It’s a privilege to vote for the MLS Awards and one we do not take lightly. This is Hudson River Blue’s first time voting, but all of us have spent years watching controversies and debates flare up during year-end awards season. We actively try to avoid making questionable voting decisions that involve us in any of that.
This ballot was aided greatly by the comprehensive matchday whiparound and wrap-up coverage MLS produces over on AppleTV, plus player statistics available on Football Reference, Fotmob and American Soccer Analysis, particularly the goals added (g+) model that values a player’s total on-ball contribution in attack and defense.
MLS limits voters to a designated field of nominees, which you can see here. We attempted to describe the decision-making process for each vote below. Feel free to light us up in the comments section or on Twitter, currently going by X, for any or all of the following choices.
MVP: Luciano Acosta, FC Cincinnati
Being the best individual player on the league’s best team is one reason Luciano Acosta deserves the MVP, but it’s not the only reason.
FC Cincinnati successfully built their Supporters Shield-winning side around the Argentine playmaker, who has enjoyed his best goal-scoring season ever while continuing to operate as one of the best creative No 10s in MLS.
You can quibble with the fact that seven of Acosta’s 17 league goals have come from the penalty spot, but there’s no way to diminish his influence and excellence throughout 2023. He also sits near the very top of MLS leaderboards for things like assists, shot-creating actions, goal-creating actions, and key passes. Acosta has always been good in MLS (how did DC United let him go?!), but in 2023 has had his best offensive year to date and is a well-deserved, potentially near-unanimous choice for MVP.
Defender of the Year: Yeimar Gómez Andrade, Seattle Sounders
Seattle have kept the most clean sheets in the league, have conceded the second-fewest goals in MLS and lead the league entirely with just 32.2 expected goals allowed (xGA). Yeimar is a huge reason why, the backbone of a stout Sounders defense along with his regular center back partner Jackson Ragen.
Yeimar has led the league in interceptions for three straight seasons and is among the 2023 league leaders in clearances. He has done the stay-at-home defensive dirty work while Ragen has handled distributing and advancing the ball out of the back for Brian Schmetzer’s side, and the duo both deserve recognition, though Ragen was not among the nominees for this award.
The Sounders rely on their defensive strength as they ranked a mediocre 19th in MLS for goals scored this season, and the fact that they are as high as they are in the Western Conference table is down in large part to the work of Yeimar Gómez Andrade.
Young Player of the Year: Thiago Almada, Atlanta United
Almada is a player to enjoy while it’s still possible (and when his Atlanta side are not playing against your favorite team), because he’s too good for MLS and proved it during a near-MVP-caliber season in 2023.
His 16 assists are the most in MLS, he leads the league in both goal- and shot-creating actions, is tied for third in the league for non-penalty goals plus assists per 90 minutes, and is fourth in MLS in key passes. He scored some incredible free kicks and would be a strong contender for MLS MVP in most years, but Young Player of the Year will have to suffice.
Newcomer of the Year: Giorgos Giakoumakis, Atlanta United
The Greek Freak but in MLS form, Giakoumakis proved to be a prolific goal scorer in his first season playing in America.
He’s second in MLS in goals per 90 minutes (0.86) and is tied for first in all of MLS with 17 non-penalty goals scored. He and Thiago Almada are a deadly one-two punch for Atlanta and both deserve recognition for their seasons, as they’re likely each responsible for dragging the team into the postseason, given Atlanta’s defense surrendered the third-most goals in the East.
Giakoumakis and Almada both ending up in striking distance of the MLS Golden Boot kept Atlanta relevant, and it’s hard to make a bigger impact than Giakoumakis did in a first season in MLS.
Goalkeeper of the Year: Roman Bürki, St. Louis City SC
St. Louis gambled by making Bürki a high-priced Designated Player signing, and it has paid off spectacularly. The Swiss netminder ranks second in saves, second in post-shot expected goals minus goals allowed (PSxG-GA), a popular advanced metric for measuring the likelihood of a goalkeeper saving shots, and he’s also third in save percentage.
Expansion sides in MLS rarely finish at the top of their conferences in their inaugural seasons, but St. Louis has stood out as an exception. Players such as Eduard Löwen and João Klauss have made the difference in attack for the midwestern club, but they also missed chunks of the season through injury. Bürki has been a consistent presence who has made match-saving stops and helped keep St. Louis at the top of the Western Conference.
Comeback Player of the Year: Keaton Parks, New York City FC
Parks has not had the top statistical season among the players nominated for this award — that distinction goes to Sporting Kansas City striker Alan Pulido, who with 14 goals on the season seems a likely winner when all votes are counted. Parks, though, is coming off two straight seasons derailed by frightening leg blood clot surgeries, and in 2023 rebounded to put in a full campaign as a constant in NYCFC’s midfield.
Parks ranked 15th among MLS central midfielders in raw goals added (g+) per 96 minutes, and leads his New York City team in progressive passes, passes into the final third, and boasts a 90.7% pass completion rate while attempting 120 more passes than his nearest teammate. Keaton’s ability to put those two consecutive serious surgeries behind him and put in a season where he ranks second on the team in minutes played while pulling all the important strings in the midfield deserves this recognition.
Coach of the Year: Pat Noonan, FC Cincinnati
Noonan has been instrumental in reversing the fortunes of the multiple-time Wooden Spoon-winning Cincinnati team, and his work in 2023 beats out even the impressive accomplishments Bradley Carnell has orchestrated with his expansion St. Louis team.
Winning the Supporters Shield and making a run to the US Open Cup semifinal while only suffering five regular season defeats is extremely impressive given the busy, at times hard-to-navigate fixture schedule all MLS coaches faced this season. Noonan utilized his full bench to guide Cincy to success, as he’s one of the coaches who made the most substitutions per match in 2023 while utilizing over 90% of his available substitutions over the course of the season. Noonan’s approach has worked, and not just in 2023, as he’s reportedly got the second-best win percentage ever over a head coach’s first two full seasons in MLS.