Atlanta United’s inaugural season has been a historic and unforgettable one, and now it’s time to see who from the squad has caught the eye of the rest of the league. The Five Stripes has several players up for end-of-season MLS awards that will be announced leading up to the end of the postseason:
Landon Donovan Most Valuable Player Award
Atlanta United has three players nominated in the 53-player list for this year’s Landon Donovan Most Valuable Player award: Josef Martinez, Miguel Almirón and Tito Villalba. The three South American attackers have 40 goals and 24 assists between them this year, and have combined for 12 Team of the Week nominations, 4 Player of the Week nods, and 7 Goal of the Week awards. Almirón was also one of three Atlanta United players selected for the MLS All-Star Game and Martinez is the only player in the league to earn the MLS Player of the Month award twice.
Rookie of the Year
He may have dropped to number eight in the MLS Superdraft, but perhaps no rookie in the league has made a bigger impact on his team than the man fans have dubbed “Gresselmania.” 23-year-old Julian Gressel has made 30 appearances in several different positions, and has notched five goals and nine assists so far. Competing in the NCAA just a year ago, his quick adaptation and consistent performance in the professional game has turned heads. Among his many attributes – including technical ability, tactical awareness, fearless physicality and defensive discipline – Gressel's versatility has proven invaluable for an Atlanta side journeying through its first-ever MLS season.
Newcomer of the Year
MLS has a different award for players who had already made their pro debuts but have just arrived in Major League Soccer this year. And perhaps no one has made a bigger splash in the start of their MLS career than Atlanta United’s two nominees, Miguel Almirón and Josef Martinez. They’re two of the most crucial cogs in the electric Five Stripes attack that ranks second in MLS in goals this year with 68, just four behind the league leaders.
Defender of the Year
While much of Atlanta United’s headlines this year have been generated by their high-flying offense, their defense has turned into one of the strongest in the league. That’s much to the credit of the red, black and gold’s two nominees for Defender of the Year, Michael Parkhurst and Leandro González Pirez. Parkhurst’s impeccable reading of the game is only matched by his leadership abilities that saw him be named the team’s first-ever captain. Meanwhile, Pirez is a physical force with the technique to match it, instantly becoming one of the premier center backs in Major League Soccer in just his first season. The center back tandem – along with their partners at the full back positions and goalkeepers behind – have allowed just 38 goals this year, the third-fewest in MLS.
Allstate Goalkeeper of the Year
While Brad Guzan joined Atlanta United from the Premier League halfway through the season, his impact has been immediate, shoring up the back line to turn the Atlanta United defense into quite the formidable unit. Through 13 appearances, Guzan has many clean sheets as he has goals conceded - eight. And he’s currently on the tenth-longest scoreless streak in MLS history, with eight hours of competitive play since his last goal conceded. His stellar performances and immediate impact have pushed him right into the elite of MLS goalkeepers.
Coach of the Year
The architect for Atlanta United’s monumental inaugural season has been Gerardo “Tata” Martino. Martino’s world-class pedigree slotted seamlessly into the Major League Soccer style and helped make Atlanta United the first expansion team since 2009 to clinch a playoff spot in their first season. He’s created the offense that scored the second-most goals in the league and a defense that has conceded the third-fewest, truly a force on both sides of the ball already in their first year. Throw in an “MLS Best Dressed Coach” award, and you can see why fans have fallen in love with Tata.
Humanitarian of the Year
Atlanta United’s involvement in the community is as important to the club as its success on it, and no one embodies that commitment to the city like Mark Bloom. Mark has been a constant in the Five Stripes’ community outreach programs, including his role as the ambassador for the team’s first ever Special Olympics Unified team. A native of Marietta, Mark has never forgotten his roots and remains as involved as ever, constantly giving back to the city that made him.
The MLS end-of-season awards are voted on by players, coaches and league writers, with the finalists being announced on October 31st. Stay tuned to our website and social media channels for the results near the end of the year.