[MLS AWARDS FINAL FIVE] MLS did itself a great service by adding the Newcomer of the Year Award in 2007. It properly showcases the best moves made by teams adding experienced players from sources as diverse as foreign leagues and the lower echelons of the domestic game.
Some big-name Americans came to MLS in 2011, most notably Benny Feilhaber and Freddy Adu. Feilhaber qualifies as a newcomer, since until he came to the Revs early in the season he hadn’t play in MLS; Adu, a former D.C. United and Real Salt Lake player, does not qualify for this category.
Feilhaber hasn’t had nearly the same impact as perhaps a dozen other players, and it must be said that the two expansion teams, Vancouver and Portland, sent forth a high number of candidates, both of foreign extraction as well as players plucked from those teams’ stints in the minor leagues. Despite the new teams’ records, a few of their more established counterparts could learn from the job done by them – and Seattle in 2009 – compiling their rosters.
In their first season, the Sounders featured the Newcomer of the Year, Fredy Montero, as well as another finalist, Kasey Keller. They reached the playoffs and won the U.S. Open Cup, feats they repeated last year, and could do yet again in 2011.
In compiling our list, we’ve given preference to those players acquired before the primary transfer window closed in April, though several later arrivals have also contributed significantly and are acknowledged. This also excludes rookies playing their first pro seasons; there’s a separate award for them.
SOUNDERS STRIKE AGAIN. The rundown of our top five finalists goes back to Seattle, for which Argentine midfielder Mauro Rosales has sparked and stabilized a midfield that had been searching for the right fit since Freddie Ljungberg left midway through the 2010 season.
Rosales has a different skill set, yet has brought commitment along with flair after getting through a rough adjustment period. In 24 games deployed out wide and in the middle he’s hovered among the league leaders in assists (12) and scored five goals. He’s also playing for the league minimum of $42,000, which isn’t a consideration for this award, but certainly burnishes his reputation amongst fans and teammates.
Sidelined recently with a sprained MCL, he’s proclaimed his hope to be back in time for the U.S. Open Cup final next Tuesday. He’s also played Concacaf games and mastered, somewhat, the rapidly deteriorating artificial surface at CenturyLink Field.
WORTHY CANDIDATES. While perhaps there’s not one clearcut favorite this year, a good case can be made for an array of possibilities.
The Union has two members of their Colombian core, keeper Faryd Mondragon and defender Carlos Valdes, who have been invaluable to their team’s success. This is a close call, but the fact Philly’s stout defense hasn’t been affected by the loss of Mondragon to a broken finger tilts the scales to Valdes, who along with central partner Danny Califf and the Farfan brothers – Gabriel and Michael -- along with Sheanon Williams at outside back have melded into a decent unit.
He might be the most inelegant, effective attacker ever to play in MLS -- and that’s saying something -- yet Luke Rodgers blew the doors off opposing defenses when he showed up this spring, and after an injury layoff got right back to business muscling through tackles and scoring goals. Eight goals and three assists in 19 games, and 1,000 percent effort most of the time, gets him on the list.
Of those playing for expansion teams, a slight nod goes to Vancouver’s productive Brazilian, Camilo, with nine goals and three assists. He’s got competition on his own team, with Eric Hassli (10 goals) and Davide Chiumiento (2 goals, 9 assists) also rating consideration, along with some very good work put in by defender Alain Rochat.
Down Interstate-5, the rival Timbers are also well-stocked with graduates of their lower-division days and other contributors: Jorge Perlaza, Kalif Alhassan, Mamadou "Futty” Danso, etc. But none of them quite measures up to former Mexican international Omar Bravo, who has jumped into the often chaotic and undisciplined style of MLS to score nine goals in 24 games for Sporting Kansas City. Teammates Aurelien Collin and Julio Cesar have done a fair share as well.
So, heading into the final few weeks of the season, here are the final five newcomers, with acknowledgments to Joao Plata and Danny Koevermans (Toronto FC), Jan Gunnar Solli and Teemu Tainio (New York), Diego Chaves and Pavel Pardo (Chicago), Sebastien Miranda (Columbus), Charlie Davies (D.C. United) and Rajko Lekic (New England), among others:
Newcomer of the Year Candidates:
1. Mauro Rosales (Seattle);
2. Carlos Valdes (Philadelphia);
3. Luke Rodgers (New York);
4. Omar Bravo (Kansas City);
5. Camilo Sanvezzo (Vancouver).