A Different Kind of MLS Mid-Season Awards

It’s that time of year again.  July heat is upon us and most MLS teams have played half (or slightly more than half) of their schedule.  International friendlies and the all-star games versus Manchester United are looming, so now is the ideal time to look back on the first half of the season and pick some of the highlights and low-lights.  While this isn’t exactly a revolutionary new idea, I wanted to do a different take on a mid-season review.  Contained below are the usual awards (best player, best XI, etc.) but I am also including a few (hopefully) unique and entertaining categories that will stir debate and help MLS fans enjoy a fairly comprehensive look-back on the first months of 2011.

Without further ado, my take on the 2011 MLS Mid-Season Awards:

Best Game: Los Angeles Galaxy 1, New York Red Bulls 1 on May 7

This game had all the hype – an ESPN audience with plenty of promotion, two of the top teams in MLS with the biggest star power, those stars actually playing in the match, and a sold-out LA crowd.  And even though the match ended in a low scoring draw, this one had it all: a Thierry Henry goal early followed by a Donovan goal off a Beckham free kick and the controversy surrounding Tim Ream’s save of an apparent Donovan game-winner.  This game more than any other probably has exemplified the MLS season.

Most Valuable Player: Brek Shea, FC Dallas

You can argue players like Thierry Henry who has more goals or Brad Davis who has been a critical component to his team’s offense, but when it comes down to it Shea is playing his best when his team needs it most.  David Ferreira’s injury and Shea’s slow start (due to being out-of-position) had Dallas looking like it was going to sink to the bottom of a deep Western Conference.  Instead, the exact opposite has happened.  Shea has made Bob Bradley look like a fool for leaving him off the Gold Cup roster and is becoming the next young stud in MLS.

Least Valuable Players:  New England Revolution Forwards

Andres Mendoza was a lock for this award until his recent scoring surge, so I am cheating a bit and giving the LVP to a bunch of players.  While much has not been expected of the Revolutions’ forwards, there was some hope that playing in MLS last season would have them acclimated and ready for this season.  Instead those (eight) players listed as forwards on the roster (and this does not include Shalrie Joseph) have scored seven goals in seventeen games.  Beyond disappointing.

Most Exciting Player:  Eric Hassli, Vancouver Whitecaps

Every time he takes the pitch/field, you never know the outcome.  Will he score a wonder goal to help his team to a win?  Or will he do something stupid and be red carded?  You never know.  He would garner serious MVP consideration if his team wasn’t so bad and he didn’t have red card issues, but he is without a doubt the player you want to watch on the field.

Most Surprising Team:  Philadelphia Union

Most preseason prognosticators had the Union as an improving team with a good defense and no offense who would likely miss the playoffs.  What the Union have become this first half are an improved team with a suffocating defense and a good enough offense who are legitimate contenders for the first seed in the East.  Hats off to Peter Nowak for quickly molding this team in his image and making them good enough that they can win any game at any time.

Most Disappointing Team:  Colorado Rapids

I struggled with putting New England here, but their fortunes have been trending down for the past two years.  Colorado won the MLS Cup last season and returned virtually their entire roster.  While that same roster was a wild card in the 2010 regular season, the team has enough talent to be a lock for a playoff spot.  But now, sitting 5th in the West on 24 points, there is a chance that they could miss the playoffs even with expanded seeding.  Injuries have been brutal to this team but even when moderately healthy they have struggled to play well.  With CONCACAF Champions League looming, they facing a daunting task to grab even a wild card spot.

Best MLS Storyline:  The Superstar League

After the disappointing debut of Henry for the Red Bulls last year, the annual David Beckham disappearance, and Landon Donovan playing in the EPL, the league’s attempt to attract world class talent seemed to have backfired.  But now those three players are major contributors to their teams and the league has successfully lured some “name” U.S. players back into the league.  While the Tim Howards and Clint Dempseys still play abroad, more marginal but dynamic players like Charlie Davies and Benny Feilhaber are no longer afraid to come back to the league.  Expect this trend to continue.

Worst MLS Storyline:  Career-Threatening Injuries

While the trend has slowed significantly over the past few months, MLS was lucky that this was not the season defined by superstar injuries derailing their teams.  Within a matter of weeks Steve Zakuani, David Ferreira, and Javier Morales were all put out of action by reckless and aggressive tackles.  All three were superstars in this league and while their prognoses seem good, this was a bad development for a league intent on being seen as less aggressive and more athletic.

Over-Discussed MLS Storyline:  The Cascadia Fan Rivalries

I, for one, will be tuning into the Seattle-Portland match on ESPN this Sunday and look forward to the game’s atmosphere.  But so many soccer commentators act like the fan support that these three Pacific Northwest teams have is unique in major league soccer.  That kind of passion and support have been there for a long time in many different places with Bara Brava/Screaming Eagles, The Cauldron, Sons of Ben, 1906 Ultras and the numerous other groups that will leave angry comments in the comments section because they were excluded.  I get it, they are new, shiny, and passionate but the media needs to realize that there are more than three dedicated fan bases in MLS.

