The 2018 MLS season came to a close on Saturday night as Atlanta United took home their first trophy in just their second season. The team is full of stars, and two of those stars were up for the 2018 MLS MVP. Both Josef Martinez and Miguel Almiron had stellar campaigns for MLS’ Champions.
While it seems these two had the best season regarding the impact on their team’s success, their stats, and overall play, three other candidates made a strong case for themselves throughout the 2018 season. Those three players are LA Galaxy’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic, D.C. United’s Wayne Rooney, and LAFC’s Carlos Vela.
I’d like to note that both Miguel Almiron and Josef Martinez both joined Atlanta in their inaugural season in 2017. The other three finalists were new entrants of the league and provided proof that the league is heading in the right direction.
We’ll start with the man who won the award. The Venezuelan broke the record for most goals in an MLS season as he scored 31 goals. The previous record of 27 held by a trio of MLS players seemed like it was always going to be broken by Josef, and didn’t surprise many.
Josef was a key part of Atlanta’s success, as you can imagine, and did way more than put the ball in the back of the net. Martinez is not just a goalscorer, but with pace and strength, Josef can help play when he drops deeper into the midfield.
In 2017, his first season in America, Josef was lethal in front of the net, but only grabbed one assist. In 2018, the 25-year-old paired his 31 goals with 6 assists. Josef’s overall play improved and if you’re basing your MVP vote off of statists, Josef is the obvious choice.
This allows me to transition nicely into our next player, Miguel Almiron. The Paraguayan was Josef’s teammate and best friend at the club and their bond showed on the field. I just said that Josef is the obvious choice if you’re basing it on stats, but overall play? Miguel Almiron is your man.
While great players like David Beckham, David Villa and now Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Wayne Rooney have played in MLS, Almiron played at the highest level during his spell in the States. The aforementioned players were all aged when they decided to move to America, but Almiron was the opposite. A young, hungry player ready to use MLS as a stepping stone to Europe’s best clubs.
Almiron was a nightmare for every player to defend, and he knew it. With 12 goals and 14 assists, Almiron is one of few players capable of bagging double-digits goals and assists, but that’s not the most impressive part. Almiron was genuinely the best player on the field in almost every game, and he shared a field with the eventual MLS MVP.
Almiron likely played his last match in the league as his team won MLS Cup, and is now on to England. His agent confirmed multiple clubs were interested in signing the 24-year-old, and it looks like he’son his way. For those who watched this season, you’ll know what to expect from Almiron on a bigger stage.
Ahhh, who would have thought we’d be here? Well, probably half the people who follow MLS. An aged European star can go one of two ways when they enter the league. Either you go and show the players why you were so highly regarded in Europe, or you go an collect a paycheck. Zlatan could have gone either way.
Fortunately, “Ibra” was as exciting as he’s been his entire career. From his debut brace against LAFC in the first-ever meeting between the clubs to his acrobatic 500th career goal that would have you think he has a black belt (he does), Zlatan was everything Gals fans could ask for.
Zlatan scored 24 goals and added 10 assists, but still failed to lead the most successful club in MLS history to the playoffs. For many, this was a deciding factor in the vote, but to Zlatan’s credit, the team was struggling prior to his arrival. If he can bring the same level of play to LA next season (if he returns) don’t rule him out of winning this trophy.
With the worst stats on the list, Rooney might still be one of the most favorable options for the award. After years of success with Manchester United sandwiched between time with Everton, Rooney finally decided to come in 2018.
From his first game in July all the way till the last day of the season, D.C. lost just four games. Rooney played in 20 games, scoring 12 goals and adding 7 assists to the worst team in MLS. D.C. were bottom of the league prior to the Englishman’s arrival.
Rooney still managed to pull D.C. into the playoffs (something Zlatan couldn’t do) and did so with just one other star player in Luciano Acosta. Again, Acosta wasn’t half the player he was prior to Rooney’s arrival hence the lackluster start to the campaign for D.C.
LAFC’s Carlos Vela is the final candidate for the trophy. A player also in the double-digit club with Almiron, Vela had himself a fine debut season in Major League Soccer. While many didn’t give the first-year club a chance in their inaugural season, Vela led LA to third in a tight Western Conference.
On top of that, Vela also competed in the World Cup in the middle of the season for Mexico. In fact, Vela was one of the best players for El Tri showing the world the growth of MLS.
Carlos’ play shocked many around the league. While it was known he’d be a top player in the league, not many had him as an MVP candidate. In addition, even less were aware of his leadership ability. Vela will always be a huge part of LAFC’s history due to his role in the team’s inaugural campaign.
Josef won the award because many base MVP voting off of stats, but all these players had a case for winning the award. Something we can all agree on is the fact that with all these players joining the league in the past two season, the league is headed in the right direction.