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Ibrahimovic, Rooney, Martinez headline ESPN FC's best of MLS in 2018

With the book now closed on the 2018 Major League Soccer season, a campaign that culminated in Atlanta United's MLS Cup triumph over the Portland Timbers, we asked our league experts to recall their favorite moments of the year.

Player of the year

Josef Martinez, Atlanta United: Yes, this label probably goes to goal scorers too often, but when you have a record-breaking season like Martinez had -- one that included an astonishing 35 goals including the playoffs -- you have to give him the nod. The fact that his team won MLS Cup, and the role he played, makes him even more deserving. -- Jeff Carlisle (@JeffreyCarlisle)

Josef Martinez, Atlanta United: This is a no-brainer. Martinez set the single-season goal-scoring record and was named both the regular season and MLS Cup MVP. There's no other choice. -- Matt Pentz (@mattpentz)

Miguel Almiron, Atlanta United: Martinez got the goals, Almiron did everything else required to facilitate Atlanta United's record-breaking attack. Martinez provided the blunt force, Almiron the beauty. -- Noah Davis (@noahedavis)

Josef Martinez, Atlanta United: It wasn't that he broke the single-season scoring record of 27 goals, it was the fact that he absolutely crushed it, bettering the mark by four. Adding another four goals in the postseason, including the MLS Cup winner, was icing on the cake for the best player in the league in 2018. -- Arch Bell (@ArchBell)

Miguel Almiron, Atlanta United: While his teammate Martinez was setting a goal-scoring record and securing the league MVP award, Almiron was generating massive transfer hype with his own transcendent campaign. Almiron is the whole package -- scorer, passer, dribbler -- and will go down as one of the best ever to pass through MLS. -- Jason Davis (@davisjsn)

New arrival of the year

Wayne Rooney, D.C. United: Usually I have a bias against players who don't spend the entire season in MLS, but in this case, I'll go with Rooney over Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Rooney transformed D.C. United both on and off the field, and he did so with a humility that endeared him to just about everyone who follows the league. -- Jeff Carlisle

Wayne Rooney scored his first just before halftime, and his second after the hour mark.
Wayne Rooney dragged D.C. United from the bottom of the Eastern Conference into the playoffs in 2018.

Wayne Rooney, D.C. United: Apologies to Ibrahimovic, but Rooney actually finished the job by dragging a previously moribund DCU team into the playoffs. Time will tell whether Rooney's impact will spark a genuine soccer renaissance in the nation's capital, but it certainly was a fun first few months at Audi Field. -- Matt Pentz

Wayne Rooney, D.C. United: Ibrahimovic is an obvious (and deserved) choice, but what Rooney did resurrecting D.C. United -- with an assist to the new stadium -- came with a much higher degree of difficulty. -- Noah Davis

Wayne Rooney, D.C. United: You can put me in the Sebastian Salazar camp of those proved very wrong by Rooney. D.C. United was an afterthought before his arrival to the nation's capital, but his 12 goals and seven assists in 18 games and a partnership with midfielder maestro Luciano Acosta made D.C. a must-see. -- Arch Bell

Zlatan Ibrahimovic, LA Galaxy: There is only one choice for this category. Despite the Galaxy failing to make the MLS Cup playoffs in 2018, Ibrahimovic's influence was undeniable. Not only did the big Swede score 24 goals in 27 games after joining in late March, he prompted coverage and debate on a massive scale. -- Jason Davis

Manager of the year

Bob Bradley, LAFC: Yes, Tata Martino did a great job with Atlanta, as did Chris Armas after taking over the New York Red Bulls in midseason. But Bradley showed his chops in building an expansion side and getting them into the playoffs. The team played with an attractive style as well that won over fans. -- Jeff Carlisle

Gregg Berhalter, Columbus Crew: Maintaining his team's focus with all of the relocation drama swirling in the background and still qualifying for the playoffs was a herculean feat. -- Matt Pentz

Tata Martino, Atlanta United: He turned Atlanta into an MLS Cup-winning juggernaut. If there's a negative, it's that he didn't do enough to develop United's youth. But Martino will be gone before that potential deficiency matters. -- Noah Davis

Chris Armas, New York Red Bulls: Martino deserves praise for his title-winning season in Atlanta, and Bradley was fantastic in year one at LAFC, but Armas did an impeccable job in taking over midseason for Jesse Marsch in what was a seamless transition and then used a homegrown-led team to win the Supporters' Shield. A hugely impressive feat. -- Arch Bell

