Decision Day has been decided. The 2016 MLS regular season is now a thing of the past. Many teams had highs and many more teams had lows. All in all we had several fantastic months of competitive soccer that had teams jockeying for position right up in to the final whistle of the regular season. Now that the dust has settled, and we are getting prepared to power through a bloated but undeniably exciting offseason, it seems high time for Total MLS to present our yearly award winners.
This year's awards were selected by the editorial staff at Total MLS, with input from additional staff as well as many fans throughout the course of the season. As always, there wasn't an award for every player we wanted to give one to. Competition for every single one was tight and discussed at length. What we've settled on here won't make every fan happy, but we feel that we've selected a group of players that are the most deserving of special recognition.
Without further ado, let's get started:
Everybody thinks that their team’s goalkeeper is the best in the league. This is perfectly natural. Fans tend to feel a special kinship to their man between the sticks. He’s the last line of defense. It’s rare that you see someone else starting in his place. His job is to be consistent and reliable. If he isn’t, he won’t have a starting job for long. Earlier this season when we were picking our “alt-star” team (our best team of players that didn’t get selected for the official game), I was dead set on choosing Jake Gleeson as the starting GK. I would have picked Andre Blake had he not been selected for official team. These goalkeepers make astonishing saves. So does David Ousted. So does Evan Bush. Nick Rimando can still do things that defy logic. Unfortunately, this probably isn’t the best way of deciding who is the best GK in the league. It’s also hard to make a choice based on GK statistics because they can often be misleading. Most saves? Sure that sounds great, but it’s a lot easier with a good defense in front of them. Least goals allowed? That sounds like the perfect measure for GK success, but we all know that sometimes a team lets their keeper down and puts him in a position where a save is all but impossible and it seems unfair to blame the GK. We’re left with either using a flawed and biased method (the eyeball test) or a possibly misleading diagnostic with our statistics.
When we set about to pick the GK of the year, we wanted to try and include a combination of the two.
That’s why Total MLS has selected Brian Rowe as the 2016 GK of the year.
For those of you that are already trying to find that gif of him fumbling Drogba’s free kick into the net, don’t bother. We remember. That was a huge howler, but we’re still very confident in our selection. Brian Rowe doesn’t do a lot of flashy things. He only won one save of the week honor this year (though fan voting isn’t exactly known for its accuracy and unbiased approach), but week in and week out he makes very good saves and keeps a very tidy net.
Rowe was in goal for 2785 minutes this season and during his watch only 33 goals got by him.
That’s the third best number in the league for GKs with over 2000 minutes (Seitz allowed 29 in 2500 minutes and Melia allowed 30 in 2430 minutes).
Rowe also had the third most clean sheets in the league with 9 in 30 games started (Seitz had 10 in 28 and Robles had 11 in 34).
Seitz and Robles had great seasons but Rowe managed to make more saves while facing more shots on goal than either (Seitz in particular only faced 94 shots on goal compared to Robles’ 143 and Rowe’s 148). In fact Rowe’s save percentage is the highest in the league (for goalkeepers with 2000 minutes or more) at 75.7%.
There were a lot of standout keepers this year. Andre Blake had an eye-catching season with highlight quality saves. Joe Bendik was the hardest working GK in MLS having to face 174 shots and saving 64.4% of them. Seitz had a good season but didn’t face nearly the amount of shots that other top tier keepers did and so in the end this really came down to two choices: Rowe and Robles. While either would be a deserving winner of this prize we felt that Rowe’s overall stat line and performance was superior this season.
Runner-Up: Luis Robles
Also Considered: Andre Blake, Joe Bendik, Jake Gleeson
Being an MLS defender can be a thankless job at times. Having to face Western Conference attacking threats like Gio Dos Santos, Fanendo Adi, Dom Dwyer and Jordan Morris is no easy task. That didn’t stop Walker Zimmerman of FC Dallas from stepping up to—and exceeding—the task, which is why Zimmerman is the Total MLS Defender of the Year.
