MLS MidSeason Awards: New England the Best: The top contenders for this year’s MLS midseason awards all hail from the New England Revolution, and not just because they’re the only team in the league with two players (Lee Nguyen and Kelyn Rowe) receiving player of the month honors. The Revs’ greatness this season is rooted in the depth of their talent, which is a product of years of building a talented roster around the spine of Lee Nguyen and Kelyn Rowe.

Wednesday night, New England played the Los Angeles Galaxy to a draw, with the Revs winning the tiebreaker in goal differential. The result was one of the most exciting games of the season so far, with the Revs getting the lead in the second half, but just failing to get the victory, thanks to some questionable refereeing. New England also got the best player of the game, with the Revs getting the award for best team for the first time this season. Another award that went New England’s way was for best player in the game, with Kelyn Rowe earning the award over Galaxy midfielders Sebastian Lletget and Jermaine Jones.

With the All-Star break and Rivalry Week behind them, MLS will focus on the last stretch of the season, with all sights on making the playoffs. As the focus shifts to the MLS Cup and the playoff push, ESPN takes a look back at some of the season’s most noteworthy players and teams from the first half.

Jump to: Best teams | Worst teams | MVP candidates | Managerial masterminds | Crazy goals | Breakout stars | Best defenders | Key keepers


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BEST TEAM

– Is the New England Revolution any good? So excellent, in fact, that the club has gone 4-1-1 without midfielder and MVP contender Carles Gil, who is recovering from an injury. New England already boasts two double-digit goal scorers (Gustavo Bou and Adam Buksa) and, in Matt Turner, perhaps the finest goalkeeper in the league. Another club worth mentioning is the Seattle Sounders, who have risen to the top of the Western Conference despite the absences of Jordan Morris, Stefan Frei, and Nicolas Lodeiro due to injuries (for the most part). Jeff Carlisle’s quote

  • MLS-midseason-awards-New-England-the-best-team-Carles-Gil

– The Revolution have dominated the Eastern Conference thus far, with a 14-point advantage and the most points (49) — seven more than Seattle. With few non-conference games under their belts, it’s reasonable to wonder how the Revs would perform in the West, but there’s no reason to believe the outcomes would be much different. The Supporters’ Shield is within reach, but it will be fascinating to see how big of a priority it is compared to the chance to rest players before the playoffs. Kyle Bonagura (Kyle Bonagura)

– It’s difficult to dismiss the Revs’ performance, but the 2020 MLS Cup runner-up Seattle Sounders have been as remarkable, with 49 points (on track to break LAFC’s all-time record of 72, established in ’19) and a.625 percent winning rate away from Gillette. Three of their four defeats were during a 13-day period in July, and they’ve only let up 14 goals while scoring 33 in their other games. They defend like bulls, ranking third in the league in tackling percentage and second in interceptions, while goalkeepers Frei and Cleveland have contributed to the team’s fourth-best save percentage in MLS (73.2 percent ). Dan Hajducky (Dan Hajducky)

– Bruce Arena’s Revs have only lost three times before to Saturday’s 2-0 defeat to New York City FC, but they are still far clear of second-placed Orlando in the Eastern Conference. Despite his injury absence, Gil has an MLS-leading 15 assists, while Canada international Tajon Buchanan (who will join Belgian club Club Brugge in January) has flourished on the flank in his second season. The Revs’ nine-game undefeated streak was broken recently at Yankee Stadium, but they remain heavy favorites to capture the club’s first-ever Supporters’ Shield. Elvin, Gus

Will the New England Revolution be able to continue their winning ways in the second half of the season? The Columbus Dispatch/USA TODAY NETWORK/Adam Cairns

TEAM WITH THE MOST DISAPPOINTMENT

– On June 29, then-Toronto FC head coach Chris Armas stated, “It’s a catastrophe,” after his club had just five points from their first 10 games. Toronto was thrashed 7-1 by D.C. United four days later, and Armas was sent packing. Toronto’s troubles have soured a squad that had long been appointment viewing, and with injury-report favorite Jozy Altidore out for six weeks and scorching 19-year-old Ralph Priso out for the season after right ankle surgery, it’ll only get worse. Still, 13 defeats in 22 games is abysmal for a team that has reached three of the past five MLS Cup finals and has the second-highest payroll in the league. Hajducky’s

