Monday MLS Breakdown: Thierry Henry, Chris Wondolowski lead contenders for Best XI

The prolific forwards will certainly earn a spot in the league's end-of-season side, but other berths remain up for consideration.

MLS will reveal its Best XI during the annual State of the League conference call this afternoon. As always, it presents a picture of how the season unfolded. Expect a host of familiar names to capture a place in the group and a couple of fresh faces to warrant inclusion for the first time. 

The Breakdown submitted its ballot several weeks ago ahead of the unveiling. That submission – and the rationale behind it – is presented here for general consumption as the team is revealed and MLS Cup week winds into full gear.


1. Positions are considered: This ballot always holds a spot for fullbacks (usually one), holding midfielders (usually one) and wingers (usually two).

2. Teams are considered: If at all possible (and it usually is), this ballot prefers to recognize players from several clubs rather than two or three. It also prefers to include players from strong teams rather than weaker ones.

3. The entire season is considered: Injury-riddled or poor stretches do not preclude selection, but they do influence the deliberations.

4. Track record is considered: Established players receive a touch more leeway than players seeking to confirm their credentials at these lofty heights.


Jimmy Nielsen, Sporting Kansas City

NOTES: Nielsen snagged this nod ahead of several fine contenders in a year filled with good goalkeeping performances. … Michael Gspurning probably would have edged Nielsen out if he had played in more matches. … Andy Gruenebaum kept Columbus in several matches during his first full season as the Crew's starting goalkeeper. … Tally Hall gets better and better with each passing year. … Dan Kennedy did what he could to stop the rot for Chivas USA. He deserved more protection in the second half of the season. … Nick Rimando continues to offer a solid foundation for Real Salt Lake and stop penalty kicks more frequently than any other goalkeeper in the league.

Defenders (3)

Victor Bernárdez, San Jose

Arne Friedrich, Chicago

Young-Pyo Lee, Vancouver

NOTES ON CENTER BACKS: This season offered a minor resurgence in terms of the options available in central defense. In short, the overall performances improved, though depth remains a concern. … Bernárdez stood head and shoulders – literally and figuratively – above the other options. He combines a brusque approach with decent positioning and solid work in possession. If he can avoid injuries, then he'll earn a move elsewhere if he so chooses. … Friedrich earned his spot for adapting to MLS well after reaching a state approaching full fitness and shepherding Austin Berry through his impressive rookie campaign. His role in the Fire's surprising run helped matters, too. … Matt Besler and Aurélien Collin stood out for Sporting Kansas City as it compiled one of the most impressive defensive seasons in league history. The high-pressure system, however, deserves as much credit as the individuals implementing it. Besler's probably the next man out on this list (and the one most likely to cash in this winter with his contract set to expire). Collin deserved his place in the discussion, but he also spent three games warming the bench behind Lawrence Olum late in the season. … Jay DeMerit assembled a fine second campaign in Vancouver. If the World Cup started tomorrow and Jürgen Klinsmann needed a center back to slot in straight away, then DeMerit would merit strong consideration. … Carlos Valdés is probably the most talented defender in MLS right now, but he's still prone to the odd clanger in a Philadelphia back four that relies too heavily upon him … Nat Borchers submitted another solid season for RSL, but Jámison Olave needs to play more games to receive the consideration his quality deserves. … Jermaine Taylor might have entered the fringes of the conversation in other seasons after series of good performances for Houston, but there were just too many players of ahead of him this year.

NOTES ON FULLBACKS: MLS clubs prefer to spend their money in other parts of the field. It generally tends to show when scanning the depth at these two spots on the field. … Lee formed the best fullback tandem in the league with Alain Rochat until Rochat found himself shunted into midfield.  The former South Korea international could play in this league for several years if he chose to do so. … Two San Jose players – Steven Beitashour and Justin Morrow – ranked next on this list. Both players established their credentials this season and possess promising futures at this level.

Midfielders (5)

Dwayne De Rosario, D.C. United

Landon Donovan, Los Angeles

Roger Espinoza, Sporting Kansas City

Mauro Rosales, Seattle

Graham Zusi, Sporting Kansas City


NOTES ON HOLDING PLAYERS: Espinoza played a bit further up field for Sporting this season, but he slots into this team here. … Osvaldo Alonso and Kyle Beckerman always deserve consideration for their toil. Alonso disrupts opposing attacks on a regular basis. Beckerman links play better than any other number six in the league. … Dax McCarty claimed a spot in this conversation for adjusting to this role and outplaying his more illustrious counterparts in New York this season.

NOTES ON CENTRAL MIDFIELDERS: De Rosario and Zusi nominally pick up the spots here. … The reigning MLS MVP retains his Best XI place based on his body of work prior to his September injury (seven goals and 12 assists in 26 appearances). It is also worth noting that D.C. United coach Ben Olsen ripped apart his side to compensate for De Rosario's absence. … Zusi featured in a midfield three and on the right side of the front three. His creative instincts and his tireless running makes him a central midfielder at this level, but he has settled nicely into a wide role with the national team. … Los Angeles should move heaven and Earth to sign Juninho permanently. He might not play at São Paulo, but he makes a massive difference in MLS with his tidy work in possession.

NOTES ON WIDE PLAYERS: Donovan and Rosales earn the nods for their work on the flanks. … Donovan probably proved most dangerous when partnered with Robbie Keane (more on him in a minute) up front, but he operates best when given time and space in wide areas. If he decides to take some time off from MLS, the Galaxy simply could not replace him. … Rosales does not receive the credit he deserves for his contributions. He drives Seattle forward with his passing and his service. Sounders FC – as the playoffs showed – looks a bit lost without him. … Brad Davis always requires consideration for his influence on the Dynamo. He thrived with Boniek Garcia on the other flank to provide a bit of balance. He could have easily taken a spot from one of the other midfield choices… Chris Pontius consolidated his place among the league's elite players this season as he shuffled through a few different spots in United's starting XI. … Marvin Chávez showed FC Dallas why it should have allocated its resources differently and found a way to keep him with his displays in San Jose.

Forwards (2)

Thierry Henry, New York

Chris Wondolowski, San Jose

NOTES ON FORWARDS: Henry and Wondolowski guaranteed their places by midseason. No other player approached their level of influence or their level of production. … Robbie Keane tore through the league in the second half of the season as the Galaxy recovered from its first-half stumbles. His first half – three goals in nine distracted appearances, plus five matches missed for Euro 2012-related commitments and one other absence – still counts, though. … Álvaro Saborío rounds out the quartet of viable candidates after yet another stellar season for Real Salt Lake. The Costa Rican international always offered the most viable route to goal for the Claret-and-Cobalt. … Alan Gordon and Steven Lenhart deserve a mention here for their work in San Jose and Kenny Cooper scored a bunch of goals for New York, but all three men fall into the next tier.

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