Zimmerman stepped into the starting eleven and took his game to a new level this season. “Walker has understood this year what it takes to be at that level,” FCD Coach Oscar Pareja said. “The best part is that he has been consistent with his performances. I think physically and mentally he has shown a lot of growth, and then beginning to stack games where he steps up not just defending but helping us get points up front with that aerial game that he has and dominates.”
Pareja isn’t wrong. Zimmerman nearly tripled his minutes played from last year, clocking a team high 2700 minutes, made zero defensive errors, and won 60% of duels to go along with 101 interceptions and 141 clearances, both of which rank in the top five among MLS defenders. On top of that, he scored a career high four goals in 2016, including a game winner against Western Conference rival LA Galaxy.
Zimmerman’s play helped lead FCD to their first major trophy since 1997 this year when they won the U.S. Open Cup and helped keep FCD atop the Supporters Shield Standings.
Runner Up: Jelle Van Damme
Also Considered: Matt Hedges, Ronald Matarrita, Axel Sjoberg
2015 was a clear choice in Cyle Larin for RotY. This year, however, the water is a bit murkier. That said, Jordan Morris has met a lot, and exceeded some expectations, especially with the amount of pressure put upon him before even being signed to a professional contract.
Twelve goals by a rookie is very respectable (the most of any American rookie in MLS history, in fact), but six of those were game winning goals, which provided Seattle with the jump needed to make the playoffs late in the season (the only player with more GWG this year is Bradley Wright-Phillips).
The absence of Obafemi Martins hurt the team initially, followed by the fewer and fewer productive games Clint Dempsey could muster as the year went on. Morris stepped up and filled the role needed to advance the Sounders, scoring both at home and on the road against key opponents such as Los Angeles, Dallas, and Colorado.
Morris’ 2856 minutes are just short of Rosenberry’s perfect mark of 3060, but his production rate within that time helped secure meaningful points on the road towards the playoffs.
Runner-Up: Keegan Rosenberry
Also Considered: Alex Muyl
Newcomer of the Year is an interesting award that is seemingly unique to Major League Soccer. Usually you wouldn’t hand out an end of season award to somebody who showed up halfway through the campaign, but if you look at what Lodeiro has accomplished since arriving in August, the Uruguayan is inarguably the signing of the summer window.
Usually when a team signs a DP in the summer, it’s a look towards the following season. MLS is a difficult league for foreign players to get used to, but that didn’t stop Lodeiro from coming in hot. When Nico arrived in Seattle, the Sounders were near the bottom of the table. They had just fired their long time manager, and looked to be in the midst of a franchise defining crisis. Four days later he was the best player on the field in a 1-1 draw against LA. He went on an eight game run with either a goal or an assist as the Seattle club climbed back towards the top of the table.
The Sounders were dead in the water before Lodeiro’s arrival. Despite all of the injury setbacks Seattle have faced since he’s arrived, he still lead them to a 4th place finish in the Western conference.
Four goals and eight assists in just 13 games only begins to tell the story of his influence. If the former Boca Juniors man can keep up this kind of form, he’ll be in the conversation for more end of season awards come next October.
Runner-Up: Jelle Van Damme
Also Considered: Ola Kamara
When New York City FC fired Jason Kreis after just one season, fans raised their eyebrows. When Patrick Vieira was named coach, people laughed. “Foreign coaches never work in MLS.” “Manchester City are just using New York as a coach training ground.” “This will end in disaster.” Well, everyone was wrong.
In his first year in charge at Yankee Stadium, Vieira took New York City from 37 points and a 8th place finish in the East to 54 points and a second place finish in the conference. That’s a 17 point improvement if you’re not the math type. Yes, Oscar Pareja won a double. Yes, Pablo Mastroeni turned the Rapids from basement dweller to Shield contender, but what Vieira accomplished with a bloated roster and a club completely lacking an identity is outstanding. Going from the league's punchline to a contender is a huge accomplishment. People don't take NYCFC lightly any longer.
