Now that September has started, the FC is entering the final stretch run of the season. Fans, of course, are following the playoff race closely, but there are a few other things worth keeping an eye on. Specifically, for the first time in its MLS history, the FC is relevant not just in the playoff race, but also for some end-of-year awards.
Now, some arguments are better than others, certainly, but this article is not just to advocate, but also to educate. Therefore, I will go through all of the end-of-year awards (including goal and assist leaders) and identify the FC’s strongest candidate for each, even if that player does not have that much of a case.
(One quick disclaimer. As everyone reading this likely knows, I don’t watch the MLS. So if I leave off a player from another team who you think belongs in a particular category – assume that I did it intentionally on purpose to make you mad.)
Landon Donovan MLS Most Valuable Player
Candidate: Lucho Acosta
Competition: Sebastian Driussi, Hany Mukhtar
Pick: The field (and likely Mukhtar). Acosta has seven goals and 16 assists (leading the league in assists), and he is currently leading the league in shot-creating actions per 90, so I don’t want to downplay exactly how good he has been this year, but it doesn’t seem like the award will go to anyone other than Driussi or Mukhtar. I give the slight edge to Mukhtar because he’s basically Nashville’s entire offense, he recently overtake Driussi in the golden boot race, and it seems, against all odds, he’s going to will his team to hosting a first-round playoff game at home.
Goalkeeper of the Year
Candidate: Roman Celentano
Competition: Andre Blake, Sean Johnson, Dorde Petrovic
Pick: The field. Roman has without a doubt been the best goalkeeper in the FC’s history, but unfortunately that achievement has at least as much to do with the fact that the FC had uniquely terrible goalkeeping for its first three seasons. But that is not to say that he has been poor – in fact, by at least one estimation he has been the best U-23 goalkeeper in MLS this season. That same source rated him along with Brad Guzan, Drake Callender, and Eloy Room as one of the best shot stoppers in the league regardless of age.
Nevertheless, the FC has still allowed a lot of goals this season. And the three goalkeepers above have each had excellent seasons by any measure, and likely have much stronger cases than Roman.
Defender of the Year
Newcomer of the Year
Candidate: Obinna Nwobodo
Competition: Cucho Hernandez, Dorde Petrovic, Taxi Fountas
Pick: Unfortunately, Cucho. Nwobodo has been excellent and everything we could have hoped for, but Cucho is on an incredible goal-scoring pace (eight goals in 12 appearances) and I expect that to continue. If it doesn’t, then I think Fountas is deserving.
Young Player of the Year
Competition: Jesus Ferreira, Talles Magno, Thiago Almada
Pick: Ferreira. With 16 goals and five assists, Ferreira’s total numbers far outstrip the rest of this list. And the fact that he is the locked-in favorite to be the No. 9 for the USMNT at this World Cup likely seals the deal for him (even if, technically, that shouldn’t be a factor for an MLS award). But I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that Ferreira has nine more starts this season than Brenner, who was hampered by missing all of preseason due to an immigration issue and also by being limited for parts of this season with a back injury. Even so, Brenner has managed nine goals and four assists. With that context, it should be clear that Brenner has been really, really good this year, and that’s not even taking into account his rainbow kicks.
Comeback Player of the Year
Candidate: Brandon Vazquez
Competition: Julian Carranza, Aaron Long, Nico Lodeiro
Pick: Brandon. Admittedly, I’m cheating a little bit here. According to MLS, Comeback Player of the Year “[h]onors an MLS player who has overcome injuries and/or adversity in order to achieve success during the 2021 regular season.” But a few weeks ago, I started to see Philly Union fans on Twitter argue for Carranza, who was not injured last year. From what I can tell, the argument for Carranza is he wasn’t really given a chance last year, and now that he has been given playing time this year he is producing. The same exact argument works for Brandon, except better – Brandon has out-produced Carranza this season. So, lock it in folks – Brandon Vazquez for the 2022 MLS Comeback Player of the Year.
Humanitarian of the Year
Just going to assume this one should go to Nick Hagglund, for no particular reason.
Candidate: Brandon Vazquez (16 goals)
Competition: Mukhtar (21), Driussi (20), Daniel Gazdag (18), Ferreira (16)
Pick: The field. I could see Driussi, Mukhtar, or Gazdag all winning this. Philly, in particular, has been putting up ungodly score lines on its opponents, so it’s not hard to imagine Gazdag piling it on these last few weeks. I think Brandon will hang in there and score at least 20, but that’s not going to be enough.
Candidate: Lucho Acosta (16)
Competition: Carles Gil (13), Kai Wagner (13), Cristian Espinoza (12), Diego Fagundez (12), Santiago Rodriguez (12)
Pick: Lucho. In MLS, at least, this is a category that rewards Lucho’s shot-creating abilities. Under the traditional measure, Lucho actually has only 10 assists. MLS, however, counts secondary assists, which gooses Lucho’s total to 16. I expect that to continue through the rest of the season, and he will win this category in a lock.
Rookie of the Year
Candidate: Roman Celentano
Competition: Ben Bender, Ian Murphy, Thorleifur Ulfarsson
Pick: Roman. So, funny story. MLS doesn’t actually award Rookie of the Year anymore – it has been replaced by Young Player of the Year. But I thought I’d include it here anyway, because I want to take a moment to appreciate how good the SuperDraft strategy this year turned out to be. Albright took some criticism for passing on Kipp Keller for Celentano, but if he had not done that we would have been well and truly fucked once Alec Kann got injured. Instead, both of the FC’s first-round draft picks have contributed to the team in big ways. Murphy, for his part, has appeared in 21 games, with 14 starts. (Keller, on the other hand, has only six appearances and three starts for Austin.) If the FC had gone with Keller first, then it would likely have drafted Patrick Schulte with the 14th pick – who was last seen losing to FC Cincinnati 2 in a penalty shootout in the most recent Heck is Plausible. (Ben Bender, the first pick in the draft, has been very good for Charlotte, but mostly as a rotational player/part-time starter.)
Long story short, Albright hit the draft out of the park, and he deserves to be acknowledged for that.
Coach of the Year
Candidate: Pat Noonan
Competition: Wilfried Nancy, Josh Wolff, Steve Cherundolo, Jim Curtin
Definitely, Definitely Not Competition: Bob Bradley
Pick: Noonan, if FC makes the playoffs. Personally, I’d pick him for coach of the year under any circumstances, but I doubt MLS will pick a non-playoff coach (if it’s not Noonan). No need to belabor the point, but there really is no way to overstate how bad FC has been in MLS before this season, and there was so little turnover within the team that most MLS pundits picked us to finish last for the fourth straight time. Simply being playoff relevant this late in the season is a feat fit for Hercules, and Noonan deserves to be honored for that achievement.
Here is where MLS pundits predicted FC to finish before the season:
Going from three-time spoon to the playoffs (or thereabouts) with the biggest offseason move being the widely (but wrongly) panned trade for Junior Moreno is an incredible feat. Also, I know it will piss Noonan off if he wins Coach of the Year in a season where they barely made the playoffs, and I would find that very funny. Noonan, constantly grumpy about any recognition or award short of a Shield or Cup – we love it, don’t we folks?
Referee of the Year