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Carlos Vela is MLS MVP, Zlatan Ibrahimovic wins Best Trash Talk: ESPN's 2019 MLS Alternative Awards

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An alternative look to MLS end of season awards (4:15)

Alejandro Moreno hands out some alternative awards for the 2019 MLS season. (4:15)

Now that Carlos Vela has been named Major League Soccer's Landon Donovan MVP for 2019, the league's award season is over. But that hasn't stopped ESPN FC from handing out awards of our own, from who we thought was the most valuable player to whose trash talk was most damning.

Allow us to introduce ESPN FC's 2019 MLS Alternative Awards ahead of Sunday's MLS Cup between Seattle Sounders and Toronto FC (3 p.m. ET Sunday, ABC).

Most Valuable Player

Carlos Vela, LAFC

There might be three finalists, but there's only one serious candidate, and that's Vela. When both the player and the team break records -- as LAFC did with 72 points and Vela did with his 34 league goals -- the choice is obvious. -- Jeff Carlisle (@JeffreyCarlisle)

With all due respect to the great Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Josef Martinez, Vela deserves MVP honors for this: On top of his 34 regular-season goals, he pulled the strings on 15 assists, which are mind-numbing numbers in this league. When Vela wasn't playing, you saw how much the league leaders missed him. -- Arch Bell (@ArchBell)

No contest. The only real question is: Was this the best individual season in MLS history? -- Noah Davis (@noahedavis)

Despite some near-historic seasons from a pair of other players, the MVP award can belong to only one man: Carlos Vela. The Mexican superstar set a new standard for MLS play in 2019 and should be duly crowned with the league's top honor. -- Jason Davis (@davisjsn)

One could make an argument that the Galaxy would be worse off without Ibrahimovic than LAFC without Vela, but the Cancun native directly contributed to 49 goals this season (57% of all Black and Gold goals) while Ibrahimovic was central to 37 (63% of the Galaxy's scores), suggesting that one wasn't definitively more important to his team's success than the other. Having a hand in a further 12 goals sets Vela apart from Ibrahimovic. -- Austin Lindberg (@LindbergESPN)

Goal of the Year

Carlos Vela vs. San Jose

I'll go with Vela's tally against the San Jose Earthquakes in Week 25. An exchange of passes with Diego Rossi in midfield saw Vela embark on a solo run in which he weaved his way through the Quakes' defense and then teased San Jose keeper Daniel Vela one last time before depositing the ball in the net. The goal had a wonderful mix of team play and individual brilliance. -- Carlisle

Vela had his fair share of great goals this season, but this golazo ranks at the top of the list. The dummy, avoiding the tackle, leaving the defender like a statue, rounding the keeper and then the Maradona-esque move on the goal line. Spectacular. -- Bell

A combination of factors make Vela's second goal against the Quakes the goal of the season. One, it's a beautiful team goal pulled off by the year's best team, and two, Vela spares no one as he humiliates half of San Jose's team. -- J. Davis

Zlatan Ibrahimovic vs. New England

Chested down, flicked backward over his head, bicycle kick, upper 90. He makes the unbelievable look easy, the impossible look effortless. He's just more fun than anyone else. -- N. Davis

Zlatan Ibrahimovic vs. LAFC

I'm just a simple man who enjoys Zlatan making defenders look silly, which is why there was no choice but to select this gem, in which the Galaxy No. 9 takes a pair of defenders out of the play with a flick up to himself before he beautifully volleys home in spectacular fashion. -- Lindberg

Newcomer of the Year

Carles Gil, New England

There are some worthy candidates this year, such as Heber, Cristian Espinoza and Eddie Segura, but Gil helped resurrect a New England team that was left for dead back in the spring. Ten goals and 14 assists is a great haul, and the arrival of Gustavo Bou midsummer gives him the perfect striker with which to play. -- Bell

Alejandro Pozuelo, Toronto FC

This award is a bit tougher to figure out. Toronto FC's Alejandro Pozuelo, New England's Carles Gil and New York City FC's Heber were all deserving nominees. I'll go with Pozuelo, whose 12 goals and 12 assists helped propel TFC into the playoffs, and now he'll be playing for an MLS Cup this coming weekend. -- Carlisle

