MLS has announced its end-of-the year finalists, with the winners to be gradually rolled out starting early next week. Here is how I rank the three finalists in the major categories along with those individuals who also deserved serious consideration but didn’t make the cut in voting conducted among players, coaches, MLS executives, and members of the media.
Most Valuable Player
1. Chris Wondolowski (San Jose)
2. Graham Zusi (Sporting KC)
3. Thierry Henry (New York)
Wondo and his teammates fizzled in the playoffs, yet without him they couldn’t have won the Supporters’ Shield. His record-tying season of 27 goals and all-around impressive, consistent play stood out.
Also: Robbie Keane (Los Angeles), Osvaldo Alonso (Seattle).
Rookie of the Year
1. Nick DeLeon (D.C. United)
2. Austin Berry (Chicago)
3. Darren Mattocks(Vancouver)
Rookie attackers always have it tougher, since teams tend to stock up those spots with foreign players or proven commodities. DeLeon did more than enough to win a tight battle with an outstanding defender in Berry and a streaky yet promising forward in Mattocks.
Also deserving of mention: Connor Lade (New York), Kelyn Rowe (New England).
Newcomer of the Year
1. Victor Bernardez (San Jose)
2. Michael Gspurning (Seattle)
3. Federico Higuain (Columbus)
Along with robust tacking and aerial dominance, Bernardez lashed home a pair of direct free kicks and also volleyed an impressive goal from a corner kick with his right foot. The Honduran topped a good class of newcomers.
Also: Lee Young-Pyo (Vancouver), Jairo Arrieta (Columbus).
Comeback Player of the Year
1. Eddie Johnson (Seattle)
2. Chris Pontius (D.C. United)
3. Alan Gordon (San Jose)
Johnson’s return after four years in the European wilderness looked like a crazy gamble in April; by July it was a brilliant move. His 14 goals and energetic work up front called up memories of his impressive days in Dallas and Kansas City, and earned him a return to the national team.
Also: David Ferreira (FC Dallas).
Defender of the Year
1. Matt Besler (Sporting KC)
2. Victor Bernardez (San Jose)
3. Aurelien Collin (Sporting KC)
Besler doesn’t have the physical tools of Bernardez or Collin, but is marginally more consistent and less reckless. He and Collin played as a unit frequently, yet Besler also maintained a high standard when paired with Lawrence Olum and through lineup tweaks that often shifted around the midfield pieces in front of him.
Also: Jeff Parke (Seattle), Arne Friedrich (Chicago).
Goalkeeper of the Year
1. Jimmy Nielsen (Sporting KC)
2. Michael Gspurning (Seattle)
3. Dan Kennedy (Chivas USA)
Nielsen backstopped one of the strongest defenses in MLS yet still responded when a big save was demanded. He sometimes lacks presence in the penalty area on crosses and loose balls but otherwise is top-class.
Also: Nick Rimando (RSL), Andy Gruenebaum (Columbus).
Coach of the Year
1. Frank Yallop (San Jose)
2. Ben Olsen (D.C. United)
3. Peter Vermes (Sporting KC)
Injuries ripped through the San Jose lineup last year, and in rebuilding from that disappointment San Jose hit the jackpot by also netting important cogs such as Marvin Chavez from FC Dallas, ex-Quake Shea Salinas and Bernardez.
Also: Frank Klopas (Chicago), Sigi Schmid (Seattle).