Assessing the MLS Year-End Awards

Most of the MLS year-end awards have been handed out. Who got robbed and who got properly rewarded?

Let’s take a look:

Rookie of the Year: Austin Berry, Chicago Fire

Runners-up (in order of votes received): Nick DeLeon, D.C. United; Darren Mattocks, Vancouver; Luis Silva, Toronto FC; Connor Lade, New York

Justice? A central defender, Berry started 28 games and had an excellent season. But he benefitted enormously from playing alongside German World Cup veteran Arne Friedrich. We’d have given it to dynamic D.C. winger DeLeon.

Defender of the Year: Matt Besler, Kansas City

Runners-up: Victor Bernardez, San Jose; Aurelien Collin, Kansas City; Jay DeMerit, Vancouver; Carlos Valdes, Philadelphia.

Justice? Besler was excellent in 2012, and a huge part of why Kansas City conceded a league-fewest 27 goals. But if you were starting a team, you’d probably pick Bernardez for your backline ahead of the 25-year-old former Notre Dame man. The players and clubs both picked Bernardez in the balloting. All that said, Besler thoroughly deserves a call-up from U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann—stat.

Coach of the Year: Frank Yallop, San Jose Earthquakes

Runners-up:  Peter Vermes, Kansas City; Ben Olsen, D.C. United; Frank Klopas, Chicago; Sigi Schmid, Seattle

Justice? Yes, as coach of the Supporters’ Shield winners, Yallop deserves the honor, but Olsen, who got a D.C. team held together by chewing gum and dental floss to the playoffs, should have received more votes.

Comeback Player of the Year: Eddie Johnson, Seattle

Runners-up: Chris Pontius, D.C. United; Alan Gordon, San Jose; David Ferreira, FC Dallas; Steve Zakuani, Seattle.

Justice? Yes. There’s some confusion about the criteria for this award, but Johnson’s comeback from four years in the career doldrums to produce 14 goals and three assists for the Sounders works for us. Gordon would’ve made an excellent Most Improved Player, but the league doesn’t have that award (they should though!).

Here’s Eddie lighting it up for the boys in green this season:

Fun fact: EJ won this award in 2007, too. At the ripe old age of 23.

Goalkeeper of the Year: Jimmy Nielsen, Kansas City

Runners-up: Dan Kennedy, Chivas USA; Michael Gspurning, Seattle; Nick Rimando, Real Salt Lake; Andy Gruenebaum, Columbus

Justice? Sure. Truth is, all of the nominees had sensational seasons, from Kennedy standing on his head repeatedly to keep Chivas USA from getting embarrassed, Gspurning ably replacing a legend in Seattle, Rimando combining the rock-steady with the spectacular for RSL, and Gruenebaum pulling saves out of his nether regions on a regular basis for the Crew. We’d have been fine with any one of them winning.

Here’s the White Puma in action, and then deflecting credit for the award:

Newcomer of the Year: Federico Higuain, Columbus

Runners-up: Victor Bernardez, San Jose; Michael Gspurning, Seattle; Young-Pyo Lee, Vancouver; Oscar Boniek Garcia, Houston

Justice? Another very competitive field, but we’d have to say yes, justice was served, because Higuain almost singlehandedly revived Columbus’s offense, and nearly carried them to the playoffs, bagging five goals and seven assists in 11 starts down the stretch. Crew fans can’t wait till next year, when they’ll have him for a full season.

Higuain highlights here:

The MVP award will be announced tomorrow, when it will be handed to San Jose striker Chris Wondolowski.

Advertisements

Behind the Scenes at the All-Star Game

Go inside the MLS team’s locker room, visit their training room and get a field-level view of Wednesday’s meeting with Chelsea in this clip from Major League Soccer:

That collision at the 3:27 mark between Sporting Kansas City defender Aurelien Collin and Chelsea midfielder Michael Essien? It left Collin with two facial fractures.

Other than that—and, for Vancouver fans, the fact that Collin’s injury pressed Jay DeMerit into 90 minutes of duty (instead of the planned 45) when he has a key league match against Real Salt Lake tonight—this was a great night for the U.S. league.

MLS All Stars 3, Chelsea 2: Highlights

As we said the other day, the MLS All-Star Game is a different animal when Alex Ferguson and mighty Man U are involved. The Red Devils manager pointed his side’s summer U.S. tour toward the game for two years running, and the results reflected that.