Chris Armas was fired after Toronto FC failed to meet its customary high expectations this season. courtesy of Getty Images

– Prior to the season, LAFC was the betting favorite to win the MLS Cup, but they would not even be in the playoffs if the season ended today. The output has fallen well short of even the most mitigated expectations for a club with the offensive potential that LAFC has. Diego Rossi, who is currently at Fenerbahce in Turkey, hoped to improve on his Golden Boot-winning season in 2020, but his output dropped considerably (6 goals in 19 games). Brian Rodriguez scored two goals in a thrilling 3-3 tie with the LA Galaxy, but this star-studded squad is wallowing at the bottom of the rankings. Bonagura’s

– On paper, LAFC seems to be an MLS Cup contender, with much of the same players from the Supporters’ Shield-winning team in 2019. However, LAFC is now outside of the postseason picture and will be missing attacker Diego Rossi. On both sides of the ball, LAFC has been average. In attack, the team’s transition defense has been a problem, but the loss of center back Eddie Segura has cut deep. While it is surprising that a club that competed for trophies last year is dead bottom in MLS in 2021, there was at least some recognition that the Canadian side was in transition. Carlisle, United Kingdom

– There are so many candidates for this dubious honor — I’m looking at you Toronto, Portland Timbers and Inter Miami CF — but the reigning MLS Cup champion Columbus Crew has been the biggest disappointment of the bunch. At the All-Star break, the Crew has won just seven of 22 games and scored a paltry total of 25 goals, with a -4 goal differential overall. They rebounded nicely against FC Cincinnati in Ohio’s “Hell is Real” derby, but Lucas Zelarayan & Co. remain below the playoff red line and will need to improve before it’s too late. — Elvin

MVP

– Gil was on pace to surpass Carlos Valderrama’s single-season assist record of 26, which he established in 2000. If he recovers fast enough, he may still challenge the record, but Bruce Arena will be happy simply to have the Spaniard back on the field before the playoffs. That is the significance of the midfielder. Raul Ruidiaz of Seattle, who leads the league with 14 goals, will also be considered for MVP. Daniel Salloi of Sporting Kansas City is also in the mix as an all-arounder, with 12 goals and five assists giving him the league’s best goals-plus-assists total. Carlisle, United Kingdom

– Ruidiaz, Gil, and Salloi were the three guys I considered. All of them have compelling arguments, and at this point in the season, I don’t feel obliged to make a strong case for one over the other. One of the great storylines in the league this year is Salloi’s participation as a candidate. Over the past two seasons, he has received as many red cards as goals (1), and he currently leads the league in goals and assists (17). Bonagura’s

– Although it is still very early, Gil seems to be the leader. Despite his long layoff, his assist total (15) is halfway to “El Pibe” Valderrama’s career high of 26. The Valencia academy product and former Aston Villa man is mainly responsible for the Revs’ record-breaking run. He has 86 opportunities, which is 20 more than any other player, with 38 of them coming from set pieces. New England, a founding member of Major League Soccer, is on track to win its first major trophy, and we all know how much Foxborough loves its trophies. Hajducky’s

Carles Gil has lost time due to injuries, yet he remains the MVP favorite. Icon Sportswire/Rich Graessle

MANAGER OF THE YEAR

– Bruce Arena deserves credit for reviving New England, but Brian Schmetzer has the Sounders behind the Revs, despite playing without Lodeiro, Frei, or Morris for the most of the season. Schmetzer flexed his muscles when Seattle defeated Austin earlier this summer with a starting lineup that included five youngsters. Bonagura’s

– At New England and Seattle, Arena and Schmetzer are performing God’s work, but Peter Vermes, ever the coxswain, is steady and true in Sporting Kansas City. This summer, he saw Gianluca Busio depart for Serie A’s Venezia, but SKC is riding a seven-game undefeated streak to become one of the best in the West. They have the highest possession rate in the league (53.8%), create the most opportunities (244), and allow the fewest goals (22), with a 40.4 percent tackling percentage. Hajducky’s

Despite a squad decimated by injury, Brian Schmetzer has Seattle on top. Jennifer Buchanan is a sports reporter for USA TODAY.

