Sebastian Giovinco is back where he likes to be, in MVP contention.
The Toronto FC star striker won the award in 2015 in his first year in Major League Soccer and, by all accounts, was not happy last year when he did not make the three finalists despite registering 17 goals and 15 assists.
Giovinco made a statement of sorts by opting to forgo the league's pre-season media roundtables this year. New York City FC striker David Villa ended up winning MVP honours over Red Bulls stars Sacha Kljestan and Bradley Wright-Phillips.
But the Italian ace is back in the running for the Landon Donovan MLS MVP Award, this time against an expanded finalist field of Villa, Portland attacking midfielder Diego Valeri, Chicago Fire forward Nemanja Nikolic and Atlanta attacking midfielder Miguel Almiron.
The winner will be announced Dec. 4, the last of the MLS annual awards to be revealed. Voting was done by MLS players and clubs (coaches, technical directors and GMs) and media.
Toronto's Justin Morrow and Vancouver's Kendall Waston, along with Sporting Kansas City's Ike Opara, are finalists for Defender of the Year. Waston, the Whitecaps captain, was runner-up in 2015 to Montreal's Laurent Ciman.
Toronto's Greg Vanney is up against Atlanta's Gerardo (Tata) Martino and Chicago's Veljko Paunovic for coach of the year honours.
Toronto, Chicago and Seattle are finalists for the Team Fair Play Award.
Toronto's Victor Vazquez was a surprising omission, however, in the Newcomer of the Year category. The 30-year-old Spanish playmaker, who joined TFC from Mexico's Cruz Azul this season, ranked second in the league with 16 assists and topped MLS with six game-winning assists. He also had eight goals.
He was passed over for Almiron, Nikolic and Atlanta's Venezuelan striker Josef Martínez (19 goals and one assist in 20 games).
The newcomer award encompasses players with previous pro experience who made their MLS debut in 2017.
Giovinco earns the MVP nomination despite a season limited to 25 games due to a variety of injuries and Toronto's bubble-wrap approach to handling its star striker as the playoffs approached.
Still, he finished with 16 goals and six assists. And he set a league record with six goals from direct free kicks (his 13 goals from free kicks in his three MLS seasons is also the most by any player since the league started recording the statistic in 2003).
Giovinco added an exclamation point with a free-kick winner in Toronto's 2-1 playoff victory at the New York Red Bulls on Monday night.
The 30-year-old Italian faces stiff competition for MVP honours this season, with Valeri one of the favourites.
With 21 goals and 11 assists, the 31-year-old Argentine joined Giovinco as the only MLS players to record a 20-goal, 10-assist season (Giovinco had 22 goals and 16 assists in 2015).
Valeri's 32 combined goals and assists tie for fifth most in league history (Giovinco holds the record at 38). The Portland star also set an MLS record this season by scoring in nine straight matches and led the league with seven game-winning goals.
Nikolic, 29, won the league's Golden Boot Award as top goal-scorer with 24. It marks the fourth straight season that the Serbian-born Hungarian international has led his league in goals, following successful campaigns in Poland and Hungary.
Villa was runner-up to Nikolic with 22 goals, adding nine assists. In the process, the 35-year-old Spaniard became only the second player in league history to register consecutive 20-plus goal campaigns.
Villa's 63 goals rank first all-time among a player's first three seasons in the league, while Giovinco's 55 are tied for third.
Almiron, with nine goals and 14 assists, helped Atlanta become just the third active expansion team to reach the playoffs. The 23-year-old Paraguayan also helped Atlanta set an MLS expansion team record with 70 goals.
Toronto's Morrow has solid credentials for top defender, a case aided by his tally of eight goals including a hat trick against the Red Bulls in September in his 200th MLS appearance. He is only the second MLS defender ever to score three times in a game (L.A. Galaxy's Jose Vasquez did it in 1997).
Waston is Vancouver's talisman who, with four goals to his credit, is a force on set pieces.
Despite a fine run this season, Vanney may be hard-pressed in the coaching award race. He led Toronto to a slew of records including a league-record 69 points this season but some will consider his club was already riding high, having made the MLS Cup final last season.
Paunovic took Chicago from the league basement in 2016 with just 31 points to third place overall with 55 points. Martino, with his team playing an exciting brand of soccer, led expansion Atlanta to fourth place overall.
The Goalkeeper of the Year Award is between Seattle's Stefan Frei, Sporting Kansas City's Tim Melia and Philadelphia's Andre Blake, last year's winner.
Finalists for Comeback Player of the Year are Seattle's Clint Dempsey, Columbus' Federico Higuain and Houston's Erick Torres.
Top rookie is between Minnesota's Abu Danladi, Philadelphia's Jack Elliott and Atlanta's Julian Gressel.
The Montreal Impact were shut out of the awards finalists.
The league will start announcing the award winners Thursday.
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