Enter Chelsea (or reenter; they played the ASG in 2006), the reigning UEFA Champions League titlists, who took a less single-minded approach to the event, and add a well-balanced, talented team of MLS stars, and you get an entertaining night of soccer.

Take a look:

How about Jay DeMerit’s tackle at about the 1:50 mark? He was a beast all game, and as Martin Rennie, his coach in Vancouver, said recently, “If Jay DeMerit can’t make the U.S. team, then they must be very strong indeed at centerback.” The Rise and Shine star is back in form, and he deserves a look from Jurgen Klinsmann.

DC United midfielder Chris Pontius also had a good night, scoring the tying goal and winning the game MVP award, and San Jose wingbacks Steven Beitashour and Justin Morrow—aka the $44,100-men—didn’t look the least bit out of place facing Chelsea’s millionaires.

All in all, a fun 90 minutes in Philly, and a solid night for the league. Here’s a bonus clip of Thierry Henry talking to Jimmy Conrad, postgame:

MLS Had Itself Quite an Entertaining Wednesday

There was a highlight-filled, eight-goal thriller in San Jose, another goal for EJ and a 35-yard golazo from Fredy Montero in Seattle, and a solid bounce-back in New England.

First, the San Jose–DC United carnival of soccer fun, which went to the Quakes 5-3, and included Dwayne De Rosario’s curling one-timer, his spectacular bicycle kick that was saved—even more spectacularly—by Jon Busch, his devastating late assist to Hamdi Salihi, and Daniel Woolard’s diving header.

That was just from the losing team. The winners got two goals apiece from Big Bird, aka Steven Lenhart, and league scoring leader Chris Wondolowski; some slick work from speedy winger Marvin Chavez, and a sweet passing sequence in the DC box to set up Wondo’s first goal.

Enjoy:

In Seattle, the Sounders blanked a second-choice Los Angeles side 2-0 behind Fredy Montero’s magical 48th-minute strike.

Take a look:

In Foxboro, the up-and-down Revolution rediscovered their goal-scoring touch to rally from a 1-0 deficit and defeat Colorado 2-1 behind a pair of fine goals from Saer Sene and first-time starter Fernando Cardenas.

Highlights:

Not a bad night. The league will try to top it when this round of play resumes on Friday night, with Chivas USA taking on Chicago. Week 9 continues through the weekend, with seven games on Saturday and one on Sunday.

Bradley Explains Choices, Omissions for Gold Cup Roster

In statements released by U.S. Soccer yesterday, coach Bob Bradley said that “winning the Gold Cup this year is a top priority” and that that objective was his main focus as he selected the team for the tournament, which runs from June 5 to June 25 in venues across the United States.

Bradley went on to address specific selections and omissions.

First up, Timothy Chandler, the Nurnberg defender/midfielder who looked so promising in U.S. friendlies against Argentina and Paraguay in March.

On his omission:

“We’ve had a number of different discussions with Timmy and with the club [Nurnberg] and when we added them all up at the end of the season, his first real season playing at this level, we felt that it didn’t make sense at this time for him. He’s carried a few little injuries of late. He has told us that physically and mentally this season has been a hard one.”

On whether Chandler, who was born in Germany to a U.S. serviceman father, is keeping his international options open:

“The simple matter is that in the way things work in soccer these days, until a player plays in an official match, you don’t know for sure. In all of our conversations with Timmy he’s always expressed how excited he is to have played for the U.S. and we feel that there’s been a very good level of discussion and follow-up with him and it’s all been with the idea that he’s going to continue to play a role for us.”

On selecting San Jose Earthquakes attacker Chris Wondolowski over Sporting Kansas City Striker Teal Bunbury:

“Teal is a young striker that we certainly see a lot of potential in. I think we’ve had a good opportunity to work with him in some camps. I spoke with him and just felt that this time…. I didn’t think it was the right time for him. I don’t think he’s been as sharp as we would like so far in the season. I think that’s a sign of him continuing to mature and grow. Quite honestly, another part of it is the fact that as we watched different games we felt strongly that Chris Wondolowski was in good form. He has scored some good goals, some very different goals and Chris seems to be a player that gets a couple of chances every game. There are always a lot of variables when putting a whole roster together but those are some of them that played into the situation with Teal.”

