Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Grinder's MLS Awards Show: The way-too-early edition

A midweek Grinder! And all the people rejoiced in a full-throated fervency reserved for only the most glorious of wine-soaked fetes! Eat! Drink! Score olimpicos! Type out knowingly dismissive screeds on Peter Nowak's legacy and shout them from the gilded rooftops!

Alright, enough of that. With the end of the season bearing down on us, I'm taking a swing at my frontrunners for MLS' red carpet season in November. Here are my best bets for the league's biggest awards and the men that could well supplant them. Way too early for this? Of course. Dig it.

Rookie of the Year
Darren Mattocks, Vancouver
In the running: Nick DeLeon, Austin Berry, Connor Lade, Luis Silva, Matt Hedges
Notes: I am still apoplectic at the tack Montreal took in its war room on draft day. A team in need of a striker (remember, Brian Ching was never playing a second for Montreal, and Jesse Marsch knew this) passes on one of the most exciting forward prospects in years. Either way, Montreal's lapse in judgment was Vancouver's gain. Despite not having a burning need for a striker right off, few teams in the league are deep enough and talented enough to pass on a player of Mattocks' level. Martin Rennie's decision was even shrewder, made even more prescient by his future roster maneuvers. With seven goals in a little more than 1,000 minutes of action, Mattocks' ceiling is absurdly high.

Newcomer of the Year
Patrice Bernier, Montreal
In the running: Jaime Castrillon, Oscar Boniek Garcia, Victor Bernardez, Marco Di Vaio
Notes: This has been a big year for newcomers. Jaime Castrillon has propped up a Colorado attack that's lacked a consistent scoring threat all year. Marco Di Vaio has been a key ingredient to a surprisingly successful expansion side and Victor Bernardez is up for the MLS Defender of the Year honor. Despite joining in late, one of Columbus' Jairo Arrieta/Federico Higuain signing jag could easily be there if they explode down the back stretch. And had he not lost his season to reconstructive knee surgery, Saer Sene would be right there. But for my money it's Bernier who deserves it now. After earning the MLS Player of the Month plaudit for August, Bernier is as hot as anybody in MLS, and he's had an enormous hand in guiding Montreal to a better expansion year than anyone expected. While he's a defensive midfielder in name, he can run the channels like a rampaging bull.

Golden Boot
In progress
In the running: Chris Wondolowski, Kenny Cooper, Alvaro Saborio, Thierry Henry, Eddie Johnson
Notes: Let's face it. This award is Wondo's to lose. As the most important piece of the league's most explosive offense, we'd all be surprised if he lost his five-goal lead with precious few games left. Unless Henry decides to pull out a few more olimpicos, think he's safe. I'd venture a guess that Roy Lassiter's single-season goals record probably is as well.

Goalkeeper of the Year
Andy Gruenebaum, Columbus
In the running: Tally Hall, Jimmy Nielsen, Dan Kennedy, Sean Johnson
Notes: That Gruenebaum was omitted from the MLS All-Star roster was one of the great injustices in that game's history. Gruenebaum has turned away more shots than any backstop in the league, and he's remained resolute even as his back line has struggled through some inconsistent patches. Admittedly, divining this award is a nearly impossible ask right now, maybe the hardest of all. Each brings something unique. Gruenebaum is MLS' best shot-stopper by volume, but Sean Johnson is the league's best by percentage. And Jimmy Nielsen has the league's lowest GAA, though some credit has to fall to arguably the league's best back line there. This one will probably come down to the wire.

Defender of the Year
Victor Bernardez, San Jose
In the running: Carlos Valdes, Jay DeMerit, Matt Besler, Aurelien Collin
Notes: Tough to argue, here. Bernardez can take a fat pat on the back for why San Jose's defense has at times equalled its attack in terms of production. The sturdy middle man has been incredibly reliable this year and San Jose's unheralded defense, which tends to take a backseat to its record-setting offense in terms of exposure, is among the best in the league as a result. Just 33 goals conceded is tied for the second-best total in the league.

Comeback Player of the Year
Omar Gonzalez, LA Galaxy
Notes: I hunted around for the particular rule on this and was unsuccessful (i.e. what/if there is a minutes requirement here), but I can't imagine a player embodying the reality of the comeback more holistically than Gonzalez has this year. He gave LA a huge boost when he insanely returned from a torn ACL just six months after the injury itself, making his return for LA on the 4th of July. But the really insane part? He came back almost completely in form. Since then, the Galaxy have been a resurgent power with a newly steady back line.