Least Discussed MLS Storyline:  Concussions

Logan Pause became the latest MLS player to announce he would wear headgear while playing due to a concussion.  Increasingly players are sitting for extended periods because of this serious injury and one would have thought that Taylor Twellman’s concussion would have elevated this to a more seriously discussed issue.  But I feel as though this is not getting the attention it is due, especially with its long-term consequences.

Biggest DP Signing Regret:  Alvaro Saborio, Real Salt Lake

His knee injury could not have happened at a worse time, but the RSL player has really struggled this season due to that injury and seemingly a mental recovery from the injury.  He is now up to three goals on the year but has not been the dominant player that may thought he would be.

Stupidest Robert Hay Preseason Prediction: Alvaro Saborio as the Golden Boot Winner

At least I didn’t pick Branko Boskovic as my Comeback Player of the Year…. um, wait, skip this part.

Coach of the Year: Peter Nowak, Philadelphia Union

Nowak gets the nod over Schellas Hyndman and Sigi Schmid because his team has been so consistently good this year.  While the other two had rough starts to the season, the Union have been consistently at the top of the conference even when it seemed like they couldn’t score more than one goal.

Best Offseason Acquisition: Charlie Davies, DC United

This pick works on a couple of different levels.  DCU needed a scorer and they needed one badly.  Davies not only leads the team in goals but has opened up space for players like Chris Pontius and Andy Najar to continue to grow as offensive threats.  Of course the loan to DC has helped Davies’ career as well, to the point where European teams are again asking about his availability for a transfer.  So far a win-win for all involved.

Best XI:

Kasey Keller (Sea)

George John (FCD) – Jamison Olave (RSL) – Omar Gonzalez (LA)

Landon Donovan (LA) – Jack Jewsbury (Por) – Brek Shea (FCD) – Brad Davis (Hou) – David Beckham (LA)

Thierry Henry (NY) – Charlie Davies (DC)

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18 Responses to A Different Kind of MLS Mid-Season Awards

  1. clay says:

    I think Sporting Kansas City at Vancouver Whitecaps might be the best match of the midseason. Jimmy Nielsen started off great in goal, and a late Bunbury strike put SKC up (somewhat undeservedly) 1-0 at the break.

    Then before you know it, SKC is up 3-0 not even midway through the second half.

    Atiba Harris sparks a beautiful counterattack, 3-1. Camilo scores in the 92nd minute, 3-2. Camilo scores again just a minute later, 3-3.

    And there wasn’t one ugly goal in the bunch for either team.

  2. Charles says:

    The LA-NY game was incredible, it wasn’t the best, but it did exemplify MLS this year.

    The Best Storyline and the Worst Storyline are one and the same, IMHO.
    MLS Superstars AKA the DPs need to be cutback, done away with or at the very least modified.

    Henry starting over Agudelo is NOT good for US Soccer.
    Agudelo types will win the US a WCup someday, Henry-types can not.

    Two, US Soccer has been down this path before.
    Remember the Cosmos paying huge money for stars and drawing tons of fans. What did it get them ?
    Decades later Seattle, Vancouver, and Portland all draw more than NY.
    Why ?
    Because NY put out the Peles in the 1970s and 1980s and got star-gazers. Go ahead and name the stars from Sea, Vanc, and Pdx. They got soccer fans. There were some stars, but they were not the reason you went to a game. We went to see the Sounders.
    Mark Peterson or Steve Zakuani it doesn’t matter.
    Pele or Tim Ream it does matter.

    Two ( part II ), MLS needs to stay competitive. IF you can buy a title and some teams can never win, it will fold. Starting with Columbus ( Tulsa ) and work it way on up.
    We have already done this once before. Maybe The Don has a handle on this. I am skeptical…and concerned.

    • Clampdown says:

      I disagree wholeheartedly, Charles. MLS is not going to win over fans or sustain itself by courting mediocrity. The league must recruit better quality players and it needs to start paying players more.

      I think this has been an awful season thus far for MLS. Poor play, too many draws, too many awful referee decisions, good players missing for Gold Cup duty. I have been urging so many people over the past couple of years to give MLS another chance, saying the quality has drastically improved. But it’s hard to keep telling people that when every time they tune in they still say so many poor touches on the ball and an inability to string more than three passes together.

      • Charles says:

        IF mediocre is what you think the US players coming out of college are right now, you are wrong.

        Your RedBulls are the prime example. Is Henry better than Agudelo ? Yes, I was wrong, he can still play.
        But so can Agudelo. He is a great player, and will be better IF, IF, IF he plays. But he doesn’t.

        Plus having guys come out to watch Henry isn’t sustainable.
        Is it sustainable in NY…maybe, barely. But look at their attendance once Pele wasn’t playing there. Insane.
        Is it sustainable in Dallas ? No.

        We have already been down this course, I am guessing you are way too young to remember NY drawing 50k + ( by getting bigger names than Henry on the team )…..where are those fans now ?
        Serious question, where are they ?

