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.

U.S. vs Guatemala: Field-Level Highlights

These clips always provide an interesting perspective, and in this case, they actually shed new light on the game: As friend of BP Prison Mike pointed out, you can see that Clint Dempsey wasn’t just being safe when he punched in Michael Bradley’s chip for the third goal. The ball was probably heading wide; Deuce made sure it found the back of the net.

Check it out (third replay of the goal shows it best):

A couple of other thoughts:

• Steve Cherundolo’s ball that sprung Eddie Johnson for the second goal looks even better from this angle than it did on the TV broadcast, and that’s saying something.

• The U.S. really should have added a couple more goals. EJ had a good chance or two, and Herculez Gomez bothched two opportunities.

• You can see that after the third goal Dempsey tells Bradley that it was his goal, to which the midfielder replies, if our lip-reading skills are on point, “No way. That was your f****** goal.” He’s got a point, too, and not just because the ball may have been going wide. Dempsey has a great habit of crashing the goal when shots are taken. That instinct got him a lot of goals at Fulham, and it got him that one. While not one but two Guatemalan defenders stood and watched, he charged in and finished the play.

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:

Fredy Montero Is Heating Up

On Wednesday, May 2nd, the Seattle Sounders’ 24-year-old Colombian striker did this to seal a 2-0 win against Los Angeles:

One week later, against FC Dallas, Montero came on after halftime and punched in two goals in a three-minute span to lead the Sounders to a 2-0 win, their fifth consecutive victory this season.

Highlights here:

The Pacific Northwest club is off to a 7-1-1 start, most of it accomplished without Montero in high gear (the blast against LA was his first goal of the season), and with Eddie Johnson still working to find his footing and match fitness.

They’re both showing progress now—Johnson has two goals in four starts—and if they continue along that path, Seattle fans can start feeling pretty good about that February dice-roll of a trade that sent attackers Lamar Neagle and Mike Fucito to Montreal in exchange for Johnson, in hopes that the former (and future?) U.S. international  could form a potent partnership with Montero.

It’s been a busy stretch of games for Seattle (the Dallas tilt was their fourth match in 12 days), and their next two matches will be telling, not only for the Sounders but also for the Western Conference pecking order: the Sounders host 7-3-1 Real Salt Lake on Saturday (10:00 p.m. ET, MLSLive, DirectKick), then travel the following Saturday to take on  5-2-2 Vancouver.

The Curious Case of Eddie Johnson

Former U.S. international and onetime next-big-thing striker Eddie Johnson has been in the news three times in the past five months and on each occasion it was for the wrong reason.

First there was this incident in early August 2011, and, well, the less said about that the better.

Then there was his decision later that month to back out of a deal with Major League Soccer at the very last minuteafter the very last minute, actually: MLS honchos had already gone public with the agreement.

Not the best way to do business, but the former Fulham and Kansas City striker recently told Soccer By Ives that he had said to himself at the time, “You know what, I’m still 27 years old, there’s a lot more soccer in me. I still want to prove this to myself that I can make it abroad.”

In late December, apparently following that impulse, Johnson hooked up with Mexican side Puebla, current home of U.S. winger DaMarcus Beasley.

After initially saying they’d signed the player, Puebla reversed field (pulled an EJ?) yesterday and announced Johnson had been let go because he is not fit enough. “He didn’t pass the test in three training sessions,” Puebla spokesperson Hugo Fernández said in various media reports. “And he’s not staying.”

Johnson has been out of soccer for eight months and counting. What’s his next move? He’s burned bridges with MLS, had the door closed in Mexico, and most likely could not get a sniff of first- or second-division European ball right now.

For a player who scored 23 goals in 25 appearances for the U.S. U-17 team 10 years ago, and bagged a remarkable seven goals in his first six World Cup qualifiers with the senior team, it’s been quite a fall from grace.

MLS Roundup: Eddie Johnson Deal Off, Angel to Chivas, DP Rule Tweaked

After announcing yesterday that they had reached an agreement to bring U.S. striker Eddie Johnson to MLS, league officials stated today that the player had backed out of a verbal agreement to join the league and ended negotiations.

“We had reached agreement, subject to formal documents,” MLS Executive Vice President of Competition and Player Relations Todd Durbin told MLSsoccer.com. “It’s unfortunate the player did not want to conclude a formal agreement, but we wish him well in his future endeavors.”

It’s been a tough month for EJ. First, the trouble down in Florida and now this: backing out of a verbal commitment to the league that launched his career. It’s unfortunate, but not entirely surprising for a player who’s been dogged by character issues (click here and see Eric Wynalda’s take in the sidebar) since rising to national prominence in 2001.

