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Donovan, Marquez among potential award contenders.

In the topsy-turvy world of MLS, it is particularly difficult to see into the future.

While the operating principles and, in many cases, the major players remain the same, the nature of this single-entity fueled beast inspires upheaval from year to year.

The problem lies with trying to pinpoint exactly where the rising and falling will actually occur in the parity-filled American top flight. There are indicators, of course, but they do not always correlate to how events will unfold. Preseason friendlies and transaction announcements provide far less help than most would expect, though every piece of information has its place.

This column marks the first of a four-part preview series leading up to First Kick on Tuesday. With an overview of the season and conference previews still to come, the Friday Five – in its last appearance for the foreseeable future before yielding to the Friday MLS Forecast next week – offers up its predictions on players set to vie for individual honors:

1. Most Valuable Player – Landon Donovan, LA Galaxy: By all accounts, the Galaxy sees this campaign as a make-or-break year for this squad. Donovan will miss some time this season due to U.S. national team commitments, but he has repeatedly shown his credentials and his excellence when the chips are down and the stakes are high. As a preseason pick in a league where unexpected players can often construct a viable MVP candidacy with a sterling regular season, Donovan represents a reasonable bet to land there or thereabouts at the end of the campaign.

2. Defender of the Year – Rafael Marquez, New York: The usual suspects – the RSL duo of Nat Borchers and Jamison Olave and LA center back Omar Gonzalez – should challenge as usual, but Marquez's projected shift to central defense injects another tempting candidate into the mix. If New York can post a reasonable defensive record and Marquez impresses during his first full MLS season, his location and his prominence should place him near the front of a debate that has lacked depth in recent seasons.



3. Goalkeeper of the Year – Nick Rimando, Real Salt Lake
: It usually takes more than individual excellence to procure this award at the end of the campaign. Without a solid back four and a stingy defensive record, a standout goalkeeper will often lose out to more accessible choices. RSL's defensive consistency – plus Rimando's fine form in 2010 – makes the veteran shotstopper the best choice from a group of potential candidates that should also include Kevin Hartman and 2010 winner Donovan Ricketts.

4. Rookie of the Year – Perry Kitchen, D.C. United: United officials have consistently raved about the former Akron man's suitability for this level during training camp. Kitchen should earn the necessary playing time in central defense to compete for the award, but he'll have to hope that promising attacking players like Portland's Darlington Nagbe fail to breach the scoresheet regularly to bolster his chances. If Kitchen can adjust to the pro level like Tim Ream did last season, he will likely make it two ROY awards on the trot for United after Andy Najar edged Ream for the gong in 2010.

5. Newcomer of the Year – Omar Bravo, Sporting Kansas City: Many supporters in D.C. and around the league will likely expect Charlie Davies to whisk this award away with relative ease, but it just won't be that easy for the on-loan Sochaux forward. Davies must first prove his fitness and his sharpness – plus United's ability to generate chances for him – before working his way into these types of conversations. While Davies and New York midfielder Jan Gunnar Solli stand out as potential candidates, Bravo looms as the smart choice as he slips into an adventurous Sporting side in desperate need of a ruthless finisher to complete its attacking moves in style.

Kyle McCarthy writes the Monday MLS Breakdown and frequently writes opinion pieces during the week for Goal.com. He also covers the New England Revolution for the Boston Herald and MLSsoccer.com. Contact him with your questions or comments at kyle.mccarthy@goal.com and follow him on Twitter by clicking here.

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