The playoff race to the MLS Cup title is less than a month away, but the chase for individual awards is in its final stages. A crop of new faces have taken Major League Soccer by storm in 2007 and these newcomers should walk away with most of the hardware when MLS names its best players at season's end.
Most Valuable Player -- Luciano Emilio, D.C. United
When Emilio showed his scoring touch in the Champions Cup before the MLS season began, you knew D.C. had found an MVP-caliber player. All the Brazilian has done since that promising start is keep scoring and scoring. His quickness, ability to make well-timed runs and read United's talented midfield has made Emilio nearly impossible to contain.
However, you could argue that Juan Pablo Angel has been even more important to a Red Bulls team that has endured an up and down season after starting the year strongly. Consider these statistics: Angel has scored 17 goals and assisted on four others in 21 games, that is a goal produced a game and 21 goals out of 35 scored by the Red Bulls since he joined the team in May. Emilio has scored 20 and assisted on one of D.C. United's 53 goals this season.
Cuban forward Maykel Galindo was a strong candidate this summer but his Chivas USA teammate, Ante Razov, will probably steal some votes away from him. New England's Shalrie Joseph should be considered every year even if he doesn't put up flashy stats, but a defensive midfielder will never win an MVP award in MLS.
Newcome of the Year -- Juan Pablo Angel, Red Bulls
When MLS created this award you had to wonder whether the league considered the overlap between this and the MVP award. If we assume that the MVP winner won't take both awards, then you have to give the nod to Angel, who has stepped right in and become a franchise goal scorer.
Galindo certainly deserves consideration for this award. His 12 goals and five assists are a big reason Chivas USA has the best record in the West. Then there is Galindo's story, how the Cuban striker defected from Cuba's national team and made his way to MLS after playing in the USL.
Juan Toja was in the running for this award but hasn't been the same since coming back from a serious ankle injury. Guillermo Schelotto has added sorely-needed flavor to an otherwise bland Columbus Crew squad, but he is likely a third choice for this award.
Rookie of the Year -- Dane Richards, Red Bulls
If you ask most league observers what rookie has shown the most promise in 2007, Toronto FC midfielder Maurice Edu will get plenty, if not most, of the votes. Identifying the rookie making the biggest impact this season is another matter.
Richards has been a revelation for Bruce Arena, providing speed and skill on the right flank the entire season. Aside from a stretch this summer when Richards hit the rookie wall, the Jamaican international has been a consistent threat and he has started to come on strong lately, forcing opponents to game plan to stop him.
Edu's quality is without question. The no. 1 overall pick in the MLS Draft, Edu is a versatile central midfielder who will be on the U.S. national team radar before long, but it is tough to measure his impact on a team that has endured an awful, injury-plagued season.
Other notables: Midfielder Michael Harrington (Kansas City) has been a steady contributor for Kansas City and defender Ty Harden (Los Angeles) leads the Galaxy in games played but he has endured some rough times during Los Angeles' disappointing season.
Goalkeeper of the Year -- Brad Guzan, Chivas USA
This hasn't really been a great year for goalkeepers in MLS but there are a few that standout, with Guzan leading the way. The U.S. national team goalkeeper has continued to improve his technical skills in net and doesn't rely as much on his pure physical tools. The result is a more mature goalkeeper who has recorded a league-high 11 shutouts.
Pat Onstad is 39 years old, but he is still a steady presence in the back for Houston's stingy defense. The Canadian goalkeeper leads MLS in goals-against average with an 0.87 ratio. Sometimes it is easy to take him for granted, but Onstad has played well enough to earn consideration behind Guzan.
D.C.'s Troy Perkins, the reigning award winner, deserves strong consideration. His 1.08 GAA is skewed by a terrible April for the team and Perkins has faced more shots and made more saves than Guzan and Onstad.
Defender of the Year -- Michael Parkhurst, New England
There were some good candidates for this award but no defender has been a steadier, more reliable and more skillful player than Parkhurst, who has blossomed into a complete defender.
Parkhurst has been all-star caliber since joining the Revs, but this season he has been especially strong. New England doesn't boast another quality defender on the roster and Parkhurst has used his uncanny positioning and ability to read the game well to cover for the defensive shortcomings of New England's 3-5-2 formation. He has continued to be a defensive anchor while still maintaining his unreal fouls committed rate. He has been whistled for just four fouls in 1837 minutes, a far cry from Houston's defensive leader, Eddie Robinson, who has recorded 58 fouls in 1,934 minutes.
Robinson should also garner votes for being the leader of a back line that has allowed a league-low 21 goals in 26 games.
Mexican national team legend Claudio Suarez deserves his share of consideration for being the unquestioned leader of Chivas USA's underrated defense.
Coach of the Year -- Preki, Chivas USA
There are only two legitimate candidates for this award and it wouldn't be a surprise if they were facing each other in the MLS Cup final. D.C. United coach Tom Soehn is a respectable option for the award but Preki should be the runaway winner.
Why? Consider the fact that the team's biggest offseason acquisition, midfielder Amado Guevara, left the team after playing his way out of town. Chivas USA owners never did replace Guevara but that didn't matter.
Preki could have lost control when his team won just two of its first seven and Guevara left town, but the former MLS MVP showed he could bring a team together. Now he has Chivas USA in first place in the West and challenging D.C. United for the best record in MLS.
Soehn was responsible for his own impressive turnaround early in the season. D.C. started the year 0-3-1, due at least in part to the grind of playing in the CONCACAF Champions Cup, but it didn't take Soehn long to right the ship. D.C. has posted a dominant 15-3-4 record since that slow start and head toward the playoffs as the MLS Cup favorites. So why isn't Soehn the coach of the year? We can't forget the fact that D.C. United was a popular choice to win MLS Cup before the season and the infusion of talent (Emilio, Fred, Greg Vanney) to an already strong roster.
Ives Galarcep covers MLS for ESPNsoccernet. He is a writer and columnist for the Herald News (N.J.) and writes a blog, Soccer By Ives. He can be reached at Ivespn79@aol.com.