The 2019 Major League Soccer season has featured an influx of high-priced talent as the league’s infusion of allocation money, coupled with more aggressive pursuits of designated player signings, has given teams access to more talented players.
The list of impressive MLS newcomers is a long one, but the leading candidates for the league’s Newcomer of the Year award have emerged from the pack to establish themselves as the best new faces in MLS this season.
New York City FC striker Heber, New England Revolution playmaker Carles Gil, and Toronto FC playmaker Alejandro Pozuelo are the top contenders for the award that Zlatan Ibrahimovic took home in 2018.
One player who might be considered by some to be a top newcomer, but isn’t eligible for the award, is Philadelphia Union striker Kacper Przybylko. Though he didn’t make his MLS debut until 2019, he was on the Union roster in 2018, therefore making him ineligible for the MLS Newcomer of the Year award.
Here is a closer look at the three top contenders, along with others in the conversation as the MLS regular season draws to a close:
When David Villa left after the 2018 season, the big question was who would fill the goal-scoring void at Yankee Stadium. The Brazilian striker has stepped up to the challenge, scoring 13 goals and adding 4 assists in 19 matches to help NYCFC solidify itself as one of the top teams in the East.
Carles Gil, New England Revolution
No newcomer has enjoyed a stronger run of form in recent weeks than Gil, who has been at the forefront of New England’s turnaround under head coach Bruce Arena. The Spanish playmaker has generated 5 goals and 7 assists in his past nine matches, pushing his season totals to 9 goals and 12 assists. He has helped the Revolution climb into playoff position, and if he can continue his torrid form, he’ll be a favorite for the newcomer award.
Alejandro Pozuelo, Toronto FC
Another player who faced the tall task of replacing an MLS legend, Pozuelo stepped into the void left by Sebastian Giovinco’s departure and promptly established himself as one of the league’s most dangerous midfielders.
The Spaniard has amassed 9 goals and 9 assists, which has him on the verge of joining Carlos Vela on the short list of players with double-digit goals and assists.
Other Top MLS Newcomers
Nani. The Portuguese star hit the ground running with a torrid start to his MLS tenure, but he eventually slowed down, and Orlando City’s struggles make him a tough pick for the award considering what some other candidates have been able to do with their teams.
Brian Fernandez. There was a point when Fernandez’s goal-scoring ways had him looking like a potential favorite for the award, but he’s only scored in one of his past six matches. Despite that cold spell, 10 goals in 14 matches is still an impressive strike rate.
Vito Mannone. You don’t often see goalkeepers get serious consideration for non-goalkeeper awards, but Mannone has done his part to help turn Minnesota United from defensive laughing stock to solid defensive unit. Of course, the arrivals of Ike Opara and fellow MLS newcomers Jan Gregus and Romain Metanire have played a major part as well, but Mannone deserves consideration here (as do Gregus and Metanire).
Cristian Espinoza. San Jose’s dramatic turnaround under new head coach Matias Almeyda has been one of the stories of the season, and Espinoza has been a major player for the Earthquakes’ revival. The speedy winger has provided 2 goals and 11 assists for San Jose, along with a consistent threat on the right flank. Teammate
Eddie Segura. The LAFC defender has partnered with Walker Zimmerman in the stingiest defense in MLS. The Colombian central defender isn’t
Nico Gaitan. The Chicago Fire’s inconsistent play makes it tough for any of their players to generate serious buzz for awards, but Gaitan has been an excellent addition, netting 4 goals and 10 assists in 22 matches.
Ali Adnan. There isn’t that much to be excited about when it comes to the Vancouver Whitecaps’ season, but Adnan has been a class addition, stepping in and establishing himself as one of the best left backs in the league.
Pity Martinez. Seen as a big disappointment through the first half of the season, Martinez has started to find his top form in recent weeks, and while he won’t be in the conversation for the Newcomer of the Year award, he could wind up being the most important newcomer when the playoffs arrive.