Coach of the Year
Frank Yallop, San Jose
In the running: Jesse Marsch, Frank Klopas, Peter Vermes
Notes: I can't see Yallop easing his grip on this award any time soon. He's turned a middling team from 2011 into a force in 2012 largely because of shrewd pickups. Former castoffs Marvin Chavez, Shea Salinas, Steven Lenhart and Alan Gordon have been big for San Jose this year, while glue guys like Victor Bernardez, Steven Beitashour and of course Wondo have been given license to pick out their particular skill sets and move forward. The man behind it all? Frank Yallop, the coach who seemed so close to getting the ax after a miserable start to 2011. How things change.

Best XI
Andy Gruenebaum; Victor Bernardez; Aurelien Collin; Steven Beitashour; Brad Davis; Osvaldo Alonso; Landon Donovan; Graham Zusi; Thierry Henry; Chris Wondolowski; Fredy Montero

Notes: My preliminary XI this year gets three at the back because the league's depth at LB is so atrocious. I tried to keep the formation as true to life as possible, but I obviously had to take a few liberties with positions (ah the ever rare 3-4-3... with Donovan as a CAM!). For me, Collin and Bernardez are no-brainers. While I think Andy Najar deserves major props for his switch to RB this season, Steven Beitashour has been there longer and has been doing it just as well.  I suspect I'll get some guff for going with Montero and not Eddie Johnson, since it's been so hard to separate the two (they're glued together on the Castrol Index). While Johnson deserves his share of accolades (to my knowledge, he doesn't qualify for the newcomer award because he's already played in MLS), Montero is just a better player. As for Donovan? Even on his worst day he's still among the league's elite. Zusi is on fire right now; five assists and a goal in his last seven games. And that's in addition to that surprising performance in Columbus against Jamaica. For me, he narrowly nips Beckham and Pontius.

Chris Wondolowski, San Jose
In the running: Thierry Henry and probably nobody else
Notes: Any questions?

- Will Parchman


Stu said...

Admittedly, as a Quakes fan, I'm biased, but any thought given to Morrow in the Top XI - he's also been a rock in the center when he had to play there due to injuries/suspensions (which helped the team get off to such a strong start).

Also, any thoughts about Gordon or Lenhart in the Comeback Player section? You didn't list runner-ups to Omar (who is a worthy choice), but I think those two would be deserving choices. Find me one pre-season prognostication that even mentioned Alan Gordon...

Will Parchman said...

Morrow is right there. He's had a solid year. I think he's probably in my last five out right now.

If there was a "breakthrough player of the year" I think either Lenhart or Gordon would be leading the pack. But the award itself is worded thusly: "Honors an MLS player who has overcome injuries and/or adversity in order to achieve success during the 2012 regular season." To my knowledge, only two of MLS' 12 comeback players haven't come back from an injury, and one of those was a keeper. That's a strike against both of these guys (though not a killer one). Lenhart might be a bit closer to the mark. He missed some significant time last year for personal reasons, and he's obviously cleared some of the cobwebs. But I still think it's Omar and then everyone else in that category.

Unknown said...

I would name your blog the dreamland! While Santa knocks at our door just once per year, you blog is open the whole year – wow!

Phil McCracken said...

Good stuff, Will. However, I can't agree with Bernardez as Defender of the Year. Sure. he's had a great impact on SJ, but he's only played in 2/3rds of their matches.

For me, the choice is between Besler and Valdes. Besler is so solid in cleaning up the messes that Collin's wild rushes create (an overrated defender IMHO).

Valdes has had a great year, but despite Philly's good defensive performance, it's hard to give the DOY award to one of the worst teams in the league.

couchtoast said...

Castrillion has the stats for CO, but I think most Rapids fans would agree that Rivero is the newcomer that has been the most important addition to the team. Think that kid will have a monster year next season when the rest of the team figures out Pareja's system.

couchtoast said...

Also, at the risk of sounding like a Rapids homer, Pickens has had such an incredible year and deserves to be in the conversation for keeper of the year. The stats don't necessarily back it up, but he has had an incredible number of ridiculous saves this year. I truly believe the Rapids would be challenging for worst record in MLS history if not for Pickens (or at least worst goal differential).

UnitedDemon said...

Pontius needs to be considered for comeback player of the year. Remember that broken leg? He was still recovering at the start of the season, and he's now been MOTM in two games without De Ro. He's incredible.