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.

MLS Goal of the Week Candidates

Variety was the name of the MLS goal-scoring game this week, as the golazos came in several forms.

Are you a fan of slick, one-touch passing? Check out the build-up to Toronto rookie Luis Silva’s finish against New England (that’s Reggie Lambe and Danny Koevermans with the combination play there).

How about gravity-defying vertical leaps? Vancouver’s Darren Mattocks, also a rookie, has you covered with a Spud Webb–like leap to connect with Jordan Harvey’s cross against Toronto earlier in the week.

Or maybe you enjoy deadly, looping, long-range accuracy? The first of David Beckham’s two goals against Portland showcased those qualities—and we have a feeling the goal-of-the-week voters will appreciate them. (The “bend” in “bend it like Beckham,” by the way, is as much up-and-down as it is side-to-side.)

Here are all five:

For our recap of all the Week 19 action, click here.

Your 2011 MLS MVP is—No Surprise Here—Dwayne De Rosario

MLS wrapped up its 2011 Awards season with today’s announcement that DC United attacker Dwayne De Rosario has been named Most Valuable Player.

The Canadian international, who also played for Toronto FC and New York this season, adds the MVP trophy to the Golden Boot he won earlier as the league’s leading scorer.

De Rosario racked up 16 goals and 12 assists this year, totals that no doubt boosted his MVP candidacy, but we think we can pinpoint the moment he sewed up the award. It was during this three-goal, one-assist, 31-minute flourish against Real Salt Lake in September:

De Rosario edged Houston’s Brad Davis and FC Dallas’s Brek Shea for the award.

Here’s a bonus De Ro 2011 highlight clip:

Darlington Nagbe’s Juggling Volley Named Goal of the Year

There were plenty of fantastic goals in MLS this year—more, it seemed, than in any other of the league’s 16 seasons. From Adam Moffat’s long-distance rockets to Juan Agudelo’s flip-and-rip golazo to Eric Hassli’s audacious volley, voters had a surplus of worthy candidates for 2011 Goal of the Year.

In the end, they went with this bit of magic from Portland rookie Darlington Nagbe, and it’s hard to argue with the choice:

Nagbe is just the second rookie in league history to win the Goal of the Year award, following former Chicago striker Damani Ralph, who won it in 2003.

Keller, Rosales, Win Goalkeeper, Newcomer of the Year Awards

Yesterday it was the LA Galaxy, today it was Seattle Sounders FC: the Pacific Northwest club became the second team in a row to take in two of Major League Soccer’s year-end awards on the same day.

Sounders FC backstop Kasey Keller and midfielder Mauro Rosales were named Goalkeeper and Newcomer of the Year, respectively, in voting by players, coaches, club administrators, and media members.

Keller, who retired at the end of the season, dropping the curtain on one of the best careers in U.S. soccer history, led MLS with a save percentage of 76.0 this year, while producing nine shutouts.

He helped the Sounders to the league’s second-best regular-season record (18-7-9) and to a third straight U.S. Open Cup championship.

Keller edged Philadelphia’s Faryd Mondragon and FC Dallas’s Kevin Hartman in the balloting.  (And we were happy to see Chivas USA’s Dan Kennedy sneak into the vote.)

Rosales, whose league-minimum salary of $42,000 made him the bargain of the year—if not the history of the league—led Seattle with 13 assists this season (in just 22 starts). The Argentine winger also scored five goals, and almost certainly would have had more of both if knee injuries hadn’t caused him to miss games in September and October.

Seattle might have had a longer playoff run, too, if not for Rosales’s October MCL injury, which was a re-injury of a knock he took late in the Sounders’ 3-0 win over DC United on Sept 17th.

Rosales defeated New York’s Luke Rodgers and Vancouver’s Eric Hassli in the vote.

While Keller will not be back next season, Rosales certainly will—at a much, much higher salary, of course.

And Seattle fans are probably salivating at the prospect of Rosales and a hopefully healthy Steve Zakuani manning their wings next season.

Galaxy Add to Trophy Haul: Arena Named Coach of the Year, Beckham Takes Comeback Award

They already have the Supporters’ Shield salted away in the Home Depot Center trophy case, and on Sunday, they’ll be gunning for the MLS Cup (9:00 ET, ESPN, Galavision). Today, the Galaxy added two more honors to their 2011 collection: Bruce Arena won the Coach of the Year award, and midfielder David Beckham was named Comeback Player of the Year.

There was much grousing on comment boards and in the Twittersphere about Beckham’s qualifications as a comeback case, but Soccer By Ives helpfully pointed out that Becks ruptured his Achilles tendon in the spring of 2010, missed most of that season, then “came back and had MVP-caliber 2011.”

His season may have been just shy of “MVP caliber,” but, yes, Beckham qualifies for the category based on that explanation.

Others complained that DC United striker Charlie Davies, another nominee for the award, shouldn’t have been a candidate because he had never played in MLS before. He’s undoubtedly a comeback case, having suffered traumatic and multiple injuries in a near-fatal 2009 car crash.

These objections, and the nomination of Chicago striker Dominic Oduro, point up the vagueness of the award. (What was Oduro—who busted out for a career-high 12 goals for the Fire this season—coming back from? Mediocrity?)

