Winners, Losers, and Everything in Between: The 2018 MLS Season Thus Far

Halfway through the 2018 MLS season, there’s been plenty of drama. Let’s look at some of the league’s top (and not-so-top) performers thus far:

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Atlanta United’s Josef Martinez has set MLS alight this year. Image: USA Today

Most Valuable Player: Josef Martinez (FWD, Atlanta United)

Videogame-like numbers (26 goals in 24 games) as well as a penchant for showing up in big games (man-of-the-match performances versus fellow Eastern Conference contenders NYCFC and Columbus) make this the easiest MVP decision in a long time. Some might argue that teammate Miguel Almiron is more deserving, but ultimately, who’s putting the ball in the net?

Honorable mentions: Zlatan Ibrahimovic (FWD, Los Angeles Galaxy); Ignacio Piatti (FWD, Montreal Impact); Miguel Almiron (AM, Atlanta United)

Goalkeeper of the Year: Matt Turner (GK, New England Revolution)

Until 2018, Matt Turner had never made an MLS appearance for New England. After outperforming more experienced goaltenders Cody Cropper and Brad Knighton during preseason, the former Fairfield University standout has been a revelation for the Revolution, making 75 saves and essentially deciding games on his own on several occasions. It seems that ex-USMNT goalkeeper Brad Friedel – currently head coach of the Revs – has made a wise decision in promoting the youngster to the starting role.

Honorable mentions: Stefan Frei (GK, Seattle Sounders); Zack Steffen (GK, Columbus Crew)

Defenders of the Year: Aaron Long and Tim Parker (CB, New York Red Bulls)

The Red Bulls have given up eight goals in their last 10 games and only 23 in 23 on the season, in large part thanks to the staunch defensive pairing of Long and Parker. The two have taken vastly different paths to end up in the same place: Long bounced around the USL for a few years before being promoted from NYRB II in 2017 while Parker was a standout for the Vancouver Whitecaps before being traded away at the start of the 2018 season.

Honorable mentions: Matt Hedges (CB, FC Dallas); Harrison Afful (RB, Columbus Crew)

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Former Galaxy striker Gyasi Zardes has rediscovered himself in Columbus. Image: MLS Multiplex

Comeback Player of the Year: Gyasi Zardes (FWD, Columbus Crew)

Discarded by the team that made him the most high-profile Homegrown signing in league history, Zardes has rediscovered his golden touch with the Crew, netting 14 goals to lead what has been an otherwise anemic attack. The former USMNT regular has been oft-criticized for his performances for the Stars and Stripes, but is a return to the national team in the cards?

Honorable mention: Teal Bunbury (FWD, New England Revolution)

Newcomer of the Year: Zlatan Ibrahimovic (FWD, Los Angeles Galaxy)

While there have been a number of great signings this year, Zlatan has been in a class of his own, scoring 15 goals and contributing seven assists since his switch from Manchester United. Time and time again, LA has relied on the Swede to bail out an inept defense, and the results speak for themselves: with 36 points through 24 games, the Galaxy have already bested their points total from last season with ten games left.

Honorable mentions: Alejandro “Kaku” Gamarra (AM, New York Red Bulls); Carlos Vela (FWD, Los Angeles FC); Darwin Quintero (FWD, Minnesota United)

Coach of the Year: Bob Bradley (Los Angeles FC)

*Note: this assumes that LAFC makes the playoffs.

Any time a coach is able to take an expansion team to the playoffs in the club’s inaugural season, it’s an impressive feat, but what Bob Bradley has done with LAFC has gone beyond that. The Black-and-Gold have been one of the league’s most entertaining teams this season, and although they haven’t kept up their red-hot start, they remain one of the few Western Conference teams to have reached five away wins. If LAFC could see out games through stoppage time, this award would be a no-brainer.

Honorable mentions: Gerardo Martino (Atlanta United); Oscar Pareja (FC Dallas)

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17-year old Alphonso Davies has clinched a move to Bayern Münich. Image: FourFourTwo

Young Player of the Year: Alphonso Davies (W, Vancouver Whitecaps)

Is there anything this kid can’t do? At age 17, he’s already won the Golden Boot at the CONCACAF Gold Cup, been sold to German giants Bayern Munich for $22 million, and changed the entire dynamic of the Vancouver Whitecaps attack. Although his speed is his most noticeable asset, he also possesses great ball control and a devastating shot. Canadian fans will follow him closely as he seeks to make his mark in Europe.

Honorable mentions: Corey Baird (FWD, Real Salt Lake); Ken Krolicki (CM, Montreal Impact)

Unsung Hero: Cristian Penilla (W, New England Revolution)

Another good candidate for Newcomer of the Year, Penilla has set the league ablaze in his first season with the Revs, notching nine goals and six assists through 22 games. The ex-Pachuca man suffers somewhat from playing for a lesser-known team, and although he likely won’t garner any end-of-season awards, his contributions to an upstart New England side should not go unrecognized.

Honorable mentions: Maxi Moralez (AM, NYCFC); Milton Valenzuela (LB, Columbus Crew); Mauro Manotas (FWD, Houston Dynamo)

Biggest Disappointment: Justin Meram (W, Orlando City SC)

Although Meram has since been traded back to Columbus, his time in Florida was an absolute disaster. Despite his deadly right foot, the Iraqi national teamer could only score a single goal for the Lions. As it became clear that he wanted out, Orlando were forced to take a loss on the trade and send him back to Ohio. Can he recapture the form that made him one of the league’s most exciting players as the Crew make their playoff push, or will he fail to live up to expectations once again?

Honorable mention: C.J. Sapong (FWD, Philadelphia Union); Toronto FC (entire team); the Galaxy’s ridiculously expensive defense

Injured Enigma: Philippe Senderos (CB, Houston Dynamo)

In the six games that Senderos has played this year, the Dynamo have kept three clean sheets. In the 17 other games the Dynamo have played this year, they’ve kept one clean sheet. Senderos also has four goals in 426 minutes of play…from the center back position. You would think he would start more often, but mysterious injuries seem to crop up at the most inconvenient time for the Swiss defender. Every game, Houston fans hope to see his name on the team sheet. Every game, they are disappointed.

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Zlatan has quickly made the MLS his own. Image: ESPN


Goalkeeper: Matt Turner (New England Revolution)

Center backs: Aaron Long (New York Red Bulls), Matt Hedges (FC Dallas), Tim Parker (Red Bulls)

Full backs: Harrison Afful (Columbus Crew), Milton Valenzuela (Columbus)

Center midfielders: Diego Chara (Portland Timbers), Sean Davis (Red Bulls)

Attacking midfielder: Miguel Almiron (Atlanta United)

Forwards: Josef Martinez (Atlanta), Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Los Angeles Galaxy)


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