John A. Babiak – @Photog_JohnB
While 18 teams are focusing on the playoffs—including the Colorado Rapids—Major League Soccer is filling the time with their annual 2020 End of Year Awards. MLS encourages the media to share their ballots, so some of us got together and decided to publish ours here. Below, you’ll find the the votes from myself (Abbie), Jake Shapiro (The Denver Post), and Connor Cape (Rapids play-by-play broadcaster on Altitude Sports Radio).
The league has announced a couple of the winners already, which is noted under those particular categories.
Note: Voting is multiple-choice and voters get two selections for each category. Not all players from every team are an option for each category, so if you want to see who we had choose from, the full list of nominees can be found here. The list of finalists can be found here.
Landon Donovan MLS MVP
I went back and forth about Rossi on this one since he already won the Golden Boot, but at the end of the day, that’s probably even more of a reason to vote for him. TFC DP Pozuelo is in the prime of his career and has played consistently well for them over the past two years. He stood out yet again in 2020 and was recently voted Player of the Month for bagging four goals and two assists in six games in September.
Connor: Alejandro Pozuelo, Diego Rossi
Diego Rossi won the Golden Boot and played at an unbelievable level for all of 2020. He’s not a fluke or a flash in the pan, and he proved he can be the main goal-scoring threat for a playoff team as 2019 MLS MVP has been out of the team more often than in it.
But my vote for MVP is going to Toronto FC midfielder Alejandro Pozuelo. He bagged nine goals and 10 assists for a TCF side that scored 33 goals. That means Pozuelo was directly involved in 58% of his team’s goals. Add in the fact he carried TFC to the second-best PPG mark, he’s in a league of his own of production and being influential in his team’s success.
Defender of the Year
I don’t really have much to add beyond what Connor already said about Zimmerman. He was a key piece of Nashville’s success this season, while Mensah locked down a Crew defense that allowed the second-fewest goals in MLS (the Union were first).
Jake: Mark McKenzie (Philadelphia Union), Walker Zimmerman
Connor: Walker Zimmerman, Mark McKenzie
Walker Zimmerman has been a top defender in MLS in his three separate stops, but did his most impressive defending this season for expansion side Nashville SC. For reasons we may never know, LAFC felt the need to move him right before the season began. It’s useless to play “what if” games but I’d be willing to wager Nashville isn’t hosting a playoff game (if they even make the playoffs) and LAFC would be hosting a playoff game had the move not happened.
Allstate Goalkeeper of the Year
Winner: Andre Blake (Philadelphia Union)
Jake: Andre Blake, Sean Johnson
Andrew Blake had a phenomenal MLS is Back Tournament and basically played at that level the rest of the year, while Matt Turner is probably one of the best shot-stoppers in MLS.
Newcomer of the Year
(Per MLS, “newcomer” is defined as a player with previous professional experience who made his MLS debut in 2020.)
Winner: Lucas Zelarayan (Columbus Crew)
Abbie: Robert Beric (Chicago Fire), José Andrés Martínez (Philadelphia Union)
Beric was signed as a DP this season and made a huge difference for the Fire, scoring 12 goals and adding one assist. Chicago missed out on the playoffs, but Beric didn’t seem to have much of an adjustment period when he came to MLS. Martinez, whose nickname is “El Brujo” or “The Wizard,” played well for the Union this year, the Supporters’ Shield winners that we’ve already talked about a couple of times.
Connor: Alan Pulido, Lucas Zelarayan
Alan Pulido finished the regular season with the highest G+A/90 average in MLS at 1.03. Some players need time to adjust to MLS. The weather, the travel, the style of play, being away from home—all are issues that require adaptations from new players. Some players need weeks and months before they live up to their potential, but Pulido needed just 17 minutes to find the back of the net in his first MLS match. Six goals and five assists in 958 minutes is MVP-level performance. Oh, and Sporting Kansas City went from worst to first in the Western Conference thanks to his contributions. He stands alone among first-year MLS players.
AT&T MLS Young Player of the Year
This award replaces Rookie of the Year. “Young player” is defined as a player age 22 (born on or after Jan. 1, 1998).