On Herculez Gomez, who got hot at the end of the Mexican season but was not selected:

Herculez did finish the season on a good note, scoring, I think, four goals in his last five or six games. We took note of that. Herculez, whenever you bring him in, works hard. He’s a mobile guy but in this particular case, different things added up in a way and we made the decisions that we did. It is important to make it clear that it never came down to Jozy [Altidore] versus Herculez.”

On Alejandro Bedoya, who recently scored his fourth goal of the young Swedish season and was not called in:

“He’s a player we’ve seen some good things from when he’s come on into games. He has energy and willingness to be involved in the game in a good way, but nonetheless we looked at some of the other players and now in some cases you have to make some tough decisions where certain guys are almost in the same category. In this particular case, some decisions went in the favor of some other players.”

On Brad Guzan, the presumed No. 2 goalkeeper who was not called in:

“Brad made a personal decision and his schedule didn’t allow him to be available for this Gold Cup.”

On Freddy Adu:

“We have followed Freddy since he transferred to Rizespor. We’ve watched him a number of different times on the computer. We’ve not managed to get there. We watched one of his playoff games this morning, but we still feel that there are good signs from him as a player that have shown us soccer qualities that we think help our team. It hasn’t always added up enough yet with the full national team but this seems like it’s a good opportunity to get him back in with us where we have a good month together and can challenge him. We hope that he has continued to grow and mature and can play a bigger role with the national team.”

On Robbie Rogers:

“Robbie is a player that everyone knows has ability to run at people, get behind people, and he’s capable of playing on both flanks. Thus far in MLS this year he started the season having missed the January camp because he had knee surgery following last year. I think his mobility and his energy in the team have been good. We felt it was a good time to get him back with us and build on some of the things that we’ve seen over the years. We all know that Robbie has a lot of talent and in different moments with the national team it has come out in a very good way and now we think this is a good time to see if we can push it a little further.”

As for Charlie Davies, Bradley said that while the goal-scoring component of Davies’ game is healthy, he believes Davies still needs to improve in other areas.

The U.S. opens the Gold Cup against Canada on June 7 at Ford Field in Detroit.

Adu, Rogers, Wondolowski Lead Surprising U.S. Gold Cup Selection

What, you'd given up on him?

Those three above, along with Real Salt Lake goalkeeper Nick Rimando, were the surprising inclusions to U.S. coach Bob Bradley’s Gold Cup team. The omissions that raised eyebrows were Nurnberg defender/midfielder Timothy Chandler, Sporting Kansas City striker Teal Bunbury and to some extent, Orebro midfielder Alejandro Bedoya.

Rimando is a surprise inclusion not because of his ability or form (both excellent) but because he’ll be backing up Tim Howard and it was not expected that Bradley would lift him from the RSL roster for six weeks just to be an understudy.

In any event, some puzzling choices, especially in the case of Wondolowski. He’s an excellent MLS striker, but he’s 28 and you’d think Bunbury has much more upside, ie., is a guy you’d want to start blooding for World Cup 2014 over a player who will be 32 when that tournament rolls around.

Also: Freddy’s back! We were thisclose to writing him off entirely.

The complete roster:

GOALKEEPERS (3): Marcus Hahnemann (Wolverhampton Wanderers), Tim Howard (Everton), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)

DEFENDERS (8): Carlos Bocanegra (Saint-Etienne), Jonathan Bornstein (UANL Tigres), Steve Cherundolo (Hannover), Clarence Goodson (Brondby), Eric Lichaj (Leeds), Oguchi Onyewu (FC Twente), Tim Ream (New York Red Bulls), Jonathan Spector (West Ham United)

MIDFIELDERS (9): Freddy Adu (Rizespor), Michael Bradley (Aston Villa), Clint Dempsey (Fulham), Landon Donovan (LA Galaxy), Maurice Edu (Rangers), Benny Feilhaber (New England Revolution), Jermaine Jones (Blackburn Rovers), Sacha Kljestan (Anderlecht), Robbie Rogers (Columbus Crew)

FORWARDS (3): Juan Agudelo (New York Red Bulls), Jozy Altidore (Bursaspor), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes)

What do you think of the choices? Let us know in the comments.