– There are two ways to win this award: one is for “best improved team performance,” and the other is for a squad that is so good that the manager can’t be ignored. I’ll go with Colorado Rapids coach Robin Fraser, who, while managing a club devoid of stars, has kept the Rapids solidly in the postseason hunt. Arena, on the other hand, will be difficult to ignore if New England sets a new record for most points in a season. Carlisle, United Kingdom

– Schmetzer edges over Phil Neville (joking) for his latest coaching masterclass in the Pacific Northwest by a hair. Injury to key players has wreaked havoc on the Sounders, with playmaker Nico Lodeiro and goalkeeper Frei both missing extended periods of time, and Morris remains out after tearing his ACL while on loan at Swansea City. Despite this, Seattle presently has the second most points in the league (42), and has a strong road record away at Lumen Field. Schmetzer has outdone himself once again. ‘Elvin’

YES, YES, YES, YES, YES, YES, THE SEASON’S OBJECTIVE

– The greatest attackers can see an opportunity even when it doesn’t appear to exist. So it was for Ruidiaz against Austin FC, when he saw Brad Stuver off his line and scored the game’s lone goal with a rocket from 37 yards. Quinn Sullivan of the Philadelphia Union is the first runner-up, with a bicycle kick goal against the Chicago Fire FC in his first professional start that he will remember for the rest of his life. Carlisle, United Kingdom

– ESPN commentator Herc Gomez exploded when Jakob Glesnes’ 93rd-minute ballistic rocket for Philadelphia wasn’t voted our greatest goal of the season so far during the Fourth of July weekend. Glesnes put the “glad” in “gladiator” on this wonder-strike, and Herc deserves credit for that. Not only did the Norwegian score from 35 yards out, leaving Brad Guzan defenseless, but he also single-handedly gave Atlanta United FC a point. Glesnes’ upper-90 screamer technique, power, and motion? Divine. Hajducky’s

When Jimmy Medranda gifted us all with this strike that seems to be a physics violation earlier this month, Seattle was putting it on against Portland. Bonagura’s

TAKE. A. LOOK. AT. THIS. HIT.

@jimmymedranda, please take a bow!!! #PORvSEA | #CaptainRoldan pic.twitter.com/zwM1zIKMVx

August 16, 2021 — Seattle Sounders FC (@SoundersFC)

– Rubio Rubin of Real Salt Lake reintroduced himself in style with an incredible bicycle kick against San Jose in May, after a few years in the wilderness. The goal’s beauty is enhanced by the whole sequence: a long throw, a flick-on header, a great piece of chest control by Rubin, an overhead kick, and the ball soaring into the top corner of the net without ever hitting the ground. Simply wonderful. ‘Elvin’

BREAKTHROUGH PLAYER (BREAKTHROUGH PLAYER)

– Cade Cowell, a 17-year-old San Jose Earthquakes prospect, still has a lot of growing up to do, but he’s showed glimpses throughout the season that he has superstar potential. This pass is one of the league’s most remarkable displays of talent this season. New England’s (and Club Brugge-bound) Buchanan, 22, and FC Dallas attacker Ricardo Pepi, 18, have been even more prolific. Both have made it onto their respective national teams (Canada and the United States) and have progressed to the next level in their careers. Bonagura’s

– Ricardo Pepi, 18, is a rising star for FC Dallas. Pepi scored a hat-trick on his pro debut for North Texas SC in the USL League One and hasn’t stopped scoring since. He was a spot starter in 2020, playing about 26 minutes per game, but he’s made his presence felt this season. Pepi, a dual-national born in El Paso to Mexican parents, was just selected to the United States men’s national team squad after scoring the game-winning spot-kick in the MLS All-Star Game shootout, the cherry on top of Pepi’s sundae of a 2021 season so far. He has 11 goals on 44 shots (54.5 percent on target, highest in MLS with a minimum of 35 shots) and has Bayern Munich and Juventus drooling over him. People, take advantage of him while you can. Hajducky’s

