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.