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McCarthy's Musings: MLS Award Predictions

By Kyle McCarthy

Allow me one last day of predictive hand-wringing before the season starts.

After previewing both conferences (Eastern last week and Western on Monday) and highlighting some of the key players and key storylines heading into the season, one final component of my season preview remains: award predictions.

Pinpointing who will win individual awards prior to the season starts is a hopelessly futile exercise. With 15 teams around the league and 24 available roster slots per team, there are roughly 360 players in the league heading into campaign. Of that rather nebulous number of professionals, less than twenty players (and one coach) can make this list.

With the low probability of success in mind, it is time to reveal the awards:

(For a look at the Goal.com consensus predictions, click here.)

MVP

Javier Morales, Real Salt Lake

The voters got it wrong last year when Morales was not named among the three nominees for MLS MVP. Morales consistently influences games at the peak of RSL's midfield diamond with his creativity and ambition. Playing for one of the Western Conference favorites helps his MVP case, too.

The tipping point: Morales plays for an almost certain playoff team, which distinguishes him from other potential candidates like Juan Pablo Angel (New York) and Landon Donovan (Los Angeles). Also, Guillermo Barros Schelotto faces long odds because no player has ever repeated as MVP.

Defender of the Year

Jimmy Conrad, Kansas City

MLS has consistently shed proven defenders over the past few seasons, leaving few individuals of the caliber required to lift this gong. The former MLS Defender of the Year and Best XI staple certainly has the quality to take it home again. Conrad will have to perform at his best in order to spearhead the Wizards' playoff charge.

The tipping point: Chicago's two candidates (Gonzalo Segares and Bakary Soumare) will steal votes from each other, while only one defender has repeated as DOY and Chad Marshall is no Carlos Bocanegra.

Goalkeeper of the Year

Joe Cannon, San Jose

Sneaky fact about the GOY: he usually benefits from a solid back line to protect his goal. Cannon has that in San Jose. Led by Jason Hernandez, the Quakes defensive unit exceeded expectations last year. The unit could improve further with Chris Leitch's addition and Ramiro Corrales' potential switch to left back if Simon Elliott (or an outside signing) can take over the defensive midfield slot.

The tipping point: Jon Busch is unlikely to repeat since no goalkeeper has ever repeated as GOY and Columbus goalkeeper Will Hesmer isn't as flashy as Cannon.

Golden Boot Winner

Juan Pablo Angel, New York

Break out the abacus for the goal tallies Angel and Donovan will accumulate this season. If Vegas were laying the odds, Donovan and Angel would feature at 2- or 3-1 and no one else would dip much below 8-1. Angel is the pick here, but Donovan could win the award just as easily.

The tipping point: If someone placed me in an uncomfortable position and asked me to pick the better finisher between Angel and Donovan, I'd pick Angel.

Rookie of the Year

Kevin Alston, New England

The rookie fullback is expected to log serious minutes for the revamped Revolution defense in 2009 after impressing during training camp. In a year where few rookies are expected to play significant minutes straight away, that makes him as good of a choice as any.

The tipping point: In the past four seasons, three defenders and a defensive midfielder have taken home this award.

Newcomer of the Year

Fredy Montero, Seattle

Prolific Colombian-based scorers have flopped in MLS in years past – the so-called King of Goals once scored 9 goals in 47 games for the Metrostars, after all – but Montero appears to be the real deal.

The tipping point: Santiago Hirsig appears short of match fitness and Freddie Ljungberg likely won't stay healthy.

Comeback Player of the Year

Christian Gomez, D.C. United

Sometimes, you can come home again. Gomez might not lead United to MLS Cup this season, but he will almost certainly improve on last season's lost campaign.

The tipping point: This award is nearly impossible to predict and Gomez is an easy mark.

Coach of the Year

Dominic Kinnear, Houston

After picking a somewhat under-manned Dynamo squad to lift MLS Cup, how could I go in another direction?

The tipping point: Internal consistency.

Best XI

GK: Cannon (San Jose)

DF: Conrad (Kansas City), Marshall (Columbus), Segares (Chicago),

MF: Morales (Real Salt Lake), Joseph (New England), Blanco (Chicago), Clark (Houston), Huckerby (San Jose)

FW: Angel (New York), Donovan (Los Angeles)

Around the League

- MLS Commissioner Don Garber is in Vancouver today to announce the Whitecaps as the 17th franchise. After a quick layover in Seattle for Thursday night's season opener between Sounders FC and New York, Garber is expected to head to Portland to announce the Timbers as the 18th franchise on Friday morning.

- D.C. United has pinpointed a parcel located near of the Morgan Boulevard Metro station as the location for its new stadium in Prince George's County, Maryland, according to The Washington Post. The proposed site is close to FedEx Field, the home of the Washington Redskins.

- Jon Conway refused to address his suspension at the Red Bulls' media day earlier on Monday. Conway's no-comment continues a pattern of evasive behavior and reinforces an unwillingness to take responsibility for his actions. For a player who came under intense criticism from his teammates last season after the suspension, Conway displayed a startling lack of leadership and remorse that could hurt him as he fights with Danny Cepero to regain the number one shirt once his suspension ends next month.

- Houston forward Kei Kamara also showed a stunning lack of judgment by making what MLS deemed to be “inappropriate comments” to a referee after a friendly between the Dynamo and San Jose on Feb. 15. Garber handed Kamara a two-match suspension, precluding Kamara from facing former clubs Columbus (March 22) and San Jose (March 28). Kamara placed the striker-needy Dynamo in a difficult spot to open the season through his indiscipline.

- New England is expected to finalize the signatures of two African players – a defender and a striker – over the next few days. Those players won't take the field right away; the players will need to clear immigration and secure their P1 visas before stepping onto the field.

- The Revolution also signed Darrius Barnes to a senior contract on Tuesday. The rookie out of Duke could start in San Jose at the weekend in central defense.

- Simon Elliott (senior) and Mike Zaher (developmental) have inked deals with San Jose, according to Center Line Soccer.

- Los Angeles expects to complete a deal with Tony Sanneh in time for Sanneh to play in Sunday's season opener against D.C. United. Considering Sanneh is expected to start in central defense for the Galaxy, the final deal can't arrive soon enough.

- Swedish striker John Pelu, currently on the books of Norwegian side Rosenborg, was expected to join Real Salt Lake on trial, but a last-minute hitch scuppered the deal, the Salt Lake Tribune reported.

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 MLSnet.com. Contact him with your questions or comments at kyle.mccarthy@goal.com.