In any event, Beckham takes home the award.

His manager edged Seattle gaffer Sigi Schmid and Sporting KC boss Peter Vermes for the coaching honor.

This one could have gone to any of the three with justification, but Arena won it for a season in which he led his team to a league-best 19-5-10 record, an undefeated season at home, an MLS-record-tying 17 shutouts, a berth in the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals, and of course a spot in Sunday’s MLS Cup final. Not a bad year.

Tomorrow, the league will announce the Goalkeeper and Newcomer of the Year award winners.

MLS Awards: The Airing of Grievances

Festivus is more than a month away, but the MLS Awards season is in full swing, and some of its injustices have kicked us into Frank Costanza mode (“I got a lot of problems with you people!”).

Herewith then, the BP critique of the 2010 MLS year-end awards:

Goalkeeper of the Year

Finalists:

Donovan Ricketts, Los Angeles

Kevin Hartman, FC Dallas

Nick Rimando, Real Salt Lake

Winner: Ricketts.

Grievance(s): Ricketts was the third-best candidate! Rimando backstopped the league’s stingiest defense (20 ga), produced an MLS-best 14 shutouts, and was third in the league with a save percentage of 78.0. Hartman topped the league in goals-against average (.62) and save percentage (78.9), and was arguably the MVP for his team this season. Ricketts led MLS in wins (18) and … nothing else.

Fair Play Award

Finalists:

Sebastien Le Toux, Philadelphia

C.J. Brown, Chicago

Chris Wondolowski, San Jose

Winner: Le Toux.

Grievance(s): We’re not going to get worked up over MLS’s version of the Lady Byng Trophy, but this had to be cold comfort to Le Toux after not getting an MVP nomination.

Comeback Player of the Year

Finalists:

Chris Albright, New York

Bobby Convey, San Jose

Brek Shea, FC Dallas

Winner: Convey

Grievance(s): We tip our hat to Convey, who had an excellent season (10 assists and one goal) and single-handedly eliminated New York from the playoffs last week.

But here are three Costanza-esque points:

1. Brek Shea is 20 years old. What’s he coming back from? Striking out on prom night?

2. Convey himself questioned whether he was an appropriate nominee, having played a full season last year. He told the San Jose Mercury News,“I don’t know what I’m coming back from.”

3. Albright is the most bona fide comeback story in the bunch. He missed all of last season and the start of this one with a knee injury. While some were questioning whether his career would continue, the former U.S. international regained fitness and form, nailed down the starting right back spot for New York and helped lead the team to the best record in the Eastern Conference.

Defender of the Year

Finalists:

Jamison Olave, Real Salt Lake

Nat Borchers, Real Salt Lake

Omar Gonzalez, Los Angeles

Winner: Olave

Grievance(s): None! Olave was a beast for RSL this season, and more disciplined (less card-prone) than last.

Rookie of the Year

Finalists:

Andy Najar,  DC United

Danny Mwanga, Philadelphia

Tim Ream, New York

Winner: Najar

Grievance(s): Najar and Mwanga are both dynamic attacking players loaded with potential, but Ream is arguably more polished than both and indisputably had a better year than both.

He was one of only two players in the entire league to play every minute of every game, and he was the best defender on a team that went 15-9-6 to win the Eastern Conference while giving up a conference-fewest 29 goals.

Ream’s poise on the ball, positioning, and defending will earn him a U.S. national-team call-up sooner rather than later. He was the best rookie in the league this year. We guess offensive players are just more glamorous and easier to quantify for voters.

Newcomer of the Year

Finalists:

Joel Lindpere, New York

Thierry Henry, New York

Alvaro Saborio, Real Salt Lake

Winner: Saborio

Grievance(s): Henry doesn’t belong on the list. He had his moments, for sure, but he joined the league in midseason, and injuries kept him from contributing on a regular basis. (Geovanni or Blaise Nkufo might have made better options.)

Between the remaining two, it’s a tough call, but we submit that the voters got it wrong.*

Yes, Saborio had 12 goals and seamlessly integrated himself into the RSL attack, but if you removed him from the lineup, how much would his team suffer? Apply that question to Lindpere (six assists, three goals in 2010) and the answer is, severely. Lindpere didn’t put up huge numbers, but his overall game made him the MVP of his team. Without him, New York might not have made the playoffs, much less improved by 10 wins and captured the Eastern Conference title.

Coach of the Year will be announced tomorrow. Here are your finalists:

Hans Backe, New York

Jason Kreis, Real Salt Lake

Schellas Hyndman, FC Dallas

If you take playoff performance into account (which voters don’t), you’d have to go with Hyndman. But based on the regular season, we’d give it to Kreis, who juggled a successful CONCACAF Champions League campaign with an excellent MLS season, which ended with a 33-game home unbeaten streak still intact.

The MVP Award will be announced on November 19, two days before MLS Cup. Here are the finalists:

Edson Buddle, Los Angeles

Chris Wondolowski, San Jose

David Ferreira, FC Dallas

Gotta be Wondo, responsible for more than half of his team’s goals on the year.

* We realize that three of our grievances concern snubs of Red Bulls—and that we’re based in New York. It’s pure coincidence, really! We stand by the arguments.

All right, let’s just move on to the Feats of Strength.