MLS Awards: Clark edges Morales for top newcomer award

By Ridge Mahoney

MLS players come from myriad sources and by various paths, and the top players new to the league in 2014 arrived from many parts of the globe. The Crew hit the jackpot with their Michigan-born goalkeeper Steve Clark, who had come home after playing four years in Norway, as did Vancouver with playmaker Pedro Morales, a Chilean who signed after playing in Spain.

1. STEVE CLARK, COLUMBUS. The native of Mason, Mich., adjusted rapidly to MLS after playing four seasons in Norway with Honefoss. He played every minute for the Crew, made 111 saves (tied for second in MLS among regular keepers), posted eight shutouts (tied fourth), and compiled a save percentage of 72.5 (third) and a goals-allowed average of 1.24 (sixth). He was solid and consistent and occasionally outstanding.

2. PEDRO MORALES, VANCOUVER. A long grind of steady play over 15 months in Spain and MLS wore him down near the end of the season but he still managed to lead the ‘Caps in goals (10, including seven penalty kicks) and assists (12). Quick feet, sharp vision, and great balance are complemented by the explosiveness and work rate demanded by MLS. He took over as team captain when Jay DeMerit retired and is a true leader on and off the field.

3. FANENDO ADI, PORTLAND. He quickly earned a reputation as a feast-or-famine forward in terms of production: his first eight goals came in pairs against Chivas USA, Real Salt Lake, Seattle and Vancouver. A good target at 6-foot-4, 185 pounds, he showed some ability to link up with teammates and funnel balls to teammates. He registered four assists in addition to his nine goals.

4. LUKE MULHOLLAND, REAL SALT LAKE. This is a classic case of a player moving up the ranks from college (Wingate, Division II All-American) and USL PRO (Rookie of the Year), to NASL (Best XI in both of this seasons), to a regular spot on one of the league’s elite team. The native of Preston, England, started 24 of his 31 appearances at a wide midfield slot in RSL’s diamond and put up good offensive stats (six goals, seven assists) while also digging into tackles and tracking down runners.

5. WAYLON FRANCIS, COLUMBUS. He took the starting job at left back right away and all of his 24 appearances were starts. (He was on Costa Rica’s World Cup team but didn’t play.) He got forward enough to notch six assists. His 32 fouls committed is a bit high though not excessive, yet his temper boiled over against New England when he was sent off for delaying a throw-in while already carrying a caution. He’s one of many good, young Concacaf players who are advancing their careers in MLS.

6. JERMAIN DEFOE, TORONTO FC. He looked like the surefire winner of this award and was in the Golden Boot hunt (11 goals in his first 13 games) when a groin injury sidelined him in early August. He made just six more appearances without scoring and consulted a specialist in his native England, where he’s rumored to be returning during the winter.

7. STEFAN ISHIZAKI, LOS ANGELES. It took a while for head coach Bruce Arena to conclude that the right side of midfield was best for him and the team most of the time.  While starting 22 of his 30 appearances he tallied five goals and chalked up seven assists, and on a few occasions controlled the right flank for long periods.

8. GASTON FERNANDEZ, PORTLAND. He probably wasn’t ideally suited to fill in for Diego Valeri, which he did on occasion, but he wasn’t consistent enough to merit more than 17 starts in his 32 appearances. His nose for goal was more notable and he wound up with seven goals along with two assists.

9. GONZALO PINEDA, SEATTLE. A former Mexican international, Pineda gave some good service to the Sounders. In his 28 appearances (24 starts), he brought a dash and composure to the sometimes frenzied Seattle attack. He scored three goals and contributed seven assists.

10. CRISTIAN MAIDANA, PHILADELPHIA. He played both wide and centrally for the Union while racking up a team-high 11 assists in 26 appearances (23 starts).

These players didn’t have enough appearances to be considered for the official MLS award but were transformational figures in the games they played.

JERMAINE JONES, NEW ENGLAND. The Revs had already righted the ship by the time he arrived in early August yet they were immediately better once he got on the field and rolled through his 11 regular-season games with nine wins, one tie, and one loss to snag second place in the Eastern Conference. As it is with the USA it is in MLS: a tough tackler, excellent passer, potent finisher and massive presence, Jones is the caliber of player most teams either can’t find or can’t sign.

KENDALL WASTON, VANCOUVER. Waston’s impact on the ‘Caps back line was nearly as dramatic as that of Jones in the Revs’ midfield. In a 1-0 defeat of Seattle, he logged 18 clearances, four interceptions, six tackles and three blocks. He dominates the box with his size (6-foot-5, 210 pounds) and strength. The ‘Caps posted shutouts in five of his 10 regular-season starts. His robust play earned five cautions in regular-season play and a handall call in the playoffs produced the penalty kick that eliminated the ‘Caps.



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