• As expected, the Los Angeles Galaxy have shipped Designated Player Juan Pablo Angel out of town to make room for new signing Robbie Keane. Check that: they’ve moved Angel off their team, but he’s staying in town, to become the newest member of the Galaxy’s fellow Home Depot Center tenants, Chivas USA. Chivas sent a third-round pick in the 2012 supplemental draft to LA in exchange for the former Red Bulls star.

• And speaking of Designated Players, MLS this week announced a slight change to the DP rule (also known as the Beckham rule) that will allow teams to acquire young international stars with less risk involved. From the league website:

Beginning in 2012, teams can acquire Designated Players based overseas who are 20 years of age or younger for a budget charge of only $150,000, while Designated Players between the ages of 21 and 23 will count just $200,000 against a team’s salary budget. Current DPs represent a $335,000 hit to a club’s player budget of $2,675,000, regardless of their age.

“We’re hoping that with this rule change we’ll tear down this last barrier of entry and bring in quality players at every place in their career, and truly have the ability to get into the market of young players to be able to bring in and grow stars of the future for Major League Soccer,” said Durbin.

The age classifications are designed to catch young players cycling out of their respective Under-20 and Under-23 national teams. And it’s a rule change for which MLS clubs had been clamoring.

The change will allow MLS teams to take a chance on a promising young international who may need time to develop, and do so without gambling $335,000 of the team’s salary budget.

U.S. Striker Eddie Johnson Headed Back to MLS

As the MLS Insider tweeted earlier today, Portland fans will have to retire their “There’s only one Eddie Johnson” chant.

There are about to be two Eddie Johnson’s in Major League Soccer.

The second one is returning from Europe after four years of struggling for playing time at Fulham and getting loaned out to Cardiff City (Championship), Aris (Greek top-flight), and Preston North End (Championship).

Johnson began his professional career in MLS, playing for five years in Dallas and two in Kansas City. He bagged 15 goals for KC in 2007. He has 42 appearances and 12 goals for the USMNT—including a hat-trick against Panama in 2004 World Cup qualifying.

He has signed with the league and will be allocated to a team this week, possibly by Thursday.

Here’s hoping for a fresh start for the once-ballyhooed striker, now 27. He could use some good fortune in his life, considering his recent unfortunate episode in Florida. (Best part of that: “A man who answered a phone call Wednesday from The News-Journal at first said he was Johnson but then said it was the wrong number and declined to comment.” Ouch.)

(Portland’s Eddie Johnson is English, and one year younger than his returning namesake, but also a forward. He has one goal in three starts for the Timbers this season.)

Bradley Completes Move to Villa; Busiest Transfer Window Ever for U.S. Players?

As expected, U.S. midfielder Michael Bradley finalized a loan Monday from relegation-threatened Borussia Moenchengladbach of the Bundesliga to Aston Villa of the Premier League.

He watched as the Villans’ two-game winning streak came to a halt today against Manchester United, but he could debut for the Birmingham club on Saturday against Fulham and fellow American Clint Dempsey.

Bradley’s move led the way, but there was plenty of activity involving Americans during this transfer window. Take a look:

Jozy Altidore from Villareal to Bursaspor (loan). Bursaspor is the defending Turkish champion, and currently sits second in the Süper Lig at 12-2-5.

Oguchi Onyewu from AC Milan to FC Twente (loan). Much-needed move for Gooch, who couldn’t get a game for the Serie A leaders. He’s played three already for his new Dutch club.

Jermaine Jones from Schalke 04 to Blackburn (loan). He’d fallen out of favor with management at Schalke and needed a change of scenery. Named Man of the Match in his debut for Blackburn.

Eddie Johnson from Fulham to Preston North End (loan). Johnson started just one EPL game this year; now he goes to the club whose fans fondly remember previous Yanks Brian McBride and Eddie Lewis. If only they weren’t sitting dead last in the Championship (second level in England).

Freddy Adu from Greek side Aris (by way of Benfica, and several other clubs) to Rizespor of the Turkish second flight. Sigh.

Brad Guzan from Aston Villa to Hull City (loan). Brad Friedel’s apprentice at Villa was languishing on the bench while the ageless Friedel continued to shine between the pipes for the Villans (including today, when he stood on his head to keep it 1-3 vs Man U). Guzan is starting for Hull, which is in 13th place in the English second flight.

Robbie Findley from Real Salt Lake to Nottingham Forest (transfer). Forest is vying for promotion to the Premier League. Findley wasn’t a starter at RSL last season; how will he stack up in the Championship?

Clarence Goodson from Norwegian first-division club IK Start to Brondby of the Danish top flight. Lanky defender sealed this deal in November; it took effect in January.

Other moves of note:

Jonathan Bornstein from Chivas USA to Tigres of the Mexican top flight. Bornstein committed to this transfer a while ago, and joined his new team for preseason training in December.

