s faced. I could see him winning as well, as he’s had some great games this season as well, behind a leaky defence.

Newcomer of the Year: Zlatan Ibrahimovic (LA Galaxy)

MLS: Vancouver Whitecaps at Los Angeles Galaxy Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The self-proclaimed ‘God’ is up for three awards, but I believe he should win this one specifically. As I said before, he’s scored 21 goals in a limited amount of time, and has racked up nine assists to go along with his goal tally. He has lit MLS alight ever since he came from Manchester United early in the season. He certainly deserves to win the Newcomer of the Year award, as I don’t believe anyone has matched his feats in such a limited amount of time. Right now, Zlatan is one of the best players in MLS, and hasn’t needed much time to adapt to the different playing style in North American football. Life is going well for the ‘Lion’ in LA.

Rookie of the Year: Corey Baird (Real Salt Lake)

MLS: Montreal Impact at Real Salt Lake Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

Corey Baird kicked off his goal-scoring tally early on in the year, scoring against Toronto FC. Since that goal, the 22-year-old has really kicked on from the striker position, locking down a starting role in a position that a TAM player was supposed to play in (Alfredo Ortuño). Overall this season he has scored seven goals and assisted four of them as well. In terms of who could compete with him for Rookie of the Year honor, I would say it’s a two-horse race between him and Mark McKenzie of Philadelphia Union, a 19 year-old centre-back who has competed well over the season for a starting role in the young Philadelphia defence, and as a result, has started in 17 games for the Union.

Comeback player of the Year: Gyasi Zardes (Columbus Crew SC)

MLS: Columbus Crew at Seattle Sounders FC Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

In the summer of 2016 at LA Galaxy, Gyasi Zardes suffered a season-ending injury that dragged on a bit in 2017 where he was recovering from knee-surgery. Then he suffered another injury in October of 2017 as well, which was when the Galaxy pretty much gave up on him as he was not playing well with them of late, and even decided to play him as a right-back at times, just to fill the position since there was a lack of depth there. I believe part of the reason for his lack of goals, besides all the injuries, was the fact that he was played in roles that did not suit him. But when he moved to Columbus in 2018, he was played in a simple poacher type role where he just tried to get on the end of every attack that he could in a hope of getting goals. And he got them.

So far this season, he has equaled his personal scoring record (set with the Galaxy in 2014), scoring 16 goals in 31 appearances. He has really filled the void and proved all of the doubters wrong since he arrived in Columbus, replacing Ola Kamara who was a fan-favourite among Crew fans. I think Zardes’ biggest competition for this award will be Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Jonathan Osorio, but I don’t believe they have enough to take the award as Zlatan wasn’t even in the league when he got his big injuries, and Osorio doesn’t have enough of a comeback story to win the award. Even the likes of Felipe Gutierrez (of Sporting Kansas City) could win the award, as he played well before and after his major injury this season.

Coach of the Year: Gerardo ‘Tata’ Martino (Atlanta United)

MLS: Columbus Crew SC at Atlanta United FC Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

This award isn’t too hard to pick in my opinion. Tata Martino’s Atlanta United has dominated this season in MLS, and right now would’ve been running away with the league, if it had not been for the young New York Red Bulls, who have been managed by both Jesse Marsch and Chris Armas this season. Although Atlanta’s golden boy Ezequiel Barco hasn’t performed the best this year, Martino is having a wonderful second season as Atlanta manager, and has generally gotten the best out of the players that he’s used. I would say that this category doesn’t have too much competition as the New York Red Bulls have had two managers this season, so I would take Armas off the list for that reason, and Patrick Vieira would’ve been up in this list had he not left for OGC Nice in France. I would say the only real competition to Martino for this award is Oscar Pareja, who manages a young and low-budget FC Dallas, but even that is far-fetched. I couldn’t see anyone getting this award besides Tata.

Anyway, that’s it for my picks of each of these respective awards, but who would you pick? Some of these picks most people would agree with, but some are pretty controversial, so if you have a different idea about who should win one of these awards, please make your argument in the comments!