Canadian winger Tajon Buchanan, Vancouver Whitecaps midfielder Ryan Gauld and Toronto FC fullback Justin Morrow are finalists for Major League Soccer's end-of-year-awards.
Buchanan, an elusive attacker who turned heads this year with both the New England Revolution and Canada, is up against Julian Araujo of the Los Angeles Galaxy and FC Dallas' Richard Pepi for AT&T Young Player of the Year, which covers talent born on or after Jan. 1, 1999.
The 22-year-old from Brampton, Ont., in his third MLS season, finished with career highs in games played (27), starts (19), goals (8) and assists (5). Named the Best Young Player at this summer's Gold Cup, Buchanan is set to join Belgian champions Club Brugge KV after the season.
Gauld, a Scottish midfielder who joined the Whitecaps on July 31 from Portugal's SC Farense, is a finalist for Newcomer of the Year along with Cristian (Chicho) Arango of Los Angeles FC and Eduardo (Chofis) Lopez of the San Jose Earthquakes. The award covers players who made their MLS debut in 2021.
Gauld had four goals and six assists in 18 appearance (13 starts). The playoff-bound Whitecaps went 9-2-7 in games he played.
Morrow, who doubles as executive director of Black Players for Change, is up for MLS WORKS Humanitarian of the Year. His competition is Araujo and Austin FC's Brad Stuver.
Buchanan is one of four members of the league-leading Revolution up for awards, along with Spanish playmaker Carles Gil (a finalist for Landon Donovan MLS Most Valuable Player and MLS Comeback Player of the Year), Matt Turner (Goalkeeper of the Year) and head coach Bruce Arena (Sigi Schmid MLS Coach of the Year).
Gil's opposition for MVP are Valentín Castellanos of New York City FC, Hany Mukhtar of Nashville SC, Joao Paulo of the Seattle Sounders and Sporting Kansas City's Daniel Salloi.
While Castellanos, a forward from Argentina, won the Gold Boot as top scorer with 19 goals, Gil led the league in assists (18) and tied the MLS single-season record with eight game-winning assists. Gil's 30 chances created were also a league record.
Gil led the league in big chances created (25), chances created from open play (81), and chances created from set play (49). His comeback player of the year consideration comes from missing almost the entire 2020 campaign with a bone spur injury on his foot.
Mukhtar had 16 goals and 12 assists, combining for the biggest total in MLS this season. The German attacking midfielder also notched the fastest hat trick in MLS history on July 17 with three goals in six minutes against the Chicago Fire.
Mukhtar finished the regular season tied for fifth in goals, tied for fourth in assists, tied for second in shots on target (43) and fifth in shots (94).
Salloi had MLS career-highs with 16 goals and eight assists. And his 24 combined goals and assists tied for fourth in the league. The Hungarian forward had five game-winning goals. Sporting went 11-0-3 in the 14 matches that Salloi scored in this season.
Seattle's Joao Paulo had three goals and 11 assists in 31 appearances. He finished fifth in the league in touches (2,463), first in tackles won (42), second in interceptions (36) and third in duels won (176) among players with at least 10 assists. The Brazilian midfielder ranked second in the league with 42 chances created from set plays and tied for third with six assists from set plays.
Arena, who has won the top coach award a record three times already, is up against former Toronto FC assistant coach Robin Fraser, who led the Colorado Rapids to the top of the Western Conference for the first time in club history, and Seattle's Brian Schmetzer.
The coaching award promises to be one of the most interesting races.
Arena led the Revs to the Supporters' Shield with a single-season points record (73). And with 22 wins, the most in the post-shootout era, he matched the late Schmid with the most regular-season victories in MLS history (240). Arena enters the playoffs as the league’s all-time leader in post-season victories (35), playoff games coached (54), and MLS Cup titles (5).
Fraser led Colorado to a second consecutive playoff berth in his second full season with the club, recording the highest points total (61) since the Rapids began play in 1996. Colorado’s 17 overall wins and eight road victories during the 2021 season were team records in the post-shootout era.
Under Schmetzer, the Sounders set a league record by going unbeaten in its first 13 games of the season (8-0-5). And Seattle finished runner-up in the West despite qualifying for extreme hardship roster relief in six matches due to injuries and other absences.
The finalists garnered the most votes from current MLS players, MLS club technical staff and select media.
MLS Awards Finalists
Landon Donovan MLS Most Valuable Player
Valentín Castellanos, New York City FC; Carles Gil, New England Revolution; Hany Mukhtar, Nashville SC; Joao Paulo, Seattle Sounders FC; Daniel Salloi, Sporting Kansas City.
Allstate Goalkeeper of the Year
Andre Blake, Philadelphia Union; Matt Turner, New England Revolution; Joe Willis, Nashville SC.
Defender of the Year
Yeimar Gomez, Seattle Sounders FC; Miles Robinson, Atlanta United; Walker Zimmerman, Nashville SC.
Newcomer of the Year
(For this award, newcomer is defined as a player who made his MLS debut in 2021)
Cristian (Chicho) Arango, Los Angeles FC; Ryan Gauld, Vancouver Whitecaps; Eduardo (Chofis) Lopez, San Jose Earthquakes.
AT&T MLS Young Player of the Year
(For this award, young player is defined as a player age 22 — born on or after Jan. 1, 1999).
Julian Araujo, Los Angeles Galaxy; Tajon Buchanan, New England Revolution; Ricardo Pepi, FC Dallas.
Comeback Player of the Year
(Honours an MLS player who has overcome injuries and/or adversity in order to achieve success during 2021 regular season)
Carles Gil, New England Revolution; Javier (Chicharito) Hernandez, Los Angeles Galaxy; Daniel Salloi, Sporting Kansas City.
MLS WORKS Humanitarian of the Year
Julian Araujo, Los Angeles Galaxy; Justin Morrow, Toronto FC; Brad Stuver, Austin FC.
Sigi Schmid Coach of the Year
Bruce Arena, New England Revolution; Robin Fraser, Colorado Rapids; Brian Schmetzer, Seattle Sounders FC.
Referee of the Year
Jair Marrufo; Robert Sibigal; Armando Villarreal.
Assistant Referee of the Year
Frank Anderson; Ian Anderson; Cory Richardson.
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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 15, 2021.
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press