Abbie: Mark McKenzie, Brian Rodriguez (LAFC)
Rodriguez was a Young DP for LAFC this season and came in 2nd on the MLS 22 Under 22 list. Along with Diego Rossi, he has been named to Uruguay’s roster for their upcoming World Cup Qualifiers. Read more about Rodriguez on Angels on Parade.
Jake: Diego Rossi, Cole Bassett
Connor: Cole Bassett, Ayo Akinola (Toronto FC)
Call me biased, a homer, playing favorites. I don’t care. Rapids homegrown midfielder Cole Bassett snagged five goals and five assists. His 0.92 G+A/90 average is fifth-best in MLS and ahead of guys like Diego Rossi, Jordan Morris, Gyasi Zardes, and yes, my MVP pick, Alejandro Pozuelo. He probably won’t get the votes he deserves as his season has been a late bloomer (he didn’t even make his first appearance this season until the MLS is Back Tournament) but his production pace is unmatched among young players. My runner-up is Toronto’s Ayo Akinola because nine goals in 15 matches is crazy good production.
Comeback Player of the Year
Winner: Bradley Wright-Phillips (LAFC)
Valot missed a good chunk of the last two seasons with back-to-back ACL tears and then played every game in 2020. The midfielder has done well and been important for NYRB this season. Read more about him on Once a Metro.
Connor: Kevin Molino, Winston Reid (Sporting Kansas City)
Kevin Molino finished the regular season with nine goals and two assists, and he elevated Minnesota United FC to a home playoff game. After tearing his ACL in 2018, he returned in 2019 but wasn’t the same. (Knee injuries are unpredictable and sometimes take longer to heal from, beyond the date the doctor says a player can return to soccer.)
Also, a shoutout to Winston Reid of Sporting Kansas City who has helped solidify their porous 2019 defense. Reid was knocked unconscious and suffered a knee injury while playing in the Premier League on March 3, 2018. His next senior team appearance wasn’t until August 21, 2020, so I applaud the mental toughness and believe it deserves recognition.
Sigi Schmid Coach of the Year
Abbie: Robin Fraser, Gary Smith (Nashville SC)
I think we know why all three of us chose Robin Fraser—the Rapids are making a long-awaited playoff appearance and Fraser has shown us that he knows what he’s doing and maybe he will turn the Pids into the perennial playoff team we’ve been promised. Nashville started out quite poorly, but ended up finishing 7th in the East with one of the best defenses in MLS. They are just the 6th expansion team to make the playoffs in their first year and did it without any real superstars.
Connor: Jim Curtin (Philadelphia Union), Robin Fraser
The Philadelphia Union’s Head Coach, Jim Curtin, is going to win this award. It likely won’t be close. In an era of MLS where we are beginning to have a crowd of usual suspects vying for MLS Cup, he led the Union to their first-ever trophy. Not LAFC, Seattle, Toronto, Atlanta, or Sporting Kansas City.
My second pick is Rapids bench boss Robin Fraser. It’s his first full season. He took over a team in 2019 that needed 12 tries to win their first game. Early 2019 was not a pleasant period; I was there. Fraser’s taken most of that roster, navigated a pandemic, multiple stops and starts, nurtured young players, and planted the Rapids in the playoffs without any doubt that they belonged.
MLS WORKS Humanitarian of the Year
Abbie: Micheal Azira (Chicago Fire), Kellyn Acosta
This is the most difficult vote for me every year because there are so many players doing so many great things. As Connor mentions, Morrow and Kaye did incredible work this season with Black Players for Change. I went with Azira because he is one of the nicest people you could ever meet and is doing work to make a difference in his home country of Uganda, while Acosta works with the Special Olympics here in Colorado, which is a cause that is close to my heart as a former preschool special ed. teacher.
Connor: Justin Morrow (Toronto FC), Mark-Anthony Kaye (LAFC)
I think these two speak for themselves. Toronto’s Justin Morrow has been perhaps the most active and influential MLS player to coordinate activism and initiate change with the Black Players for Change organization. Change is long overdue and it would be great if it didn’t require mobilization and activism, but a credit to these two players for being as active as they have been.