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Who’s leading the MLS Newcomer of the Year race?

With strong contributions on both sides of the ball, midfielder Carles Gil is a big factor in the New England Revolution’s turnaround.

Jul 4, 2019; Commerce City, CO, USA; New England Revolution forward Carles Gil (22) passes a free kick in the second half against the Colorado Rapids at Dick's Sporting Goods Park. (Russell Lansford-USA TODAY Sports)

Nearly 100 international players are competing in their first season in Major League Soccer this year, with some having major impacts for their respective clubs.

At the end of the season, one of those players will be honored with the Newcomer of the Year Award, voted on annually by media, players, and team executives.

Here’s a rundown of some of the top performers eligible for the award this season:

Top of the pops

Three of the four leading candidates for the Newcomer of the Year Award are all based in the Eastern Conference, which has been tightly-contested since the season started.

New York City FC, currently vying for first place in the standings with Atlanta United and the Philadelphia Union, has leaned heavily on Heber since signing him as a free transfer in March. Meanwhile, Carles Gil and Nani have both had central roles for the New England Revolution and Orlando City SC, respectively, in a close race for the conference’s sixth and seventh playoff places.

Out west, Brian Fernandez, a multi-million-dollar offseason acquisition from Necaxa, is the Portland Timbers‘ leading scorer.

Carles Gil: Back in February, the $2.5 million New England spent to pry Carles Gil from Deportivo La Coruña was a club record. Gil has demonstrated all season why he was worthy of the hefty price tag: He’s become team captain and has recorded nine goals and 11 assists.

Aside from his offensive contributions, Gil routinely drops back to help the Revolution defend and start transitions. If the Revs snap a three-year streak of not making the playoffs in 2019, it will be due in large part to their Spanish midfielder.

Orlando City winger Nani takes a free kick in the first half of during an U.S. Open Cup match against New York City FC at Exploria Stadium on Wednesday in Orlando, Fla.

Nani: The speedy Portuguese winger has brought star-power and flair to an Orlando City SC side that’s been fighting to enter, and stay above, the playoff line all year.

The former Manchester United and Sporting CP visionary has done his part by contributing nine goals and seven assists to the Lions’ cause.

While a calf injury sidelined Nani in May, he returned to fitness and earned an MLS All-Star call.

Heber: New York City FC added a player who has become one of the most fearsome strikers in the league free of charge this winter.

Heber, formerly of HNK Rijeka of the Croatian first division, has the second-most goals in the Eastern Conference and the fifth-most in the entire league.

Heber has scored or assisted in all but five of the 17 regular season matches he’s played in for NYCFC.

Brian Fernandez: The Portland Timbers have been getting solid contributions from Brian Fernandez since his May 12 debut. The Argentinian has scored 10 goals in the regular season with one assist to boot. He also was in stellar form for the Timbers in the their U.S. Open Cup campaign, scoring four goals to help lead them to the semifinals. 

Portland started the season on a six-game winless run and are currently fighting to stay inside playoff territory in the Western Conference. Having a hot striker like Fernandez could go a long way.

In the conversation

Not every MLS newcomer becomes a marquee player for his team, but many manage to adjust seamlessly to their new surroundings and earn regular playing time. Some of the league’s recent arrivals have been underrated, consistent contributors over the course of a long campaign.

Vito Mannone: No goalkeeper has ever won the Newcomer of the Year Award, but Minnesota United’s Vito Mannone could be worthy of ending that streak. As of Aug. 20, Mannone ranks third in the league in saves and has secured nine shutouts, the second-most in MLS this season.

Aug 10, 2019; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto FC forward Alejandro Pozuelo (10) controls the ball in front of Orlando City midfielder Oriol Rosell (20) during the game at BMO Field. Mandatory Credit: Gerry Angus-USA TODAY Sports

Alejandro Pozuelo: Toronto FC signed Pozuelo in March as a means to help compensate for the departure of Sebastian Giovinco. Stats-wise, Pozuelo has been a worthy addition – nine goals and five assists through 21 matches.

Those numbers are better than what many former Newcomers of the Year accrued in their first seasons, though there’s also been an obvious drop-off in Pozuelo’s contributions.

Between March 30 and May 11 – an eight-game stretch – the Spaniard knocked in five goals and five assists. In his 14 appearances since, he’s added four goals to the pile, but also hasn’t scored since July 18 or assisted since May 4.

Leonardo Jara: No defender has won the Newcomer of the Year Award, either. That might change with Leonardo Jara, who has played a prominent role as a right back this season for D.C. United, which has the fourth-best defensive record in MLS. Jara has played in all but two of D.C.’s games this year and has helped preserve eight shutouts. He’s gotten involved in the attack on occasion as well, with one goal and five assists to his name.

Jul 21, 2019; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta United midfielder Gonzalo Martinez (10) celebrates after a goal against D.C. United in the second half at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. (Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports)

Jul 21, 2019; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta United midfielder Gonzalo Martinez (10) celebrates after a goal against D.C. United in the second half at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. (Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports)

Pity Martinez: MLS might not have had more hype on anything other than Atlanta United’s capture of reigning South American Player of the Year Pity Martinez last winter.

By June though, Atlanta’s $17 million investment seemed to be a flop. Martinez didn’t appear on the score sheet through his first eight MLS matches and only had one goal and one assist to his name on May 30.

Things have turned around since then. While the merits of his MLS All-Star call can be debated, Martinez has been in good form since the late spring and has had either a goal or an assist in all but four of his last 12 games.

Jamiro Monteiro: The Philadelphia Union’s offensive engine runs with lots of help from Jamiro Monteiro, the Cape Verdean midfielder who landed in MLS via FC Metz in the offseason. Monteiro boasts one of the top passing accuracies in the league and has accrued four goals and eight assists.

A sprained ankle kept him out for most of July, though he’s back earning regular playing time for a Union side trying to capture the Eastern Conference’s top spot.

Summer signing contenders

Lassi Lappalainen: Of the 12 former Newcomer of the Year Award recipients, only two have been mid-season acquisitions – Federico Higuain and Nicolas Lodeiro. Enter Lassi Lappalainen, who joined the Montreal Impact on loan from Bologna FC at the end of July. Maybe it’s too early to put the Finnish winger’s name on any list, but four goals in four games isn’t bad for someone who only recently arrived in Quebec, where the Impact are teetering on staying in playoff contention. Lodeiro and Higuain both helped their teams reach the playoffs, with similar stat lines to what Lappalainen has now.

Jul 27, 2019; Montreal, Quebec, CAN; Montreal Impact midfield Lassi Lappalainen (21) celebrates his goal against Philadelphia Union during the first half at Stade Saputo. (Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports)

Gustavo Bou: Similar to Lappalainen, New England’s newest Designated Player is off to a sparkling start since coming to MLS mid-season as well. With the Revolution also fighting for a playoff place, Bou’s performance up top might make the difference. The Argentine already has four goals and has scored or assisted in all but one of the five games he’s played.

Honorable Mentions

Other MLS newcomers have had solid seasons as well, even though their impacts haven’t been as dramatic.

Consider the Chicago Fire‘s Nicolas Gaitan, San Jose Earthquakes midfielder Cristian Espinoza, Real Salt Lake striker Sam Johnson, Los Angeles FC defender Eddie Segura, LA Galaxy offensive starlet Cristian Pavon and midfielder Uriel Antuna, and Vancouver Whitecaps FC left-winger Ali Adnan.

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