Ahead of the brand new MLS season which kicks off tomorrow night, our main man where Major League Soccer is concerned, Freddie Shires, has brought you his rundown of the top 50 players that could have a real impact during this campaign.
Here now, he brings you his picks for the individual prizes come the final whistle – let us know what you think to his selections. Do you agree or are there others in the hunt for the honours?
Goalkeeper of the Year: Jaime Penedo, LA Galaxy
Having joined the Galaxy in August last year to replace the under-performing Carlo Cudicini, Penedo immediately established himself as one of the best shot-stoppers in MLS, putting on a string of impressive displays. With the 32-year-old Panamanian between the posts for the full course of 2014, LA’s defence should prove to be one of the stingiest in the league.
Defender of the Year: Jámison Olave, New York Red Bulls
Olave has been one of top centre-backs in MLS for over half a decade now and, having proved instrumental to the Red Bulls’ 2013 Supporters’ Shield-winning campaign, will once again be relied upon to solidify the side’s backline this season. A physical freak and set-piece threat, as long as the 32-year-old Colombian stays healthy in 2014 then he could certainly be adding a second MLS Defender of the Year award to his collection.
Rookie of the Year: Harry Shipp, Chicago Fire
In a 2014 SuperDraft which clearly lacked the desired star power, Shipp would have almost certainly been the first-overall pick had he not decided to sign a home-grown deal with the Chicago Fire.
The former Notre Dame forward faces stiff competition for minutes in the lineup but, based off his preseason work, should get plenty of opportunities to impress over the course of the campaign.
Comeback Player of the Year: Teal Bunbury, New England Revolution
A torn ACL in August 2012 saw Bunbury become somewhat of a forgotten man in Kansas City, as the 24-year-old striker enjoyed just 214 minutes of action during the club’s MLS Cup-winning campaign. Traded to New England a few weeks before the start of the season in exchange for a first-round draft pick , the change of scenery may be just what Bunbury needs to rediscover his pre-2012 form, which had many lauding him as one of the league’s most promising young talents.
Coach of the Year: Gregg Berhalter, Columbus Crew
The likes of Caleb Porter, Bruce Arena and Peter Vermes ought to be strong contenders for this award should their respective clubs perform up to expectations, but I’m going to champion a dark horse candidate – first-year head coach Gregg Berhalter. While his Columbus side enter the season with a young roster and relatively few expectations, they have the talent at their disposal to be this year’s surprise team, in the same manner as the New England Revolution in 2013. If Berhalter can lead the Crew to a playoff place at his first attempt then he certainly deserves all the accolades.
Newcomer of the Year: Jermain Defoe, Toronto FC
With all the high-profile transfer activity around MLS this offseason, there are a host of intriguing names who could be in contention for this award, including Gastón Fernández, Samuel, Andrés Escobar and Vincent Nogueira, to name just a few.
It’ll be mightily hard to look past Jermain Defoe though if the England international can simply provide the goals promised for Toronto and, with the club’s new-look lineup promising good service, all signs point towards him delivering the goods.
Golden Boot: Jack McInerney, Philadelphia Union
McInerney started last season off on fire, netting ten goals by June 1, but would then go 17 games and more than four months before finally scoring again. Still only 21 years old, the Union’s main striker undoubtedly possess a great deal of potential and, with more creativity surrounding him this year, should take another step forward in 2014. While his specified target of 20 goals this season may seem overly ambitious to some, there’s every reason to suggest that he can at least came close.
MVP: Federico Higuaín, Columbus Crew
If the Crew are indeed going to be genuine playoff contenders in 2014, Higuaín will be the main reason why. The Argentine playmaker quietly lead the league in chances created last season, while making up for the loss of Eddie Gaven to year-ending injury, scoring 11 goals and tallying nine assists in the process.
Criminally underrated on a horrendously inconsistent team, the club captain should earn wider recognition for his exploits this campaign while surrounded by a superior supporting cast.
Supporters’ Shield and MLS Cup: Portland Timbers
While both 2013 MLS Cup finalists Sporting Kansas City and Real Salt Lake should once again prove formidable contenders, along with the Red Bulls, the Galaxy, Houston and Seattle, it’s hard to overlook what head coach Caleb Porter is doing in Portland. After completely changing around the club’s fortunes in his first year in charge, one should fully expect the Timbers to take another step forward this season, with a further strengthened and experienced roster, a solid core of veterans and arguably the best depth in the league. “Porterball” is going to prove extremely hard to stop in 2014.