Freddie Shires brings you his pick of the bunch who deserve the all-important end of season awards – the MLS’ official recipients will receive them over the coming weeks as the Playoffs draw ever nearer.
Goalkeeper of the Year – Donovan Ricketts (Portland Timbers)
With his career in limbo going into this year, Ricketts has enjoyed a stellar bounce back campaign, continuing to shine even as Portland’s defense was decimated by injuries early on in the season. The Jamaican was one of the key reasons the Timbers were able to tie the 34-game record for fewest losses, saving his side on numerous occasions with clutch saves and dominant performances. Real Salt Lake’s Nick Rimando was his usual, reliable self in 2013 but it’s hard to top the impact Ricketts had on his team.
Defender of the Year – José Gonçalves (New England Revolution)
In his first year in MLS, Gonçalves has helped solidify the Revs’ backline with his steady leadership and experience, seeing him get the nod here over Sporting KC’s Matt Besler. Anchoring the league’s stingiest defense (30 goals conceded), Besler may have enjoyed yet another solid campaign but he also played in only 23 games due to international call-ups and minor injuries.
Rookie of the Year – Dillon Powers (Colorado Rapids)
Powers wasn’t even expected to start for the Rapids his rookie year but he’s made a seamless transition from college into the pros, contributing five goals and six assists from the heart of the midfield. His consistency, pinpoint passing and veteran-esque presence see him pip teammate Deshorn Brown, who himself provided the side with a much needed goal-scoring threat this season.
Comeback Player of the Year – Kevin Alston (New England Revolution)
Any other year and this award would likely be Conor Casey’s for the taking. After a near career-ending Achilles injury in 2011 and playing just 13 league games in 2012, Casey was cut loose by the Colorado Rapids and seemed destined for the scrap heap. The Philadelphia Union however picked up the 31-year-old striker in the Re-Entry draft, in what was deemed a risky move given his salary, and were promptly rewarded with 10 goals and five assists, as Casey started over 20 games for the first time since 2010. He’s a worthy candidate no doubt, but few players ultimately dealt with what Kevin Alston went through this year – being diagnosed with chronic myelogenous leukaemia (MCL), battling through the news, treatment and returning to the playing field all in the space of a few months.
Coach of the Year – Caleb Porter (Portland Timbers)
In what was supposed to be a rebuilding year, Jason Kreis has his Real Salt Lake side on the verge of an MLS Cup final appearance, while the Colorado Rapids’ Oscar Pareja has led his team full of rookies (and/or virtual rookies) to a wholly unexpected playoff appearance. However, the incredible turnaround first-year head coach Caleb Porter has overseen in Portland really can’t be overstated. From the third-worst team in the league to the third-best, Porter has transformed a Timbers side with an obvious identity crisis into one which combines attractive soccer with old-fashioned grit, proving in the process that his college success with Akron was no fluke.
Newcomer of the Year – Diego Valeri (Portland Timbers)
Valeri is a legitimate candidate for MVP in most eyes but he’ll have to settle for the consolation prize on this occasion. The Argentine designated player has been a crucial piece of Caleb Porter’s rebuilding project, making an immediate impact with 10 goals and a league-leading 13 assists. With his playmaking skills largely unmatched in MLS, the Timbers certainly pulled off a major coup landing the 27-year-old midfielder this offseason.
MVP – Mike Magee (Chicago Fire)
The Chicago Fire’s failure to make the playoffs may rule Magee out of the MVP discussions for some but, in my opinion, that would be wholly foolish. After being traded by the LA Galaxy in May for the rights to Robbie Rogers, Magee helped transform the Fire from an underwhelming side into one which narrowly missed out on the postseason, scoring 21 goals over the course of 2013 (15 for the Fire, 6 for the Galaxy). To emphasise Magee’s influence, his teams had a 17-10-7 record with him in the side (a point behind Supporters’ Shield-winners New York) and a 12-14-8 record without (giving them the same total as playoff-less FC Dallas). Dwayne DeRosario after all won the award in 2011 despite DC United missing the playoffs and, though others such as Marco Di Vaio, Robbie Keane, Diego Valeri and Tim Cahill all have good cases, Magee was simply more pivotal to his side’s success.