Tata Martino, Atlanta United: The Argentine maestro of Atlanta United exits the league a champion, a worthy enough reason to pick him. The sum total of Martino's impact in Atlanta (and on MLS) is larger than even winning MLS Cup. His legacy will long outlive his short two-year stint in Georgia. -- Jason Davis

Goal of the year

Zlatan Ibrahimovic, LA Galaxy: The technique, awareness and timing of his long-range strike against LAFC were exquisite. Considering it happened on his MLS debut made it even better. -- Jeff Carlisle

Zlatan Ibrahimovic, LA Galaxy: His long-range bomb in the first-ever El Trafico will live in MLS highlight reels for eternity. -- Matt Pentz

Zlatan Ibrahimovic, LA Galaxy: I wanted to pick something else -- Alphonso Davies dribbling through D.C. United could be a "where were you when" if he reaches his potential in Germany -- but Ibra's spinning kick was too good. Audacious, effortless, perfect. -- Noah Davis

Zlatan Ibrahimovic, LA Galaxy: The voters for MLS Goal of the Year got this one right. Had this come at any other time of the season in any other game, it still would have been spectacular and top choice. Considering this was his MLS debut and practically his first touch in a Galaxy jersey, it was magnificent. -- Arch Bell

Zlatan Ibrahimovic, LA Galaxy: Considering the context, the opponent and the national television audience, there's no other choice for goal of the year than Ibrahimovic's half-volley, 50-yard tally against LAFC in his MLS debut. The moment not only announced Ibrahimovic's arrival, it added a bit of spice to a new El Trafico rivalry. -- Jason Davis

Match of the year

Matchweek 4, LA Galaxy 4-3 LAFC: It was the first encounter between the two teams, and the sheer drama of the day meant this rivalry got off to a fantastic start. What a comeback by the Galaxy from three goals down. -- Jeff Carlisle

Western Conference semifinals second leg, Seattle Sounders 3-2 Portland Timbers (Timbers advance on penalties): The league's best rivalry taking place in the postseason would've been special enough on its face. Add in the many plot twists and shifting emotions during the second half of the second leg at CenturyLink Field, and you have the recipe for a game that'll be referred to in hushed tones for a long while in Cascadia. -- Matt Pentz

Matchweek 4, LA Galaxy 4-3 LAFC: It had everything: a budding rivalry, an absurd goal from Ibrahimovic, a ridiculous comeback, a game-winner. -- Noah Davis

Matchweek 4, LA Galaxy 4-3 LAFC: The Seattle-Portland playoff game was certainly memorable, but this was an all-timer. First L.A. derby between these two teams, new kid in town goes up three thanks to Carlos Vela's brace, world superstar Ibrahimovic makes MLS debut, scores the goal of the year and then a stoppage-time winner to complete 4-3 comeback win. It was impossible, but it happened. -- Arch Bell

Matchweek 4, LA Galaxy 4-3 LAFC: The goal of the year played a significant role in the match of the year. Ibrahimovic's stunning volley to beat LAFC goalkeeper Tyler Miller drew the Galaxy level after they had fallen behind by three goals. That set the stage for Ibrahimovic's dramatic winner in the first minute of added time. -- Jason Davis

Departure of the year

Miguel Almiron, Atlanta United: Assuming Almiron is indeed headed elsewhere this offseason, his presence will be missed. He is precisely the kind of young, dynamic player that MLS needs to focus on in terms of player recruitment. And his performances -- and likely sale -- show that MLS can indeed be a springboard for greater things. Atlanta manager Martino will be missed, too. -- Jeff Carlisle

Miguel Almiron, Atlanta United: My first glimpse of Almiron in person was at MLS Cup, and it was immediately obvious that he was special. Players like that don't come around these parts very often, and he'll leave a big hole both in Atlanta and around MLS more generally. -- Matt Pentz

Alphonso Davis, Vancouver Whitecaps: The 2019 season would have been the campaign in which he became appointment television. For his career trajectory, I'm happy he's moving on. As a selfish MLS viewer, however, I wish he stuck around. - -Noah Davis

Tata Martino, Atlanta United: The Argentine instilled an exciting, attack-heavy approach in Atlanta and it has been captivating for the past two seasons. Martino is the kind of coach MLS needs more of, evidenced by this Twitter thread from former Atlanta defender Bobby Boswell that shed light on Martino's insistence on his team playing out of the back. Whoever replaces Martino will have very large shoes to fill. -- Arch Bell

Tyler Adams, New York Red Bulls: Adams carries with him to Germany as much potential as any American migrant to the Bundesliga. He may have been a bargain for RB Leipzig because of the connection to the Red Bulls, but Adams's age and talent will eventually make him one of the highest-profile American players abroad. - Jason Davis


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