Diego Restrepo, undersized but highly skilled former UVA goalkeeper, signed with America de Cali in the Colombian first division, while former St. John’s University midfielder Eric Opsahl signed with Reading in the English second flight.

Opsahl, 18, made just three appearances for St. John’s during his freshman season this past fall, but did enough in a two-week trial to earn a contract with Reading, former home of Bobby Convey and Marcus Hahnemann. Who says college soccer is no good?

For more on Opsahl’s interesting route to Reading, see here. And it may be worth asking why DC United, where Opsahl was an academy player, didn’t snap him up.

Finally, two American players came home this winter, as striker Kenny Cooper transferred from 1860 Munich of the Bundesliga 2 to MLS expansion side Portland Timbers, and defender Hunter Freeman departed IK Start of the Norwegian top flight to join the Houston Dynamo.

Cooper joins No. 2 draft pick Darlington Nagbe and Colombian speedster Jorge Perlaza in what could be a potent strike force in Portland.

Yanks in England: Weekend Wrap

The Premier League tossed up handful of surprises in Week 6, a few of them involving Americans, and all of them adding welcome twists to the early stages of the season.

First up—stop press! West Ham got its first win of the year!

And it came not against a Wigan or a Wolves, but against Champions League entrants Tottenham. Frenchman Frederic Piquionne netted the game’s only goal, on a header in the 29th minute.

That gives U.S. defender Jonathan Spector’s team a win and a tie in its last two games after it started the season with four straight losses. Should you read anything into the fact that Spector has not dressed for either one of those games?

No. No, you should not.

Stuart Holden and Bolton played host to mighty Manchester United, with the U.S. winger getting the start and going the full 90. Bolton came out like a team serious about winning the game; they were full of energy, and they got a fifth-minute goal from Zat Knight.

After Nani tied it up 17 minutes later, the hosts took the lead again, on a rocket from Martin Petrov in the 67th minute. They couldnt hang on, though, as Michael Owen found a 74th minute equalizer. But Wanderers will definitely take the 2-2 tie.

And Holden has definitely nailed down a starting spot in the center of Bolton’s midfield, begging a question for reader Prison Mike: “So why couldn’t he get on the field in South Africa?! Tell me that. Why?!”

It’s a fair question, Mike. The best answer we’ve heard comes from Ref Baiter: “He may not have been 100% match fit back then, after the broken leg in March.”

There were two committee meetings of Americans in England this weekend, as Eddie Johnson, Clint Dempsey and Fulham hosted Tim Howard and struggling Everton, and Marcus Hahnemann and Wolves welcomed Brad Friedel and Aston Villa, with Brad Guzan and young Yank defender Eric Lichaj on Villa’s bench.

Howard made two saves—one of them an excellent parry of a shot by Dempsey—and the game ended in a 0-0 draw. Johnson played 35 minutes, and got good reviews from his coach, Mark Hughes.

Everton is off to another atrocious start, having just lost to Brentford (of third-tier League One) in the Carling Cup and still in search of it first Premier League victory. The Toffees are currently dead last in the standings, but we wouldn’t bet on them to stay there.

Hahnemann and Friedel each made six saves—several of the spectacular variety—in the Wolves-Villa match, but Hahnemann couldn’t keep out Emile Heskey’s 87th-minute header, which proved to be the difference in Villa’s 2-1 victory.

The Rest of the Big Four

Liverpool’s debt-ridden American owners could not have been happy with the Reds’ result on Saturday, a 2-2 draw with Sunderland, at Anfield—and one they had to come from behind to earn.

First-place Chelsea was upended by a 59th-minute goal from Man City’s Carlos Tevez that handed the Blues their first loss of the year, and Arsenal was stunned at home by West Bromwich Albion. The promotion side jumped out to a 3-0 lead and held on for a 3-2 win as Samir Nasri pulled two back in the late stages.

Blackburn, Blackpool, et al…

Blackpool overcame an own goal to snatch what it thought was a late point on Matt Phillips’s 87th-minute strike at Bloomfield Road, butBlackburn’s Brett Emerton struck back in stoppage time to give the visitors a 2-1 win.

Birmingham City tied Wigan 0-0 but extended its home unbeaten streak to a club-record 18 games, and Stoke City edged Newcastle 2-1 on an 84th-minute own goal by James Perch at St. James’ Park.

Quote of the Week:

Mick McCarthy and Ian Holloway were beaten out by West Ham manager Avram Grant, who had this to say about Robert Green, after the keeper best known for his gaffe against the U.S in South Africa made a number of great saves in West Ham’s shutout win over Tottenham:

“Robert Green is a good goalkeeper and it was a normal performance from him. It was a great save against Modric. It does not matter what is in the papers—he showed on the pitch that he is a very good goalkeeper. His performance today was the best speech.”