A couple of Orlando City players were on the initial ballots for 2019 MLS end-of-season awards. Nani (MVP, Newcomer of the Year), Robin Jansson (Defender of the Year), Sebas Mendez (Defender of the Year, Newcomer of the Year), Brian Rowe (Goalkeeper of the Year, Comeback Player of the Year), Chris Mueller (Humanitarian of the Year), Kamal Miller (Rookie of the Year), Santiago Patino (Rookie of the Year), Tesho Akindele (Comeback Player of the Year), and James O’Connor (Coach of the Year). Granted, the league offers up a lot of candidates every year, but those were the names in the running for those awards.
Out of all those players, only Mueller had a real chance of making the ballot, let alone winning. O’Connor was fired at the end of the year, so he obviously was not winning. Nani had a shot at Newcomer. Mendez is not even a defender, so that one was a little odd. Lamine Sané was arguably the best defender last year for the Lions, and yet Jansson was given the nod ahead of him.
Ultimately, no one on Orlando City made the final ballots. That can’t really be argued either. Some players did well, but there was not any player that stood out in the league. This year, with a revamped squad, things might be different. Below are a few awards to look out for at the end of the season.
Coach of the Year
If things go right for the Lions, then Oscar Pareja has a real shot at Coach of the Year. He might not win it, but if he can make Orlando into a playoff team after another rebuild, then hats off to the Colombian. For him to have a chance, though, Orlando will likely need to have at least 50 points.
Goalkeeper of the Year
The argument could be made that Pedro Gallese is the best goalkeeper in MLS right now. The issue, though, is that he is not a household name. Come awards time, the big names typically win. So, for Gallese to win, he will have to make an abundance of highlight-reel saves and have an impressive goals-against average. The latter could prove to be his Achilles heel, as one never quite knows what the Lions’ defense will look like. On paper, it seems excellent, but then again, Orlando looked like a potential playoff team on paper this time last year.
Fans threw a lot of hate towards Dom Dwyer last season. And in their defense, he did miss a number of sitters. However, a bad year for Dwyer still saw seven goals. This season he should rebound and be back in the double digits. Add to that a much-improved midfield, and Dwyer could have anywhere from 15 to 20 goals. That would have put him fourth last year behind Carlos Vela, Zlatan Ibrahimović, and Josef Martinez. Zlatan is now gone, and let’s just hope that the other two cool down a bit.
Nani also has a chance at being the league’s highest scorer. He had the most on Orlando last year and is the best player on the team. I think he finishes with fewer goals than in 2019 (12) but more assists (10).
Rookie of the Year
This is always a toss-up at the beginning of the season as no one really knows who will step up to the next level. It is rare that someone like Cyle Larin comes along, who is the clear number one draft choice before the MLS Super Draft, and then backs it up all season long.
Orlando has a few rookies on the team this year, which MLS defines as “a player without previous professional experience who made his MLS debut.” Daryl Dike looks like he will get the most game action this season, and if he can make the jump to the big league, then he could take the league by storm. His finishing ability and hold-up play will be great assets in the attack. Also, look out for Jordan Bender and David Loera. The two players on Homegrown contracts should be given opportunities. However, neither might be ready for first-team action.