With the Major League Soccer season done and dusted, it's time to turn attention to the playoffs, but also the end-of-season awards will be around the corner to recognize some of the league's best for their accomplishments. Taking into account regular season plaudits, awards are voted on by media covering the league, coaches/ players, and fans. Thursday, MLS named the finalists for the awards and the Landon Donovan MVP candidacy could be a tight race.

Featuring Denis Bouanga of LAFC, Atlanta United's Thiago Almada, and FC Cincinnati's Luciano Acosta it has been the year of the attacking midfielder, but Bouanga winning the Golden Boot also carries weight. Despite Cucho Hernandez trying his best with the Columbus Crew, Bouanga has been the best forward in the league, Acosta has been the best player on the league's best team, and Almada has been one of the most exciting players in the league.

Despite the three being named finalists, only one can win it so let's take a look at their candidacy:

The dark horse: Thiagao Almada

While it's unfair to a player to say that qualifying for two awards shouldn't win both, Almada is the best young player in the league and becoming an MVP finalist should make him the strongest contender for that award by a long shot. Despite that, Almada also is a step behind the other MVP candidates. With 11 goals and 16 assists, Almada was able to help Atlanta United secure a playoff berth but he also won't be available for their first match versus the Columbus Crew due to picking up a red card on the final day of the season. 

Moments like that show Almada's youth and while it's not an indictment of of his entire season or anything, these are moments that will need to be ironed out as Almada continues to grow as a player. But he's only 22, so Almada has plenty of time for more awards in the future and could even lead the Five Stripes to an MLS Cup to claim a much bigger prize. 

Scoring for fun: Denis Bouanga

Los Angeles FC may not have had their best season but it would've been much worse if not for Bouanga. Scoring 20 goals and assisting six, Bouanga may have been behind Almada's total goal contributions but he was able to secure the Golden Boot with three goals to spare over Acosta. Ending the season on a tear with six goals in his last three matches, Bouanga was on a mission but consistency was his biggest weakness during the season.

Bouanga had two occasions during which he went three or more games without a goal or an assist during the season and only scored in 13 total games for LAFC. If this were an award that included all competitions, Bouanga would've had a stronger case but within MLS, there are better options.

The favorite: Luciano Acosta

After captaining the MLS All-Star team at the midway point of the season, Acosta kept up his hot form to drive Cincinnati to the top of the table and a Supporters' Shield title but there is still work to be done. It's clear that whatever the team does, Acosta will be central to it after providing a whopping 27 goal contributions (31 if secondary assists are included). Whenever Cincinnati needed someone to step up, he was there to do it and that's just what an MVP does.

It's a season during which we're spoiled for choice in the MVP race but even among stars, Acosta stands alone. As a midfielder, Acosta scored more than double the goals that star striker Brandon Vazquez registered for Cincinnati and the team didn't see a drop in production which is a supremely impressive performance.

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The rest of the awards

The finalists for the other league awards were also named, with the biggest news being that Lionel Messi was named among the finalists for newcomer of the year despite only featuring in six league games for Inter Miami, scoring one goal and assisting two more. Messi was able to lead the Herons to their first trophy in club history due to their triumph in Leagues Cup but since that's not MLS, it's not in consideration for the award. His inclusion does call into question how much off the pitch accomplishments, like raising Miami's stature, make a difference.

Goalkeeper of the year

  • Roman Burki (St. Louis City SC)
  • Pedro Gallese (Orlando City SC)
  • Eoman Celetano (FC Cincinnati)

Defender of the year

  • Tim Parker (St. Louis City SC)
  • Matt Miazga (FC Cincinnati)
  • Yelmar Gomez Andrade (Seattle Sounders)

Newcomer of the year

  • Lionel Messi (Inter Miami)
  • Giorgos Giakoumakis (Atlanta United)
  • Eduard Lowen (St. Louis City SC)

Young player of the year

  • Thiago Almada (Atlanta United)
  • Duncan McGuire (Orlando City SC)
  • Aidan Morris (Columbus Crew)

Comeback player of the year

  • Miles Robinson (Atlanta United)
  • Joao Paulo (Seattle Sounders)
  • Alan Pulido (Sporting Kansas City)

Sigi Schmid coach of the year

  • Pat Noonan (FC Cincinnati)
  • Wilfried Nancy (Columbus Crew)
  • Bradley Carnell (St. Louis City SC)