        The quality of MLS is a million times better than NASL. OK not a million but way better.

        • Clampdown says:

          You probably don’t remember this, but we had brought this up before. I am older, like you, and attended NASL matches.

          I’ve also been a booster of MLS for a long time, which is why I’ve been so disappointed this season.

          I know you don’t agree, but I’d rather have more and better imports, not less. If MLS does that, there won’t be any reason for guys like Holden, Dempsey and Altidore to go elsewhere. And MLS would then be able to cut back on the number of players who shouldn’t be playing in the league anyway.

          • Alan says:

            I would love to see US players stay here too, but reality is that most star players go to Europe from Brazil and Argentina too. Its not a bad thing for the country. The real issue is youth development and quality of play. All of this is improving, but it will take many, many years in a nation like ours. We are just not a soccer nation like other nations. It is getting better, and it will change. It will just be gradual no matter how hard we try.

          • Charles says:

            That’s right you were an old NASL guy.

            That league folded. The reason, you know first hand, exactly what I am saying.

            Too much money going to superstars, causing
            One, Americans to not play.
            Two, Teams to fold when they had no chance of winning against the superstar Cosmos.
            I hear what you are saying, bring in more superstars, but that isn’t happening in areas where they have only 1 DP currently, so we can go back to 1975 and let NY have as many as they want.

            I wonder what would happen next ?

            As a side note, Mark Peterson, who I mentioned above, definitely in the discussion for most talented American player ( there were not many back then ), died today at age 51. He was a joy to watch.

      • Charles says:

        Plus you are complaining about the quality this year.
        With the stars being payed huge money, you do realize that right ?

        Maybe paying two guys around $10 million ISN’T good for the OVERALL quality of a poor money league.

        You know how I feel, I would rather Stuart Holden was able to make enough to stay here. You could almost have 1 on every team for what they are playing Beckh and Henry.

        • Sam says:

          Agudelos only 18!!! your making the worst argument that he must be starting, for the tim being it is best for him to sit behind henry and rodgers and come on as a sub. He is getting better this way, look what happened to Adu and Altidore they were given starting roles and it got to there heads, now theyre sitting on benches not playing at all. This system is sustainable, each team gets a few players that they can give bigger salaries or pay for the transfer like sabario; this brings in the fans and once they get hooked we can keep raising the cap slowly so we dont become NASL.

  3. Charles says:

    Do NOT mention Sigi as coach of the year. He is terrible. Always outcoached by Bruce Arena. Every time we play LA.

    When Seattle actually scores a counter attacking goal ( first one in 2.5 years ), then you can move him up to not very good status.

    • Dan says:

      Sigi is what is holding back Seattle. I would say Montero as well. He isn’t bad but he is far too inconsistent to demanding the wages he gets

  4. Andy says:

    Robert- I suppose that a peson could argue about every guy on your best XI. (Becasue that is what we do). But i’ll just go after one, Beckham. While he has played good this year and delivers on set pieces I think the only reaon he can continue to be effective is that he plays on a team that is so talaneted it makes up for his shortcomings. If for example, you put DeRosario on the Galaxy (in for Beckham) he would be so steller we would not be talking about Beckham. Beckhams legs are failing him and it shows in his ability to maintain posession and on defense.

    Charlse- Arena is a good coach no doubt, but compare Sigi to most of the other Coaches in the MLS. What you get is 3-4 really good coaches (which Sigi is one) and then everybody else in the distance.

  5. Nick says:

    On the over discussed MLS storylines point I just have to say:

    The Portland Timbers have a dude with a chainsaw and a supporter’s group of who fills 1/3 of the stands and sings the entire game. No other team has that.

    This isn’t hype…it’s the truth and you better believe son!

    • hmmm says:

      Why would other teams have a guy with a chainsaw?

      Maybe Chivas could parade a goat around every time they score. The Galaxy could have a planetarium. Real Salt Lake could spray the crowd with salt water. Columbus could build a moat and have some rowers. Kansas City could… uh, well they could change their name to something that isn’t moronic.

  6. Dan says:

    THANK YOU!!!!!!!

    The whole Cascadia thing really gets old. They act like Seattle was the first team to get that sort of atmosphere. Many teams have been selling out regularly before Seattle came into this league

  7. ExtraMedium says:

    @charles. NASL 1.0 didn’t have relegation…please name ONE country w/ pro/rel where their league system collapsed…

    • Alan says:

      I’m still trying to think of one country where soccer ranks as low on the sports totem pole as it does in the United States. I’m not talking abou World Cup fever. I’m talking about overall popularity. Soccer is not even in the top 5 or 6. Maybe we should worry about increasing soccer popularity in the US before worrying about pro/rel. There are many big markets where Tier 2 soccer would be an absolute joke in terms of attendance and a TV deal (if they would even get one). Comparing the US to other soccer crazy countries is crazy. Pro/rel could happen someday, but we are a ways off from that.

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