Sporting Kansas City dominated the proceedings when MLS commissioner Don Garber unveiled the Best XI on Monday afternoon. Four Sporting players featured in that lineup. The glaring omission from that quartet (Roger Espinoza) told Sporting coach Peter Vermes that he would join Premier League side Wigan Athletic in January.
Do not expect Sporting's dominance to persist as this week progresses. Matt Besler (Defender of the Year) and Jimmy Nielsen (Goalkeeper of the Year) picked up their awards last week. Other nominees – Graham Zusi for Most Valuable Player and Peter Vermes for Coach of the Year – face a harder road to snatch their gongs.
In their stead comes the inevitable stream of honors for the Supporters' Shield winners. San Jose may not have experienced postseason success this season, but the Earthquakes did produce enough fine performances to expect their due rewards. Chris Wondolowski will win Most Valuable Player on Thursday, while Victor Bernárdez (Newcomer of the Year), Alan Gordon (Comeback Player of the Year) and Frank Yallop (Coach of the Year) all enter this week with a good chance of picking up silverware.
The Musings filled out its ballot long ago and reviewed its choices ahead of the rest of the announcements later this week:
Most Valuable Player
1. Chris Wondolowski, San Jose
2. Graham Zusi, Sporting Kansas City
Winner: TBD (Nov. 29)
Nominees: Thierry Henry (New York), Wondolowski and Zusi
NOTES: No surprises in this category. Wondolowski should and will win. Henry and Zusi should have landed in the top three and they did.
Defender of the Year
1. Victor Bernárdez, San Jose
2. Arne Friedrich, Chicago
Winner: Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City
Nominees: Besler, Bernárdez and Aurélien Collin (Sporting Kansas City)
NOTES: The defensive choices received a thorough inspection in the Breakdown on Monday. Besler deserves the attention he will receive and the contract he will land during this offseason based on his performances, but Bernárdez should have edged him out for the award given his formidable presence in the middle of the Earthquakes' back four.
Goalkeeper of the Year
1. Jimmy Nielsen, Sporting Kansas City
2. Michael Gspurning, Seattle
Nominees: Gspurning, Dan Kennedy (Chivas USA) and Nielsen
NOTES: If Gspurning had played a few more games, he might have found a way to topple Nielsen. He didn't. Kennedy might have won this award for his displays if he had a functioning defense to protect him during the second half of the season. He didn't. Andy Gruenebaum could have won if he played in a more noticeable market and received a nomination. He didn't. Nielsen showed up every day and performed his job to a high standard. So he won it.
Coach of the Year
1. Frank Yallop, San Jose
2. Frank Klopas, Chicago
Winner: TBD (Nov. 27)
Nominees: Ben Olsen (D.C. United), Peter Vermes (Sporting Kansas City), Yallop
NOTES: Give credit to the bosses around the league this year: there were plenty of fine coaching performances to herald this year. Klopas landed in second spot for taking a somewhat limited Chicago team back to the playoffs, but several others – including the other two nominated fellows – could have easily landed in that spot. Yallop warrants the acclaim he received for the Earthquakes' displays this year. If he doesn't win the award, it'd be quite a surprise indeed.
Rookie of the Year
1. Austin Berry, Chicago
2. Nick DeLeon, D.C. United
Nominees: Berry, DeLeon and Darren Mattocks (Vancouver)
NOTES: The top two candidates separated themselves from the pack as the season wound to a close. If the postseason counted in the deliberations, then DeLeon might have won the award. It doesn't. Berry's consistency throughout the campaign earned this honor. Mattocks, however, has the highest ceiling of any of the three nominees.
Newcomer of the Year
1. Felipe, Montréal
2. Victor Bernárdez, San Jose
Winner: TBD (Nov. 28)
Nominees: Bernárdez, Michael Gspurning (Seattle), Federico Higuaín (Columbus)
NOTES: Felipe earned the nod here for two reasons: (1) he is actually a newcomer (Impact coach Jesse Marsch plucked him out of the Swiss second division and slotted him straight into the lineup from day one) and (2) it was a nice way to reward his season without detracting from Bernárdez's likely victory in this category. Gspurning and Higuaín helped their sides, but neither player featured as often as he should have to win this award. Boniek Garcia's omission from this group looks harsh based on the liberal games played criteria apparently used in the deliberations.
Comeback Player of the Year
1. Alan Gordon, San Jose
2. Chris Pontius, D.C. United
Winner: TBD (Nov. 27)
Nominees: Gordon, Eddie Johnson (Seattle) and Pontius
NOTES: Gordon and Pontius looked like the best candidates for much of the season. Both players did enough to snag this award. Gordon's persistent injury concerns (including a career-threatening hip ailment last year) eclipsed Pontius' broken leg here, but the margin is a narrow one. Johnson's return to form after years in the European wilderness probably shouldn't qualify in this category, but this particular award has always suffered from identity issues.
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