Spoiler alert: The Sounders aren't exactly well-represented.
With so many staggered schedules, Major League Soccer lacks a defined midpoint in its season. FC Dallas, for example, has played 23 of its 34 league games, while last-place Chicago has participated in only 19. The summer can be a bit of a slog, matches bleeding together rather than as a series of defined signposts.
But this week’s All-Star break — such as it is, given that most teams return to action as soon as this Saturday — feels as good a time as any to take stock.
If the season ended today, who would clean up at the league’s postseason awards rollout?
(Spoiler alert: The Sounders aren’t exactly well-represented.)
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Most Valuable Player: Diego Valeri, Portland Timbers.
There is no clear favorite for this year’s MVP award, no Giovinco laying waste to the entire league as he did last year. You can make a legitimate case with a straight face for any of Valeri, David Villa, Mauro Diaz, Ignacio Piatti and Sacha Kljestan.
But in MLS’ Year of the Playmaker, few have been as valuable and productive as Valeri has been for the defending champs. He’s notched nine goals and five assists, and that second number would be vastly inflated if Portland were more efficient in front of goal. He has kept the Timbers in the playoff hunt, and as was on full display last weekend against the Sounders, they’re a completely different team with him on the field.
Villa has the edge in stats, and NYCFC has taken a surprising lead in the Eastern Conference. If Diaz can stay healthy down the stretch, this could be his award to lose. But consider this a rare case of West Coast bias.
Coach of the Year: Oscar Pareja, FC Dallas.
So often, this award is essentially Coach Who Orchestrated the Biggest Turnaround, and you can certainly stump for Colorado’s Pablo Mastroeni, Philadelphia’s Jim Curtin and New York City FC’s Patrick Vieira. But this is a nod to Pareja’s consistent success — and if you think that’s easy to pull off while also prioritizing youth development, turn your eyes north toward Vancouver.
Pareja’s Dallas has had some off nights. See: Sounders 5, FCD 0 a few weeks back. But they’re unbeaten at home and currently the top team in the league.
Most Improved Player: Micheal Azira, Colorado Rapids.
And yes, that name does sound familiar. Having had his contract option declined by the Sounders this past offseason, Azira has established himself as one of the unsung heroes behind Colorado’s remarkable turnaround.
It’s hard to see how Azira ever would have established himself as regular starter in Seattle — with Osvaldo Alonso well-established as the first-choice defensive midfielder and second-year player Cristian Roldan waiting in the wings behind him — but he has found his niche with the Rapids.
Defender of the Year: Jelle Van Damme, L.A. Galaxy.
Like him or not, Van Damme has been invaluable for a back line that has surrendered the fewest goals of any team save the Rapids. That defensive reliability has been a boon for coach Bruce Arena while he’s tinkered with a new-look attack, and one could also make a case for Van Damme as the signing of the past offseason.
Goalkeeper of the Year: Andre Blake, Philadelphia Union.
Some overdue love for a squad who’s turnaround would be much more appreciated if not for the Rapids and NYCFC.
Rookie of the Year: Jack Harrison, New York City FC.
At the beginning of this month, I wrote that Sounders forward Jordan Morris was the frontrunner in the ROY race. But though Morris still leads all first-year players in goals, his team’s continued struggles coupled with NYCFC’s surge to the top of the East has changed the dynamic.
Some miscellaneous observations from this past weekend’s MLS action:
– As much fun as I like to poke at the “Hudson River Derby,” there has been no shortage of drama between the New York Red Bulls and New York City FC this year. Sunday was yet another goal-fest — the Red Bulls won 4-1 — and afterward, Vieira refused to shake counterpart NYRB coach Jesse Marsch’s hand then proceeded to call him out in his press conference.
– Unfortunate news out of Portland this morning, with the Timbers announcing that defender Nat Borchers will undergo surgery on a ruptured Achilles tendon and miss the remainder of this season. Whatever you feel about his long, red beard, he’s widely respected around the league for his work ethic and as a good locker room guy.
If this is the end of the road for Borchers — at 35 years old and having lost a step this campaign, it’s a reasonable question to ask — he’ll go down as one of the most decorated MLS defenders of his generation, a champion with Real Salt Lake in 2009 and the Timbers last year.
– Say it ain’t so, Fabian. Goal.com’s Ives Galarcep is reporting that Trabzonspor of the Turkish Super Lig has put in an offer to FC Dallas for Fabian Castillo, and that the 24-year-old Colombian winger is pushing for a move abroad.
Castillo did not travel with FCD to Colorado for the top-of-the-league showdown against the Rapids. If he does go, the league will lose one of its most entertaining, promising talents.
– Goal of the week: Victor Ulloa, FC Dallas.
All due respect to Tommy McNamara’s screamer for New York City FC, Ulloa’s long-range strike actually had some bearing on his respective result. Ulloa’s 82nd-minute goal earned FCD a hard-fought road draw and kept its Supporters’ Shield cushion at three.
– Games to watch in the coming week: MLS All-Stars vs. Arsenal (Thursday at 4:30 p.m. PST on ESPN), Portland at Kansas City (Sunday at 11 a.m. on FOX), Vancouver at Dallas (Sunday at 3 p.m. on MLS Live), Salt Lake at Philadelphia (Sunday at 4 p.m. on MLS Live).
|New York City FC||33||1.5||22||9||7||6|
|New York Red Bulls||31||1.41||22||9||9||4|
|New England Revolution||26||1.24||21||6||7||8|
|Orlando City SC||23||1.15||20||4||5||11|
|Columbus Crew SC||19||0.95||20||3||7||10|
|Sporting Kansas City||31||1.35||23||9||10||4|
|Real Salt Lake||31||1.48||21||8||6||7|
|Vancouver Whitecaps FC||30||1.36||22||8||8||6|
|San Jose Earthquakes||26||1.3||20||6||6||8|
|Seattle Sounders FC||20||1||20||6||12||2|