MLS is back and there’s a new team to bring the total to 29 in St. Louis SC. But while they’ll be kicking off as the great unknown of the season, I’ve taken the time to look into my crystal ball to project some award winners this season. From the good to the bad, strap in for a wild ride of what this season could look like in the most unpredictable league in the world.
Most likely to win the Golden Boot
Cucho Hernandez, Columbus Crew: It’s a small sample size to go off of with Cucho only playing in 16 matches last season but his nine goals was quite an impressive return for a Crew side that missed the playoffs. Under the new management of Wilfried Nancy and with a full season under his belt, Cucho will be able to push for honors this season. I already have the Crew making the playoffs and contending for MLS Cup and Cucho bagging 20 goals will be a large reason why they’re in contention.
Top breakout candidate
Jack McGlynn, Philadelphia Union: Already on PSV’s radar, McGlynn almost broke out last season filling in for an injured Alejandro Bedoya helping drive the team to MLS cup. Few midfielders are able to disguise where their passes are going in the way that he can at only 18 years old, helping the Union attack tick. Jim Curtin has a loaded midfield at his disposal but McGlynn brings something that the other deep lying midfielders don’t. When the Union will need to unlock a game, he’ll be one of the first names called upon.
Dante Vanzeir, New York Red Bulls: I love following Brighton of Belgium, Royale Union Saint-Gilloise, and one player that made the team tick was Vanzeir. Popping up everywhere, he has scored 10 goals in 20 matches this season after scoring 14 and assisting 10 more last season. Vanzeir is also willing to press and could fill a hole that has existed in Harrison since line-leading Bradley Wright-Phillips left the club. The defense is already excellent so if the Red bulls are able to score goals, they’ll be tough to beat this season.
Most disappointing signing
Roman Burki, St. Louis City SC: It’s good to be able to bring in experienced players from abroad but when it comes to allocating limited funds, Burki will have to win goalkeeper of the year for his move to St. Louis to be worth it. An accomplished keeper from his time at Borussia Dortmund, Burki will bring much needed experience to the team but when solid MLS keepers like Tyler Miller and Alec Kann were easily available, these funds could’ve gone into the attack. Sporting director Lutz Pfannenstiel is someone who marches to the beat of their own drum but it may take a bit to get used to MLS roster construction rules.
Defender of the year
Ryan Hollingshead, LAFC: Already the top scoring defender in the league last season with six goals and one assist, Hollingshead has a critical role in the attack for the Black and Gold. But the team should also be better defending this season now that Gareth Bale won’t be on the pitch, who, despite the dramatic nature of his stage-exiting goal to win LAFC the title last season, was a defensive liability from the front. If Hollingshead can continue scoring at a high rate while keeping more clean sheets, he’ll have a serious case for Defender of the Year honors this season.
Team most likely to disappoint
CF Montreal: The team has already disappointed this season by announcing that they won’t be releasing new jerseys but the major on-field issue is they’ve lost their head coach along with Djordje Mihailovic, Alistair Johnston, Ismael Kone, Joaquin Torres, and Kei Kamara among other players. While there have been a few additions and Montreal does have homegrown players who can step up, a case can be made that one of the best teams in the league has now become wooden spoon contenders for the worst record in the league. It would be a disappointing slide, but it’s hard to see Montreal competing when so much of the league got better during the offseason and they didn’t.
Daniel Gazdag, Philadelphia Union: Gazdag came close last season with 24 goals and six assists but this is the year that the Hungarian playmaker breaks through. In year two with Mikael Uhre and Julian Carranza, Uhre will be able to break ten assists and could still manage a 20 goal season which should be enough to push him to more goal contributions than Hany Mukhtar. It will still be a dead heat between the duo but this is the season where Gazdag wins out.
Coach of the year
Wilfried Nancy, Columbus Crew: Nancy should’ve won the award last season due to his success with Montreal but bringing that success to another team will be enough to push him over the edge. Nancy will be able to bring the Crew back to compete with the best teams in the Eastern Conference to cement his status as one of the best coaches in the league.