[MLS AWARDS FINAL FIVE] When MLS sends out its ballots for the end-of-the-year awards, clearly stated is that selections should be based on performances in league matches, with all external competitions -- Open Cup, Concacaf, friendlies, etc. -- excluded. Such a decree is easy to stipulate and difficult to implement, since the league has instilled policies of travel, budget, and resources through which its teams can be more competitive in the Concacaf Champions League, for example.
In addition to romping to the Supporters’ Shield with the best overall record, the Galaxy qualified for the CCL quarterfinals.
And ignoring a third straight U.S. Open Cup as well as CCL advancement for Seattle and its head coach, Sigi Schmid, is probably next to impossible. He and the Galaxy’s Bruce Arena top the list of finalists that also includes Peter Vermes (Sporting Kansas City), Dominic Kinnear (Houston), Peter Nowak (Philadelphia), and Schellas Hyndman (FC Dallas).
Yet even had the Sounders not earned a third consecutive trophy, Schmid would get a lot of votes. An expansion team in name only when it embarked on MLS in 2009, Seattle has qualified for the playoffs in each season, and in 2011 finished second only to the Galaxy in overall points.
In April, dynamic attacker Steve Zakuanisuffered a badly broken leg from which he’s still recovering. Seattle stocked up with newcomers Erik Friberg and Mauro Rosales, Fredy Montero scored 12 goals, and Mike Fucito, Lamar Neagle, Osvaldo Alonso and Alvaro Fernandez also took up the slack. The Sounders led the league with 56 goals yet were third in fewest goals allowed (37).
Arena has resources and backing a lot of his counterparts can only dream about, yet in a league as restrictive as MLS, he’s made a good team better. Under his tutelage, midfielder Juninho has blossomed into one of the league’s top midfielders and despite losing starting keeper Donovan Ricketts for the bulk of the season, the Galaxy defense allowed the fewest goals (28). L.A. also became only the third team in league history to finish the regular season unbeaten at home (12-0-5).
Vermes, Kinnear and Nowak overhauled their 2010 also-rans to finish first, second, and third, respectively, in the Eastern Conference. Here are the points-per-game for each team the past two seasons, with 2010 listed first: Sporting Kansas City (1.30/1.50); Houston (1.10/1.44); Philadelphia (1.03/1.41). In each case, the improvement is significant.
Both Hyndman and Jason Kreis at Real Salt Lake steered their teams to solid seasons that have sputtered in the past month or so. They can redeem their seasons in the playoffs but the votes are due now.
MLS COACH OF THE YEAR FINAL FIVE