– In his second season, Tajon Buchanan has developed into one of the most exciting players in MLS, and he’s a big reason why the Revs have pulled away from the pack. In 17 games this season, Buchanan has a total of 10 goal contributions (six goals, four assists). He had to skip the All-Star celebrations in order to finalize his transfer to Club Brugge in Belgium. ‘Elvin’

– As much as I admire Cowell, I think Ricardo Pepi has had a bigger effect on Dallas. Not only has he forced a Designated Player striker (Franco Jara) to the bench, but his 11 goals are the only thing keeping Dallas in contention for the playoffs. With his recent call-up to the United States national team, he is poised for even greater success this season and beyond. Carlisle, Cumbria

Ricardo Pepi, a young FC Dallas player, continues to gain momentum. Today in the United States

DEFENDER OF THE YEAR

– Miles Robinson’s selection is impacted by his performance in the Gold Cup, but despite Atlanta’s problems, he’s shown he’s the genuine thing and deserving of a transfer to Europe in the near future. He has returned to the United States national squad for the next World Cup qualifiers. Bonagura’s

– Seattle boasts the league’s top defensive unit so far, and Yeimar Andrade has been one of the few constants on a backline with a lot of movable pieces (despite a recent blunder against Portland). He’s been consistent in his distribution and a force to be reckoned with when it comes to winning the ball. He has the most interceptions in the league (66) and has won 66.5 percent of his duels. Walker Zimmerman has also made an impression for a tough Nashville team. Carlisle, United Kingdom

– Kyle Duncan of the New York Red Bulls has been a Swiss Army knife this season, with 60+ tackles, 40+ interceptions, and 75 aerial duels. RBNY may be in 12th place in the Eastern Conference, but the club has only let up 25 goals in 20 games, five of which came in the opening two games of the season in April. Duncan is attracting attention from teams in France and Belgium as he enters the last year of his contract. Duncan could already be gone if Red Bull Arena could provide more attacking firepower. Hajducky’s

While Atlanta is struggling, defender Miles Robinson is flourishing. Getty Images/Icon Sportswire/Rich von Biberstein

GOALKEEPER OF THE YEAR

– Matt Turner of New England is the league’s top goalkeeper and the front-runner for the award, while William Yarbrough of Colorado is quietly playing at a high level. His 77 percent save percentage (min. 11 appearances) is third in the league, and his 8 clean sheets are second, and he’s played a key part in Colorado’s rise to MLS Cup contention. Bonagura’s

This choice comes down to the Philadelphia Union’s Blake or New England’s Turner. Despite Turner’s magnificent summer for both club and country, Blake gets the nod in that according to ESPN Stats & Information, Blake’s save percentage is better (77.3 percent to 75 percent), as is his goals prevented mark (Expected Goals on Target Conceded / Goals Conceded), which is 6.19 compared to Turner’s 4.09. — Carlisle

– Despite having one of the youngest teams in MLS, the Philadelphia Union is still in contention in the Eastern Conference, and Andre Blake is the primary reason for it. Blake has eight clean sheets and is third in save percentage among goalies who have played more than 15 games (76.7 percent ). The 30-year-old has consistently been one of MLS’ top goalkeepers, and he may be on his way to winning a record third MLS Goalkeeper of the Year Award in 2021. ‘Elvin’

– There are prejudices at work. Turner’s Gold Cup exploits are still vivid in Turner’s memory, and no MLS goalkeeper has allowed more goals than his 15.01 since the start of 2020. The second is more specific: Turner was a star at Fairfield University, where I almost enrolled right out of high school and eventually earned my MFA. (Congratulations, Stags.) But what a season for Philadelphia’s Blake: With 18 goals allowed, 7.27 goals stopped (best in MLS), a 76 percent save percentage, and eight clean sheets, they are tied for second in the league. Blake won the 2020 title, and if he wins another, he’ll have three in a row, surpassing the record. It’s a fitting tribute to one of the league’s all-time greats. Hajducky’s

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