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MLS Awards: Valeri's role in Portland revival stamps him as top newcomer
by Ridge Mahoney, November 2nd, 2013 7:26PM

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TAGS:  mls, portland timbers

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By Ridge Mahoney

Though this award seems clear-cut –- it recognizes those players making the greatest contributions in their first MLS seasons – there are different ways to evaluate the candidates.

Is it something akin to a team MVP award, i.e. a player whose first season significantly transformed his new team? Or is it simply the newcomer who posted the best numbers and/or most consistently good games regardless of how the season turned out for his team.

We used a combination of these two intertwined criteria and as such our list includes players who took their teams to successful seasons as well as one who did what he could and bears little fault for his team’s disappointing season.

Timbers midfielder Diego Valeri was his team’s MVP and earned mention for the league-wide award as well, which reflects his impact on the third-year team that rose from the ashes of a disastrous 2012 to win the Western Conference. He led the Timbers in goals with 10 and MLS with 13, and when he didn’t score himself he played enough intelligent balls and drew enough attention that three of his teammates each potted nine goals.

Valeri, 27, was signed on loan from Argentine club Lanus -- where he was coached by former Crew midfielder and Argentine international Guillermo Barros Schelotto, who recommended he consider a move to MLS -- and did well enough that Portland purchased his rights and made him a DP in early August.

“He’s so easy to play with,” says teammate Will Johnson, who along with Diego Chara buttresses central midfield in support of Valeri. “I mean every time you get the ball, Diego just turns and makes a difficult pass that most players in this league can’t make.”

New England’s improved defense -- it cut down its 44 goals allowed in 2012 to 38 this year -- is due in part to centerback Jose Goncalves, who is one of the top candidates for MLS Defender of the Year. He played every minute of every game as the Revs, who missed the playoffs last year, finished 2013 in third.

Clint Irwin is a classic American soccer story of a player who rose from a small college (Elon University), spent a few seasons sharpening his game in Canada's CSL and USL PRO, and made the jump to MLS after a preseason trial. In 32 games, he posted 10 shutouts, made 91 saves, and compiled a goals-allowed average of 1.10 while showing more poise and acumen than do most 24-year-old keepers who are new to the big time.

The Timbers needed a Plan B in May after offseason signing Mikael Silvestre went down with a torn ACL in his left knee. They acquired Pa Modou Kah, a Gambian native who represents Norway internationally. His solid play in the back line is one reason the Timbers led MLS in shutouts with 15. He has started 20 of 22 games since debuting May 25.

Another dismal season for Chivas USA at least introduced fans to striker Erick “Cubo” Torres, 20, who scored seven goals in his first nine games before being blanked the rest of the season.

Sporting Kansas City striker Claudio Bieler looked like a strong challenger to Valeri in the first half of the season, but he faded in the second half.

Here are the top five in the chase for 2013 MLS Newcomer of the Year:

1. Diego Valeri (Portland).
2. Jose Goncalves (New England).
3. Clint Irwin (Colorado).
4. Pa Modou Kah (Portland).
5. Erick Torres (Chivas USA).

Who's your pick for MLS Newcomer of the Year? Begin the debate on Twitter or Facebook.


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