Welcome to the 2015 Orlando City SC end-of-season awards, presented to you by The Mane Land staff. Orlando City enjoyed loads of success on and off the pitch in its first MLS season. Although the club didn't make the playoffs, it did feature the league's Rookie of the Year and a solid mix of veterans and young players to make up one of the most exciting rosters in the league.
Here, we will award the Offensive and Defensive Players of the Year, Newcomer of the Year, Rookie of the year and Most Valuable Player within the club.
Rookie of the Year - Cyle Larin
Others receiving votes: LOL
My vote: Larin
Let's get the most obvious one out of the way first. Larin, the runaway MLS Rookie of the Year, was the unanimous Rookie of the year for The Mane Land. He shattered the MLS rookie goal-scoring record with 17 and is an utter monster. The No. 1 overall pick out of UConn became the first rookie to record two hat tricks in a season. Larin was also a solid passer this season, but his finishing was what took the league by storm.
I mean, just look at this.
Orlando City was lucky enough to have some solid rookies in its inaugural MLS season, but no one even came close to Larin. He also finished as one of the team's highest rated offensive players.
Offensive Player of the Year - Cyle Larin
Others receiving votes: Brek Shea
My vote: Larin
Larin also dominated this category and rightfully so. His goal total nearly doubled that of anybody else on the team. Had Larin not struggled as much as he did during a seven-game scoreless streak in the middle of the season, he almost certainly would have scored more than 20 goals and probably gotten Orlando City into the playoffs. But as he was often the only striker, when he struggled, the team struggled as well. During Larin's seven-game stretch without a goal, OCSC was 2-3-2.
His offensive importance is further noticeable by the fact that the team was 8-2-1 when Larin found the net. Although an argument can be made that the team was obviously more dangerous offensively with Brek Shea on the field, there is really no other choice that can be made for this award than Larin.
Defensive Player of the Year - Aurelien Collin
Others receiving votes: Cristian Higuita, Rafael Ramos
My vote: Higuita
This was only really close contest for an award with The Mane Land staff. Aurelien Collin ended up edging Cristian Higuita by one vote. The center back was a staple on the back line all season often playing with a carousel of partners at the second center back position.
Collin, the lone remaining member of the three guys (Amobi Okugo, Tally Hall) brought in to be the core of the team for the future, started in 27 of the 28 games he appeared in. He was the only player on the back line who had any MLS experience before the season started and he showed it by being a consistently steady presence.
As The Mane Land's managing editor noted in his end-of-season review of Collin, the big Frenchman led the team or was near the lead in several defensive categories. As the last line of defense, him being first on the team in interceptions per game and clearances per game was quite important for a defense that seemed to struggle for large portions of the season.
Newcomer of the Year: Kaká
Others receiving votes: Seb Hines, Adrian Winter
My vote: Kaká
Again, as if there was really anyone else we could have picked for this award. Say what you want about his on-field play -- and I've said plenty -- but there was no player in MLS who did more for a club from a marketing standpoint than the Brazilian legend Kaká. He was a large factor in Orlando City averaging the second-best attendance in the league in its first year, despite not making the playoffs.
He was third in the MLS jersey sales for 2015, and is a former FIFA World Player of the Year. For God's sake he was able to get the ear of the United Nations to help fight world hunger this season. I can't think of anyone else who has done that.
So, obviously Kaká did some incredible things for this club from a marketing standpoint, but he also played some decent soccer. It wasn't up to the standards that we often hold for someone of Ricky's caliber, but his nine goals and seven assists were good for second and first on the team, and he played more minutes than he has since his 2008-2009 campaign with Milan.
One thing to note with this award, is we picked from players who were newcomers to MLS, not just new to the club.
Seb Hines and Adrian Winter both should have a future with the club and played well this year, but they didn't have near the impact that Kaka had.
Most Valuable Player - Cristian Higuita
Others receiving votes - Darwin Ceren, Servando Carrasco
My vote: Higuita
Well, Carrasco did play a role in Orlando luring in Alex Morgan for the women's team. But, in reality, there wasn't a player who played well as consistently at Higuita did. This sort of seems odd to call him the MVP, when he wasn't the best defensive player of the year, but hey, I'm not the one who botched the voting. So complain to the staff about that.
It also seems like we may have underestimated him in his end-of-season rating. But, as a defensive midfielder, the Orlando City style ran through Higuita and his defensive midfield-mates Darwin Ceren and Servando Carrasco for much of the season. Higuita's presence often goes unnoticed in the run of play, but he was second in MLS in tackles per game, and had the best passing percentage on the team. Higuita never seemed out of control in big games, or let the moment get too big for him, making him probably the most steady presence in the lineup.
At just 21 years old, Higuita being the MVP of the team this early in his career, obviously bodes well for the club if they can manage to keep him around for the long-term future.
Interestingly enough, now former Orlando City goalkeeper Tally Hall (this sucks to write), who received the highest end of the season rating of any Orlando City player, did not receive a single vote for any of the awards. But I will present with two of my own awards: Most Missed Orlando City player, and the Orlando City Media Award for Best Quotes.
I'm a firm believer in everybody needing a trophy. So if your favorite player didn't get an award. Feel free to give him one in the comments section. I'll start:
Brek Shea - Best tattoos.