First, we’d like to wish our own holiday wishes to our readers and new visitors. Thanks for making 2011 a special year at The Yanks Are Coming, and we hope to provide more solid coverage, analysis and unique perspectives on both the USMNT and USWNT in 2012. Soccer has always had a place at Christmas- whether it be the World War I Christmas truce soccer match, or today’s Boxing Day Fixtures, and we hope you’ll make TYAC a part of your soccer New Year. Happy Holidays to you all.
Now, we present to you our 2011 Best of US Soccer Awards. Voted on by readers and a wide array of soccer journalists, these are perhaps the most inclusive awards for US Soccer on the web. And although readers will have to wait until Part II to see who takes home the “three big ones”, which involve hardware sent directly from the TYAC staff to the individual winners– we’re excited to present Part One. Some of the voting this year was extremely close in a few categories, but in the end, the 2nd Annual Yanks Are Coming Best of US Soccer awards produced only one draw, which was broken by the man and TYAC Co-Founder for whom the award is named, Jon Levy. Beyond that, margins varied from landslide to one vote wins. If you didn’t vote, we hope you do next year, and you can find a list of this year’s award finalists here. Without further Freddy Adu– your 2011 Winners. Winners from 2010 are rightly honored again, right below the 2011 award winner’s name.
The Clint Mathis and Alexi Lalas Award (Best Hairstyle by a US Player)
2010 Winner: Stu Holden
Flock of Shea-Gulls impressed on the field in 2011 with a coming-out party type year for FC Dallas and some bright, albeit exhibition (that’s American for friendly), performances for the USMNT. The man who had a reasonable argument for MLS MVP didn’t let excellence get in the way of fashion either, as his “What is that, really?” hairdo captured the hearts of not just USMNT fans, but of Arsenal blogs across the pond (who call him “American Torres”) as he’s embarked on his trial training run with the Gunners. There are those who tweeted or e-mailed us and suggested this award was silly. To them we say– you’re silly!!– and we’d remind them that the US has a history of outstanding hairstyles that express the “won’t quit, keep fighting” personality that the men and women’s national teams are so proud of. As such, we think this is a pretty important award, and Brek Shea certainly must make the namesakes Alexi Lalas and Clint Mathis proud with what he’s doing up top.
— Neil W. Blackmon
FREE FREDDY DARKO ADU GOLDEN LEAF AWARD (Most Disappointing American Soccer Player)
2010 Winner: Robbie Findley
We’ve no shortage of Tim Ream love at TYAC, much like we’ve no shortage of Jose Torres supporters. And if you are looking for a brightside to winning or being mentioned for this award, Jose Torres, a common nominee last year, proved his value under the new regime before missing the final matches of the year with an injury. It is possible, then, that Tim Ream will have a nice bounceback year in 2012. USMNT fans should certainly hope so, as this year was a disappointing one after two years where fans loved his play and ability so much they dubbed him the future at center back for the United States. Among the disappointments included a dreadful error in a 1-0 loss to Ecuador this autumn, and a stretch of poor form with the New York Red Bulls that led to open (and yes, inappropriate but look at the source) criticism from Mexico captain and Red Bulls international Rafa Marquez. Many have suggested Ream’s year was so poor a possible Barclay’s Premier League would be too soon this spring. That’s ultimately Ream’s choice. USMNT fans should hope that, wherever Ream decides to ply his trade, the young man finds his form again. After all, we once dedicated Frank Sinatra’s “I’ve got a crush on you” in describing the young man’s play. Maybe that’s why this year we’ve been so disappointed.
BRIAN CHING AWARD (Hardest Working Man Or Woman in American Soccer)
2010 Winner: Clint Dempsey
The first person to defend a TYAC award, fittingly, is Fulham star Clint Dempsey, who this year became the United States’ all-time leading scorer in the Barclay’s Premier League, and who this past weekend scored and ushered Chelsea out of the title chase and into a long spring chasing third or fourth with a vintage Dempsey “Grind it out” goal. A great deal has been and could be written about Clint Dempsey, and at this point, most folks know his story or at least that he wasn’t an academy product or target of the US youth development teams. ESPN’s great E 60 did this video piece, which is a short and sweet recap. Dempsey has been grinding his whole life.
That makes him more than a justified repeat winner of the Brian Ching Award, which is how we at TYAC honor who we think best represents the “fighting spirit” and “hard work” attitude of US Soccer. Why Brian Ching? Well, not just because he was unjustly omitted from the 2010 World Cup side after helping the US grind out result after result in the brutally physical and sometimes unpleasant world of CONCACAF qualifying. It’s more about the effort that Ching put out in the US shirt night after night. You could question his first touch, his ability to strike the ball, his opposite foot. But never his work rate. Never his heart.