Captain and MVP candidate David Villa’s scintillating form is a huge reason for the success in the Bronx but Vieira’s steady hand has brought stability and success to a franchise that was mocked more than anything in its expansion season. After having success in the Manchester City youth system, Vieira had a promising future in Europe but the former French World Cup winner has found his initial success in MLS.
The emergence of rookie Jack Harrison, winger Tommy MacNamara, and outside back Ronald Matarrita, under Vieira’s tutelage cannot be understated. The “W-M” formation came back to life this season thanks to Vieira and his tactic has been used with great success. New York City FC led the league in road wins and bounced back brilliantly from early season woes (including 7-0 drubbing at the hands of their neighbor rivals).
Since taking the job, Vieira fully bought into New York City FC. While Manchester City may be the dream job at the end of the rainbow, Vieira is doing a fantastic job in Major League Soccer and his continued growth will be exciting to watch. Congrats to Patrick, our MLS Coach of the Year.
Runner-Up: Oscar Pareja
Also Considered: Pablo Mastroeni, Jesse Marsch
Comeback Player of the Year is one of the best awards to give out. It’s great to see someone find success after a catastrophic injury, and this year is no different. Orlando City’s Kevin Molino is the clear choice for Total MLS Comeback Player of the Year.
Molino entered 2015 with high expectations after shining with OCSC in the USL and setting the league single season goalscoring record at 20, but tragedy struck early on in May when Molino tore his ACL in a friendly against Ponte Preta and was forced to sit out the remainder of the season.
Molino fought through rehab to make his way back for the 2016 season, where he was one of the most consistent midfielders all season long. Molino played 2315 total minutes while scoring 11 goals and earning 8 assists, good enough for second place on his team behind Cyle Larin and Kaká respectively and ranking in the top eight among MLS midfielders in both categories. Not too bad.
OCSC’s season as a whole may not have gone as the club and its supporters had hoped, but Molino has been a bright spot for the club all season long and looks to be a key member of the club in years to come.
There is nothing about this selection that is clever. There is nothing brave or thought-provoking about this choice for MVP. In fact the choice is so obvious that we nearly overlooked the best season in MLS in favor of potentially “hipper” options. The fact of the matter is that Sebastian Giovinco had an incredibly productive season and remains the league’s best player in 2016.
Giovinco “only” managed to score 17 goals this season, which tied him for third most in the league. However, when you add in his 15 assists (second highest in the league), you begin to see the picture of a complete offensive weapon being revealed. The fact he managed to hit these tallies despite missing six matches due to injury only highlights just how productive Giovinco was on the pitch. He was involved in a goal every 75.5 minutes. That’s an astonishing rate of production. None of the other MVP candidates could could boast of a rating below one per 90. Only one (Bradley Wright Phillips) could claim less than one per 100 minutes (95.2).
The Italian was just in another class unto himself once again this season as he nearly single-handedly drug his team through a long slog away from home at the start of the season. Toronto are back in the playoffs and looking poised to make a run at MLS Cup. Jozy picked up the slack while Sebastian was away, but if the Canadian team is going to lift a trophy in December it will be because Giovinco led them there.
We’ve gotten so used to the crazy goals, dribbles, assists, turns, and free kicks from the Toronto striker that we nearly took it for granted this year. Make no mistake. If any player wants to be the best in Major League Soccer, they’ve got to beat the diminutive man from Turin. The Atomic Ant is still the king of MLS.
Runner-Up: Bradley Wright-Phillips
Also Considered: David Villa, Ignacio Piatti, Sacha Kljestan
To finish things up, we’ve named our Total MLS Team of the Season. Once again, even with 18 slots available it was still extremely difficult to choose. There were several players we were hoping would be able to make the cut, but unfortunately at the end of the day you only have room for 18. We’re confident in our selection however. 2016 was a fantastic season of Major League Soccer and we look forward to continuing to bring you news and opinion in the postseason and as the league continues to grow in 2017 and beyond.
Bench: Luis Robles, Matt Hedges, Justin Morrow, Diego Valeri, Nicolas Lodeiro, Giovani Dos Santos, Dom Dwyer