Gil had gaudier stats. Heber helped transform one of the league's best attacks. Pozuelo, though, is the only one still playing. -- Davis

Toronto FC's early-season addition more than lived up to the hype of his protracted transfer saga, with double-digit goals and assists on the season. The Spaniard's energy and versatility are major reasons the Reds will play for an MLS Cup title on Sunday. -- Jason Davis

It's hard to ignore the turnaround of New England behind Gil, but keep in mind that Toronto missed the playoffs last season with Sebastian Giovinco. With Pozuelo added in his place, Toronto is back at MLS Cup for the third time in four seasons, and his 12 goals and 12 assists illustrate just how dangerous he is in multiple facets of the game. -- Lindberg

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1:54

EXCLUSIVE: Vela: Bradley pushed me to be better this season

2019 MLS MVP Carlos Vela details how LAFC coach Bob Bradley influenced his record-breaking season.

Trash Talk of the Year

Ibrahimovic trashes Vela

Ibrahimovic and Vela were the two biggest stars in MLS in 2019 -- and also the subjects of the league's best trash talk. Ahead of the Galaxy's July clash with LAFC, the Swede openly questioned why Vela was playing in MLS at age 29 before reminding everyone where he was playing at age 29. Ibrahimovic then proceeded to walk the walk by scoring a hat trick to beat Vela and LAFC 3-2. -- Bell

LAFC's "Indiana Jones" tifo

They won the Supporters' Shield, then went out and won the playoff game against the crosstown rivals. Ibrahimovic had the better lines; LAFC had the last laugh. -- N. Davis

Zlatan trashes MLS

Leave it to Zlatan to trash-talk his own team, like when he told ESPN's Herculez Gomez that he was "a Ferrari surrounded by Fiats." Whether that act has worn thin as the Swede concludes his second year remains to be seen, but he remains a player who demands attention for what he says off the field and does on it. -- Carlisle

Parsing among Zlatan Ibrahimovic's various pointing comments about opponents (and teammates) is akin to choosing among the works of Michelangelo. If there has to be one, then Zlatan's "Ferraris among Fiats" gets the gold star. -- J. Davis

Josef Martinez trolls Orlando

Orlando City has never beaten Atlanta United, and Josef Martinez won't let the Lions forget it. -- Lindberg

Howler of the Year

Sean Johnson, NYCFC vs. Minnesota

On the whole, New York City FC goalkeeper Sean Johnson actually had a good 2019 season in helping the boys from Gotham finish first in the Eastern Conference. Yet Johnson, who has an unfortunate history of goalkeeping gaffes, committed the mother of howlers back in April to help Minnesota United commemorate the opening of Allianz Field. A back pass was played, and instead of booting it down the field, Johnson tried to control it and whiffed completely to gift Minnesota a goal. -- Bell

On first glance, it looks like Johnson kicks the ball into his own net. The good news: He actually didn't. The bad: everything else. -- N. Davis

David Ousted, Chicago vs. Vancouver

Way back in April, David Ousted went on an adventure. After ranging way off his line to the side of the penalty area to try to collect the ball, the Chicago Fire keeper lost control and gifted Yordy Reyna a goal from a sharp angle. -- J. Davis

Daniel Vega, San Jose vs. FC Dallas

San Jose Earthquakes goalkeeper Daniel Vega actually had a pretty good season. According to ESPN Stats & Information, his goal prevented (expected goals on target conceded minus goals conceded) of 4.29 saw him rank sixth in the league. But Vega had some howlers, too, the worst of which came on June 8 against FC Dallas. Vega sent a goal kick out to Florian Jungwirth just outside the box, who then played it back to Vega with a soft pass, only for the Argentine to take his eye off the ball and misplayed the ball into his own net. It's in the running for the worst goal allowed in the league's history. -- Carlisle

What really seals this one for me is the fact that there is zero pressure on Vega and his utter nonchalance in possession. It's like watching a minor fender bender in slow motion. -- Austin Lindberg