With the new MLS season kicking off this weekend, we run through our award and silverware predictions.
Hedges earned his first Best XI selection in 2015 after helping Dallas top the Western Conference with just 39 goals conceded – good for joint-second fewest in MLS, but he had to settle for third place in the Defender of the Year voting behind the Montreal Impact’s Laurent Ciman and Vancouver Whitecaps stopper Kendall Waston.
Nevertheless, plenty would argue that the 25-year-old club captain has been the league’s best all-round centre-back for the past two seasons, and with Oscar Pareja’s men looking like prime MLS Cup contenders going into the new campaign, he should once again be fighting for the award.
After spending four seasons as a backup, Bingham became San Jose’s starting goalkeeper for the first time in 2015 and made an immediate impact between the posts, recording a club-record 12 clean sheets and 105 saves in 34 appearances to help keep Dominic Kinnear’s men in the playoff conversation right up until the final day of the regular season.
The 26-year-old has since earned his first US national team cap in last month’s 1-0 friendly win over Canada, and if he produces another impressive campaign, he could be competing with the likes of Nick Rimando and Luis Robles for both Goalkeeper of the Year honours and a regular spot in Jurgen Klinsmann’s squad.
After ending a two-year playoff drought in 2014, Berhalter’s Crew SC side took another big step forward in his second season in charge, securing a second-place finish in the Eastern Conference and their first MLS Cup final appearance since 2008. Their bid for a second title ultimately ended in a disappointing 2-1 defeat to the Portland Timbers on home turf, but with the starting XI remaining intact and a deep squad to boot, no team in the league is better set up going into 2016.
Given that continuity and a slightly easier schedule from playing in the East, it’s not hard to envisage them putting together the kind of regular season that earns Berhalter Coach of the Year honours.
At the moment, this award looks like Morris' to lose. For a start, he’s one of few rookies guaranteed minutes after Obafemi Martins’ recent move to China, giving him an obvious advantage over most of his rivals from the outset.
Already a fully-fledged US international, the former Stanford University striker faces a tough task in meeting the high expectations surrounding him, but his performances for Jurgen Klinsmann’s side over the course of 2015 suggest he won’t disappoint.
As things stand, Toronto FC attacker Tsubasa Endoh seems like the only player who could potentially cause an upset.
One of the Galaxy’s three big-name offseason signings along with Ashley Cole and Jelle van Damme, De Jong’s importance to Bruce Arena’s side this term cannot be overstated.
A painfully unbalanced line-up ultimately led to the club’s early playoff exit last year, as Steven Gerrard struggled without a true holding midfielder covering for his ageing legs, and it will now be up to the tough-tackling Dutchman to fill the role for which the since-departed Juninho proved ill-suited.
Just one season removed from a strong campaign with AC Milan, he should be more than up to the task.
Most improved player: Maximiliano Urruti (FC Dallas)
While Urruti saw his production drop from 10 goals to four during his second season as the Portland Timbers’ super sub striker, his workmanlike performances off the bench still proved a crucial part of the club’s run to their first-ever MLS Cup title.
Salary cap limitations ultimately forced the champions to part ways with the 25-year-old Argentine at the end of the season, but their loss could now be FC Dallas’ gain.
Picked up in the Re-Entry draft, he’ll finally have the opportunity to be a full-time starter at Toyota Stadium and, what's more, will get the kind of midfield service from compatriot Mauro Diaz that most forwards around the league would kill for.
After arriving at Yankee Stadium last summer to significant fanfare, Pirlo was a giant disappointment over the rest of the season, looking enormously off the pace while proving a huge defensive liability. The 36-year-old Italian will obviously benefit from enjoying a full preseason going into the new campaign, but NYCFC’s tactical setup means there’s still serious cause for concern.
New head coach Patrick Vieira is planning to use the former World Cup winner as the team’s anchor man alongside Frank Lampard and Mix Diskerud in a 4-3-3 formation, which looks like a recipe for disaster on paper.
He may be able to play a few nice passes, but without any proper protection, he could ultimately end up doing the team more harm than good.
MVP: Sebastian Giovinco (Toronto FC)
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Giovinco was nothing short of a revelation during his first season in MLS, recording an astonishing 22 goals and 16 assists to take home the MVP award in a landslide. No player has ever won the league’s top individual accolade two years running, but few would bet against the diminutive Italian becoming the first.
Golden Boot: Kei Kamara (Columbus Crew SC)
Kamara just missed out on the Golden Boot last season on account of having fewer assists (eight) than Giovinco, but the fact that the Italian international is expected to be going to Euro 2016 in the summer should help his cause this term. With Crew SC returning their entire starting XI from the 2015 MLS Cup final, there’s no reason to think the former Middlesbrough striker won’t put up similar numbers.
Supporters’ Shield: Columbus Crew SC
Crew SC played some of the best football in the league last year, especially after bringing in Harrison Afful and Gaston Sauro over the summer to patch up a porous defence. With no real weaknesses to speak of, their strength should show over 34 games.
MLS Cup: FC Dallas
While we’ve talked up Crew SC’s strength, Dallas deserve similar praise. Oscar Pareja’s side just missed out on the Supporters’ Shield last season to the New York Red Bulls on goal difference and look to have got even stronger over the winter thanks to some shrewd signings.
The club seem to have addressed their goalscoring issues with the addition of the promising Urruti, and with a solid defence and robust central midfield complimenting one of the league’s most dynamic attacks, they're the kind of team that should thrive once the playoffs come around.