MLS Goal of the Week Nominees: Kicking off the Season In Style

The first week of the 2013 MLS season is in the books, and it was a lively round indeed.

There was a shocker in Seattle, a wild one in Portland, and a slow-motion trainwreck the emerging saga of Chivas USA in Southern California.

The nine games yielded 24 goals, many of which were terrific, including the following five:

The week was filthy rich with great goals; there were also fine strikes from Mike Magee and Sebastien Le Toux. But of the five nominees, we have to go with Davy Arnaud’s excellent finish, teed up by Felipe’s superb scoop over the top. Finishing a close second for us was Diego Valeri‘s slick slalom and finish against New York, followed, again, very closely, by Vancouver’s beautiful team goal.

Keep an eye on Whitecaps midfielder Daigo Kobayashi, the man who laid that ball off for Gershon Khoffie to finish. Kobayashi’s teammate Jun Marques Davidson said the Japanese import (who’s only 30) would be the most technical player in the league when he joined in preseason. After seeing him for one game, we see what Davidson means: Kobayashi is superclean on the ball. He—and Vancouver—are going to be fun to watch.

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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.

Federico Higuain Singlehandedly Tightening Up Eastern Conference Standings

He’s only appeared in four games for the Columbus Crew, but Argentine attacker Federico Higuain has already racked up three goals and four assists, sparking the Crew to a five-game unbeaten run that has pushed them to within two points of the fifth and final playoff spot.

There are now just eight points separating the top seven teams in the East.

On Wednesday night at Philadelphia’s PPL Park, Higuain assisted on the Crew’s first goal with a deadly free kick, then made a crucial play to help set up Eddie Gaven‘s unlikely stoppage-time gamewinner in the Crew’s 2-1 victory.

The visitors played the final 22 minutes with 10 men after Josh Williams, who scored Columbus’s first goal, was sent off for scuffling with Antoine Hoppenot in the 68th minute.

To the highlights:

On Saturday, Columbus hosts the Montreal Impact, with whom they are tied on 39 points in the East standings. (Though Columbus has three games in hand.)

Columbus Getting Positive Early Returns from Higuain

He may not be as good as his younger brother, Real Madrid’s Gonzalo Higuain, but 27-year-old Argentine attacker Federico Higuain is off to a fine start as the third Designated Player in Columbus Crew history.

He had an assist in his debut this past Sunday against Houston, and last night, in his first start for the Crew, Higuain set up a goal in the fourth minute and scored one in the 58th, leading Columbus to a 2-1 win over Toronto FC.

Columbus looked dangerous through the first hour, with U.S. midfielder Eddie Gaven, Costa Rican striker Jairo Arrieta and Venezuelan attacker Emilio Renteria all joining Higuain in a fluid attack. Though of course it’s hard to say whether their dominance could be chalked up to the Crew’s skill, or a lack of the same from Toronto, who are now 5-15-5 on the season.

Highlights:

Designated Players can be a crapshoot, as the Crew have found out in the past, breaking even with their previous two—Guillermo Barros Schelotto (thumbs up) and Andres Mendoza (meh, and he had penalty-kick-etiquette issues).

If Higuain keeps this up, he’ll make the franchise 2-for-3 on DPs and could push Columbus into the crowded field of contenders in the East, where the top five teams are just six points apart.

The Crew are seven points out of a playoff spot, but have games in hand on every team ahead of them in the standings.