Ezequiel Barco, Marcelino Moreno Early Contenders For MLS Most Valuable Player Atlanta United

With just two matches remaining for Atlanta until Decision Day, award season has arrived.

On Thursday, the league released its first batch of nominations for its End of Year Awards, and the list included nine players and 11 total nominations for Atlanta United.

Leading the list for Atlanta are Ezequiel Barco and Marcelino Moreno, who have both been nominated for the Landon Donovan MLS Most Valuable Player award.

Both players are having strong campaigns for Atlanta. Barco is having his best season with the club of his career. The 22-year-old midfielder has recorded seven goals and five assists, both career bests. The league has noticed his contributions and named him to its Team of the Week six times this season.

“Obviously, Barco is a key player for us. You look at 1-v-1 situations, he wins those, gets fouled a lot and can help us control the tempo,” midfielder Mattheus Rossetto said.

Barco's teammate in the attacking midfield is also having a strong season. Moreno is second on the team in goals (9) and also has four assists.

The midfielder from Argentina has been one of the most successful dribblers in the league. Currently, his dribble rate is 91 percent, which ranks second in MLS.

“Confidence does play a part and right now they have been fantastic,” defender Anton Walkes said of Barco and Moreno. “We are going to keep encouraging that confidence because right now they are carrying the team.”

On the defensive side, Miles Robinson was among the list of players nominated for MLS Defender of the Year.

Although he doesn’t jump off the stat sheet, the center back has been a stalwart presence for Atlanta’s defense and is growing into a bigger role as a mainstay for the U.S. men’s national team.

“Reading the game, understanding where you can put out the fires early… I’m continuing to get better at,” Robinson said. “So just got to stay humble and keep going.”

The team’s leading scorer, striker Josef Martínez, is nominated for Comeback Player of the Year, which honors an MLS player who has overcome injuries and/or adversity in order to achieve success during the 2021 regular season.

After suffering a torn ACL in the regular season opener in 2020, Martínez has gone on to become the fastest player in league history to score 100 goals for one club in all competitions and lead the list of best-selling MLS jerseys in 2021.

“What he’s done for us as a club, for this city, for this league, it’s his desire to want to win that is special,” goalkeeper Brad Guzan said after Martinez scored his 100th goal.

So far this season, Martínez has scored 11 goals, which leads the squad. He scored the game-winner in Atlanta’s first come-from-behind win of the season on Wednesday against Inter Miami.

Rounding out the other major awards, Guzan was nominated for the Allstate MLS Goalkeeper of the Year for best goalkeeper in MLS. Guzan has recorded 88 saves on the season and has a save success rate of 79.5 percent. He ranks second in the league in long passes (245).

In the other categories, midfielder Santiago Sosa and striker Luiz Araújo were nominated for MLS Newcomer of the Year. Sosa joined the club in February and has played 25 matches.

Atlanta signed Araújo on August 6. The Brazilian striker has made a swift impression with his flashy foot skills and elite speed. His goal and assist in Atlanta’s 2-1 victory over Inter Miami gave him his first Team of the Week honors.

Barco along with defender George Bello are up for Young Player of the Year, given to the best player age 22 or younger during the calendar year. Barco turned 22 on March 29. Bello is 19 years old.

Mikey Ambrose represents Atlanta United for the MLS WORKS Humanitarian of the Year which honors an MLS player who showed outstanding dedication to charitable efforts and serving the community during the 2021 season.

The final nomination goes to head coach Gonzalo Pineda. The former Seattle Sounders assistant signed a three-and-a-half-year deal in August. Since taking over Atlanta United on August 28, Pineda has gone 6-3-1 and led Atlanta to four wins in five matches during the month of September.

Voting begins on Friday and lasts through Monday, Nov. 8. Current players, club leadership and media members will vote to determine the winners.

A full list of Atlanta's 11 nominations is below:

Award
Atlanta United Nominee(s)
2021 Landon Donovan MLS Most Valuable Player
Ezequiel Barco, Marcelino Moreno
MLS Defender of the Year
Miles Robinson
MLS Comeback Player of the Year
Josef Martínez
Allstate MLS Goalkeeper of the Year
Brad Guzan
MLS Newcomer of the Year
Santiago Sosa, Luiz Araújo
Young Player of the Year
Ezequiel Barco, George Bello
MLS WORKS Humanitarian of the Year
Mikey Ambrose
Sigi Schmid MLS Coach of the Year
Gonzalo Pineda