So Clint Dempsey it is again. And yes, Dempsey is certainly more gifted than Ching ever will be or was. But the Ching Award measures the tenacity of a man’s spirit also. Dempsey, long criticized in an odd Steven Gerrard sense for his USMNT performances, has certainly changed our tune in the last couple years. At his club, his consistency has improved markedly as well, and, as Matt at TSG noted this month, he’s now a prime, 90 minute performer for both sides. And he may be the key figure for this side in 2014.
Around TYAC, we have a saying about Dempsey USMNT performances: they can measured by how dirty his jersey is at the end of the night. Dirty jerseys. Now there’s something that would make Brian Ching proud.
JON LEVY LIGHTNING CUP AWARD: (Player Most Likely To Drive You To A Fit of Joy And Alcohol-Induced Rage, All in the Same 90 Minutes)
JERMAINE JONES, in a tie with Jozy Altidore, tie broken by TYAC Co-Founder and award namesake, Jon Levy.
2010 Winner: Jozy Altidore
What a year for Jermaine Jones. The much ballyhooed midfielder finally made his mark on the US Men’s National Team, and that mark proved to be a piece of abstract art, ever toeing the line between avant garde brilliance and worthless junk. The German-American yellow card machine’s only consistency in 2011 was the ever-present soap opera that dogged him at club level. Looking back, it should have come as no surprise that he suffered (and sometimes benefitted from) wild swings in form with the national team. He was at his best when the US was at its best, linking with Michael Bradley and Sacha Kljestan in the three man central midfield that carved Jamaica to shreds in the Gold Cup semifinal. But that box-to-box dynamism often seems like a distant memory of a different player when Germany Jones turns in stinkers that make Yanks fans wistful for the ball movement of Ricardo Clark (sorry Redcardo, you were in the line of fire). Simply put, you can never tell what Jermaine’s gonna give you, and that’s a shame, especially in the center of the park. Time to ready the bourbon, I’ve got a recorded Schalke match waiting on the DVR; it could be a long afternoon.
— Jon Levy
TONY ROMO AWARD (Most Overrated American Player)
Michael “The Godfather” Orozco-Fiscal
2010 Winner: Jose Torres
Jose Torres took last year’s Romo Award and ran with it, becoming an integral piece in new boss Jurgen Klinsmann’s midfield plans for the future. One can only hope the same happens to Michael Orozco-Fiscal, who went from on the very dark edges of Bob Bradley’s radar to a starter in two short months under Jurgen Klinsmann. Many were at least optimistic, albeit surprised, at Orozco-Fiscal’s inclusion in the early Klinsmann sides. After all, he was, at the very least, a highly touted product of the US youth academies and a defender who could help the United States in an area they are glaringly weak– possession building from the back of defense. All the same, Orozco-Fiscal, who left the Philadelphia Union to ply his trade in the Mexican Primera league in 2011, is a smallish-tweener sized defender who has long-struggled against big, physical forwards. International play suffers no shortage of those types of forwards, and so it was no surprise that when Orozco-Fiscal was matched against a physically superior athlete, he struggled mightily. What was perhaps more frustrating was that his link-up play suffered as well– so bad towards the end that rather than being an asset, he was a liability to turn the ball over early and often. These mistakes left many Yanks supporters feeling like they were watching a Jon Bornstein-Bob Bradley horror movie all over again– except this time the role of Jerry Jones with his unwavering faith in a player who can’t hack it was being played by new boss Jurgen Klinsmann. It was scary to say the least, but it was corrected upon the Americans arrival in Paris this November, where Orozco was graciously left out of the 11.
Does this mean Orozco-Fiscal’s trial with the USMNT is over? We don’t think so, and his selection to the final two friendlies suggests Klinsmann trusts him, even if he won’t put him in the starting lineup. Orozco-Fiscal does, believe or it not, have usefulness against pacy, smaller forwards, and as we found out against Honduras, when he allows the game to slow down and isn’t hurried, he can have some nice moments passing the ball, even at the international level. Depth isn’t a problem in qualifying, and there’s hope that he can be a useful role-player in the future. TYAC certainly hopes so– after all- our vexed relationship with Orozco-Fiscal dates back to the 2008 Olympics and his fateful red card against Nigeria. That was a bad day. But it was a bad day that led to this blog. And for that, we’ll always be grateful to Michael Orozco-Fiscal, our “Godfather.”— Neil W. Blackmon
Part II of this feature will run this evening.