It’s been a while, but the MLS playoffs are back. Columbus Crew SC will kick things off against New York Red Bulls at 5 p.m. EST on Sunday, followed by the Portland Timbers and FC Dallas at 7:30 p.m. EST. Simultaneous to this Super Sunday action is group stage voting for MLS Latino del Año!
Thirty-two cracks are in contention to become the MLS’s Latino player of the year. They’ve been placed into groups – A through H – based on rankings created by staff, commentators, and producers from Futbol MLS, Univision Deportes, ESPN Deportes, FOX Deportes, and the league itself. The two players with the highest vote tallies from each group will advance to the knockout round.
While you’re busy getting psyched for conference final madness, take a closer look at the 10 Latino futbolistas still in the running for MLS Cup glory. One of them might just become this year’s Latino del Año!
Federico Higuaín (Voted No. 5 Overall, Group C)
Chip Master “El Pipita” Higuaín hails from Buenos Aires, Argentina. The forward tallied eight goals and nine assists during regular season play, including goal-assist efforts in wins vs. Orlando and NYCFC, as well as important strikes in tight matches against Seattle, LA, and Toronto. This video shows an actual, real goal that he managed to score in a 2-0 win vs. Toronto last month. Oh my.
Waylon Francis (Voted No. 20 Overall, Group C)
Born in Puerto Limón, Costa Rica, Waylon Francis signed with the Crew in 2014 after a super run of form with Primera División de Costa Rica side Herediano in CONCACAF Champions League play. He has since gone on to become one of the league’s best outside backs. Not only did he help Columbus secure five clean sheets this season, he also created his fair share of offense with seven assists. You just know teammates are eager and ready to be on the receiving end of his perfect crosses into the box.
Luis Robles (Voted No. 13 Overall, Group G)
Luis Robles started and played every single minute of every single game this season. He compiled nine shutouts, held a strong 1.26 goals against average, and maintained a league-best +19 goal differential. Did I mention that the Arizona native won Allstate Goalkeeper of the Year as well? Yup, he rocks.
Felipe (Voted No. 15 Overall, Group H)
Brazilian midfielder Felipe also played and started in all of New York’s games this season. From Italy to England, Switzerland and Montreal, it wasn’t until January 2015 that a trade landed him in the Big Apple. But don’t let his short stint fool you – he racked up three goals and five assists in regular season action this year, including his first in a 1-1 draw vs. LA and this golazo rocket in a 2-0 win over Portland back in September.
Diego Valeri (Voted No. 8 Overall, Group E)
Diego Valeri was Portland’s 2014 Players’ and Supporters’ Player of the Year. He set the club’s single-season record for goals (11) and assists (14), and garnered the team Golden Boot honors. This year was perhaps even more impressive, as he made his return to fútbol after sustaining an ACL tear last October. The midfielder – originally from Lanús, Argentina – scored two goals and dished out eight assists in 22 games this season.
Diego Chará (Voted No. 11 Overall, Group F)
This year, the Timbers’ Supporters’ Player of the Year award went to Diego Chará. The defensive midfielder – a Cali, Colombia native – played a significant role in Portland’s success this season in 28 matches, even managing to contribute two goals and an assist on top of playing as a lone defensive midfielder in a number of crucial wins to end the season. His floating header against LA was especially beautiful.
Rodney Wallace (Voted No. 21 Overall, Group G)
The second Tico on our list, Rodney Wallace hails from San José. He’s a beast in the midfield, and his persistent commitment to defense made him particularly vital to Portland’s success this year. In 32 games played, he produced one goal and seven assists. Unfortunately, Portland will have to make do without him and Valeri on Sunday, due to yellow card accumulation.
Fabián Castillo (Voted No. 1 Overall, Group A)
Make that two Cali, Colombia hometown heroes, because Fabián Castillo is the real deal – a budding legend. The 23-year-old has been phenomenal in his forward role for Dallas this season, netting nine and serving up nine assists. He’s done it all – goal-assist efforts, a brace in a 3-2 victory over Toronto, and important strikes vs. Houston, New England, DC, and Salt Lake. He was voted No. 1 overall for a reason, fam.
Mauro Díaz (Voted No. 2 Overall, Group H)
Castillo has some tough competition in Argentine teammate Mauro Díaz. The midfield playmaker – a former River Plate player – accumulated eight goals and 10 assists across 24 games this season, including important contributions vs. pretty much every team in the league. MLSsoccer.com’s Simon Borg hailed him as “the greatest one-man show in the MLS.” It’s tough to argue against him.
Jesse González (Voted No. 9 Overall, Group E)
20-year-old PK hero Jesse González is a Mexican futbolista – one of ten Dallas homegrown signings – who earned a starting spot midway through the season and never looked back. Most recently, he made consecutive saves against Seattle’s Andreas Ivanschitz and Chad Barrett to lead his team to the WC finals. Did I mention he’s 20 years old?