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Zimmer: MLS NEXT Pro 2022 Season Awards Ballot

My picks for the individual awards after the MLS NEXT Pro season.

This year I had the unique opportunity to work with MLS NEXT Pro for their inaugural season. Eventually this will become the preferred "minor leagues" of American soccer after a few years of experimentation with other leagues. It was an interesting experience to broadcast for the next generation of professional soccer in North America, and one that I'll never forget.

Play-by-play broadcasters get the opportunity to vote in the end-of-season awards. Here's how I didn't shape out far from the awards we know so far.


Forwards (3):

Jacen Russell-Rowe - Columbus Crew 2

Jack Lynn - Orlando City B

Bernard Kamungo - North Texas SC

NOTES: You'll learn more about JRR below. What might not be as high-profile of a story is Bernie Kamungo's, who had an exquisite year, grabbing 15 goals. He will be an impact player for FC Dallas in due time.

Midfielders (4):

Aziel Jackson - Minnesota United FC 2

Marlon Vargas - Tacoma Defiance

Pedro Dolabella - Rochester New York FC

Marco Micaletto - Columbus Crew 2

NOTES: Aziel Jackson, who they call "AZ," showed out all year. In addition to his 10 goals, he had 71 "key passes," a general indicator of how many chances a player creates for his team. The next-best player came in at a whopping 46...a far cry off from how good he was.

Defenders (3):

Kyle Hiebert - St. Louis City 2

Talen Maples - Houston Dynamo 2

Stephen Turnbull - NYCFC 2

NOTES: It's not often that a defender like Kyle Hiebert, who was a finalist for the Mac Hermann trophy in college at Missouri State, has such an impact on a team. He's a crucial reason for why St. Louis City 2, who also had the luxury of former Borussia Dortmund goalkeeper Roman Bürki in net for the latter half of the year, won the Western Conference in the first year of the club's existence.

Goalie (and Goalie of the Year): Caíque, Rochester New York FC

Can't ask for someone that locked it down better than Caíque for RNYFC this year. He played almost 2100 minutes and carried an impressive 1.25 goals against average. Should find himself contributing for an MLS club shortly at this rate.

Coach of the Year: John Hackworth - St. Louis City 2

Let's get it straight - winning plays a major role in these awards, and John Hackworth is a proven winner. Just 4 years removed from winning the USL Final at Louisville SC, Hackworth led the team to the #1 seed in the Western Conference in St. Louis City's first year of existence. With St. Louis City's first team getting ready to hit the MLS ranks next season, this was a very unique year for CITY 2, and Hackworth's inspirational vision. I had the chance to chat with him on the phone a few times before his team's matches, and he's surely as nice on the phone as he is in front of the camera.

MVP: Jacen Russell-Rowe, Columbus Crew 2

Remember the name indeed. Jacen Russell-Rowe ran away with the Golden Boot award with 21 goals this year. It seemed like he was simply in every big moment, delivering highlight-reel goals at every opportunity. Oh, and his last two games? SEVEN goals. Yes, seven.

He's already contributed with the Crew's first team as well, earning 3 starts in the pro ranks. Remember this kid when he's up for the MLS MVP Award in a few years.


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