Who Should Bradley Start Versus Chile Tomorrow?

For those who follow the U.S. men’s national team closely, tomorrow night’s friendly against Chile at the Home Depot Center (10:00 p.m. EST, TeleFutura, ESPN3.com) is must-see TV.

Of the 24 players Bob Bradley called into camp three weeks ago, 12 have never played for the U.S. before, and six have appeared just once in a U.S. shirt. This game will be all about new blood for the U.S. It’ll be an international test for a new generation of players, and for MLS as well: 20 of the 24 original call-ups are MLS players. (Zenit St. Petersburg striker Eugene Starikov was later added to the roster and Chivas USA’s Justin Braun and FC Dallas’s Ugo Ihemelu left camp with injuries last week.)

So who should take the field for the Red, White and Blue?

Here’s the list of available players:

GOALKEEPERS (4): Dominic Cervi (Celtic), Sean Johnson (Chicago Fire), Matt Pickens (Colorado Rapids), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)
DEFENDERS (9): A.J. DeLaGarza (Los Angeles Galaxy), Sean Franklin (Los Angeles Galaxy), Omar Gonzalez (Los Angeles Galaxy), Zach Loyd (FC Dallas), Ryan Miller (Halmstads BK), Tim Ream (New York Red Bulls), Anthony Wallace (Colorado Rapids), Marvell Wynne (Colorado Rapids)
MIDFIELDERS (7): Eric Alexander (FC Dallas), Alejandro Bedoya (Örebro), Sam Cronin (San Jose Earthquakes), Mikkel Diskerud (Stabaek), Jeff Larentowicz (Colorado Rapids), Dax McCarty (D.C. United), Brek Shea (FC Dallas)
FORWARDS (5): Juan Agudelo (New York Red Bulls), Teal Bunbury (Sporting Kansas City), Eugene Starikov (Zenit St. Petersburg), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes)

Here’s the group we’d like to see at the start:

——————-Rimando———————-

Franklin—-Ream—-Gonzalez—-Wallace

Shea—-Diskerud—-McCarty—-Bedoya

———-Agudelo——Bunbury

Up top, we think you have to keep the momentum going for both Juan Agudelo and Teal Bunbury. The 18-year-old Agudelo scored in his U.S. debut this past November against South Africa, and Bunbury, 20,  really came on at the end of the MLS season and beyond: after a solid U.S. debut against South Africa, he lit it up in Spain with the Generation adidas team.

In the midfield, we’d like to see the young Norwegian-American Mikkel “Mix” Diskerud get an extended run. He sparkled in a brief appearance in the South Africa game, setting up Agudelo’s goal, and he plays regularly for his club.

Dax McCarty would make a good holding-mid complement to Diskerud—as would Jeff Larentowicz, but we’ll go with the slightly more experienced McCarty (two caps to the Ginger Ninja’s none). Plus it would give the U.S. a ‘Dax’ and a ‘Mix’ in midfield. So they’d have that going for them.

Here’s Diskerrud’s nifty assist on Agudelo’s goal against South Africa (with Bunbury crashing the box as well):

Anthony Wallace gets the nod at left back because he’s the only left-footed defender in the group. Tim Ream and Omar Gonzalez could be the USMNT centerback pairing of the future.

The (likely) substitute we’re most eager to see in action is the 22-year-old Ukraine-born, Florida-raised striker Eugene Starikov (read his story and see clips of him in action here).

They’ve just met this month, and have obviously never played together before, but it would be interesting to see Starikov alongside 2010 MLS leading scorer Chris Wondolowski. It would also match two players whose paths to the USMNT were unorthodox—to say the least. Click here to read about Wondolowski’s journey from Division II Chico State to the pinnacle of U.S. Soccer.

Another player who took a non-traditional route to this camp is defender Ryan Miller, who was drafted by the Columbus Crew in 2008 after a successful college career at Notre Dame. When his MLS career didn’t pan out—he was waived by Columbus and DC United—Miller auditioned for several clubs in Europe, eventually latching on to second division Swedish outfit Ljungskile SK.

He did well enough there to be snapped up by Swedish top-flight side Halmstads BK. After earning a regular spot in the Halmstads lineup last season, making 26 appearances, the Illinois native drew Bradley’s attention. Look for Miller in the seccond half tomorrow night.