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.
|THE JAMAICAN SENSATION WITH A GOAL-SCORING EQUATION|
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.
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.
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