With the MLS Cup happening this Saturday evening in frigid Toronto, the league has been wrapping up some 2016 business, so let’s check in with a Championship week MLS Big – 5.
1) David Villa heads the Awards Seasons
The boys from the Bronx won the final N.Y. Derby of 2016 when David Villa was selected as the MLS MVP ahead of N.Y. Red Bulls duo Bradley Wright-Phillips and Sacha Kljestan.
Villa took the honors, one suspects, largely because he did what he did with less help. While the Red Bulls pair had each other to play off of Villa was surrounded by a less than heralded supporting cast, especially when Frank Lampard was missing, which he was often. Lampard suited up for just 19 of NYFC’s 34 regular season games.
And while BWP and Kljestan each had fine seasons, the biggest controversy around the MVP came not today but when Sebastian Giovinco failed to make the list of the final three candidates. A late injury hurt the Atomic Ant’s chances but many felt Seba’s combination of 17 goals and 15 assists should have been enough to garner the plaudits for a second consecutive season for the Toronto all arounder.
2) Best 11
At least Giovinco made the 11.
Goalkeeper: Andre Blake
Defenders: Matt Hedges; Axel Sjoberg; Jelle Van Damme
Midfielders: Mauro Diaz; Giovani dos Santos; Sacha Kljestan; Ignacio Piatti
Forwards: Sebastian Giovinco; Bradley Wright-Phillips; David Villa
Everyone will have favorites that they feel should have made the squad but there is not a whole lot wrong here.
Atlanta has put the rest of the league on notice that it intends to hit the ground running when it begins MLS play next March with a series of recent moves, in particular, the signing of 22-year-old Paraguayan playmaker Miguel Almiron.
Rumors put the transfer fee paid by Atlanta at $8 million or so, with Arsenal also reportedly in pursuit. Almiron becomes the second Young DP signed by AUFC, joining 21-year-old Argentine Hector Villaba, who can play as a wing or up top.
Atlanta had already signed ex-Premier League striker Kenwyne Jones, former U.S. Youth International Brandon Vasquez from Tijuana, and highly regarded American U17 star Andrew Carleton.
Atlanta is also said to close to acquiring goalkeeper Sean Johnson from Chicago.
All to be coached by high profile manager Gerardo “Tata” Martino, who boasts a resume including head coaching stints at Argentina and Barcelona.
4) Moving On
In recent weeks we have seen some of the league’s biggest names leave their clubs, some to retirement while others are looking to continue elsewhere.
The L.A. Galaxy has seen Steven Gerrard (retirement) and Robbie Keane (looking for a new club) head out the door along with new U.S. MNT boss Bruce Arena, sparking a rebuild at the StubHub Center.
Also on the way out of MLS is Didier Drogba, who finished on a sour note in Montreal. Not because the Impact was eliminated from the playoffs by Toronto in a semifinal thriller, but because of his petulant refusal to dress when coach Mauro Biello assigned him to the bench in the season’s second to last match.
Drogba joined the league with a flourish in July 2015, scoring 11 goals in 11 games but leaves with more in common with Gerrard as an international star that never really bought into MLS, as opposed to Keane and 2016 MVP David Villa, two players whose commitment to their MLS clubs cannot be questioned.
5) MLS Cup Sells out in 3 minutes!
We will be back with more on Saturday’s final before the week is out but this is impressive. Toronto and Montreal sold out both legs of the Eastern Conference semifinals, combining to sell over 97,000. Now this instant sellout. Congratulations and well done Canada. This level of interest is a great sign of health for the game in Canada and for MLS.