First, let us be among many, but hopefully not the last, to wish all our readers a Happy New Year. We wish you blessings, good fortune and health in 2012. We begin a comprehensive look at the Men’s U-23 Olympic Team this week, and we’re very excited about those pieces given our background as a site borne from a great Olympic team’s surprising failure.
But before we dive into all of that, we want to hand out our three main awards. As noted in Part I and Part II of our awards piece– these three awards involve beautiful oak plaques with bronze name plates for the winners, and we send them to the person who emerges the victor. It’s our way of saying thank you to the athlete for the joy we gained and the pride we had watching him or her play during the year that was. We think winning a The Yanks Are Coming Award of any type is a big-deal– after all– these are the most voter inclusive soccer awards on the internet, as fans and a large panel of journalists alike contribute to the final vote tally, and all votes are counted and weighed equally.
The final three awards up for grabs are as follows: Claudio Reyna Technical Plaque (Most Improved American Player), Bob Bradley Award, honoring excellence by an American-born or National Team manager); and the Brian McBride Award, which is our award for American Player of the Year. The winners, and brief stories on each, are below. Congratulations to the winners. Thanks to all the writers and fans alike who participated.
CLAUDIO REYNA TECHNICAL PLAQUE (Most Improved American Player)
2010 Winner: Stuart Holden
Apparently, the key to being the most improved American soccer player in any given year is winning The Yanks Are Coming’s “Alexi Lalas/Clint Mathis Award” for best haircut by a US player. Last year, Stu Holden captured the Mathis/Lalas and Claudio Reyna Technical Plaques for his fine year with Bolton Wanderers in the Barclay’s Premier League and his ability to come back from devastating injury.
Enter Brek Shea. The man with the “flock of Shea-gulls” haircut follows in Holden’s footsteps with the haircut/most improved player double. Shea went from talented but non-brand name role player who was playing some left back when necessary for US youth teams to MLS MVP candidate in 2011. If Shea’s rise to prominence and Arsenal training trial run seemed like it happened overnight– well, it did. But Shea’s hard work and “dare to be different, refuse to be complacent” mantra towards the game has a great deal to do with how quickly it happened.
In addition to a training trial with Arsenal, Shea used a 11 goals in 31 game year to earn a host of honors, including selection to the MLS Best XI this past November. Shea was capped by Bob Bradley in November 2010, but has found a great amount of playing time under new manager Jurgen Klinsmann, who loves Shea’s ability to influence the game from width and exploit spaces on the counterattack. Shea isn’t really a total wing player, in that he isn’t attached to the touchline– but the US hasn’t had a viable, authentic flank option since DeMarcus Beasley was a younger man– and with one assist and several influential appearances in six games in 2011, the future seems bright for Shea in the red, white and blue.
So what does next year hold for our Reyna winner? Hard to say. A move across the ocean could occur– but given that Shea accomplished his massive 2011 without the help of then-reigning MLS MVP David Ferreira, it could be fascinating to see what he can do next year with the Hoops other star in the fold. Internationally, Shea will have the Olympic Games to contend with, where he will need to be at his absolute best if the Americans are to play for a medal. He’ll also be looking to assert himself with the Senior Team as they head into 2014 World Cup qualifying. Expectations on the young man are steep: he’s been named NEXT by ESPN The Magazine this December. But that might not be such a bad thing. If winning the Lalas/Mathis is the key to winning the Reyna Plaque– perhaps being named NEXT is the key to another huge year: just ask Alex Morgan how being NEXT worked out.
— Neil W. Blackmon
BOB BRADLEY MANAGERIAL EXCELLENCE AWARD
2010 Winner: None. This is the first year of this award, and it honors the winningest coach in the history of US Men’s Soccer.
BRUCE ARENA, LOS ANGELES GALAXY
In neck and neck voting with fellow finalists Jason Kreis and Pia Sundhage, we are proud to award our first Bob Bradley Award For Managerial Excellence to the man who preceded Bradley as USMNT manager, Bruce Arena. Bruce Arena won another MLS title as a manager this year, but it was perhaps his most impressive, as his Galaxy captured the Supporters Shield, breezed through the CONCACAF Champions League group stages and dominated the opposition in the MLS Playoffs.
Perhaps more impressive than the results, Arena proved that MLS sides could balance designated players with young, promising talent and that the blend wouldn’t be detrimental to chemistry or player development. Under Arena’s watch, youngsters like Sean Franklin and Omar Gonzalez have been able to thrive and make significant contributions to victory as well. Under Arena’s watch, that youth movement has been effectively buttressed by the designated players management has retained and brought in, which includes of course Landon Donovan, Robbie Keane and David Beckham.
When Beckham first arrived stateside, there were clashes between he and Landon Donovan and one could certainly argue that winning suffered as a result. Arena navigated those waters of dissent brilliantly, assembling a cohesive and well-oiled unit that this year won all there was to win, save the US Open Cup, won by the Seattle Sounders. It was another feather in the cap for Arena, whose fine career includes a Quarterfinals Appearance at the World Cup. Whether Bruce Arena can help the Galaxy maintain that title is certainly the next challenge– but we wouldn’t put it past Bruce.
BRIAN McBRIDE AWARD (MOST OUTSTANDING AMERICAN SOCCER PLAYER OF THE YEAR)
2010 Winner: Clint Dempsey
I will never forget the time I got to play in an indoor soccer match against the greatest American Soccer Player in the world. She ran me around ragged, making me look like a complete fool for 60 plus minutes. What did I get as consolationfor my effort? A split lip and a few stitches. Abby’s elbow is a powerful instrument.
Since the Women’s World Cup this summer, I have told that story to anyone who would listen. The girl from Our Lady of Mercy High School in Rochester, New York elevated herself to global superstar status with her play in Germany, as well as her class after a tough defeat. After the USWNT won the World Cup in Pasadena, California in 1999, much was made about the role of female role models in sport. Mia Hamm, Brandi Chastain, Michelle Akers and the rest of the 99 squad inspired a generation of young women across the country to be the best that they could be. 12 years later, the 2011 USWNT accomplished the same feat, this time half way across the globe.
While the value of the rest of the team cannot be understated, Abby was different. With the chips down, and their backs against the wall Abby was the emotional heartbeat of one of the most endearing teams in sports history. She was the one waving her index finger at her teammates– just get me a pass I can latch onto– late in the Brazil match. The lesson? Well, it’s the same that it has been since Rochester. No game is ever over with Abby on the field. Her work rate and sheer determination drove the USWNT to the Championship game. If only the USMNT had a striking option like her. 120 + 2 AKA “The Cross” here at the TYAC offices is a defining moment of 2011 when groups of not only young women, but grown men celebrated and realized that they were witnessing something magical. We saw her do it again against France in the Semifinal, but by then, it was expectation. Champions deliver. Abby has always been a champion.
In the World Cup final, she used the incredible aerial ability to put the US minutes away from World Cup Glory. After Japan equalized, the rest of the US team seemed deflated, but not Abby. She approached the penalty spot and did what she does best, a calm, collected, clinical finish. We all know how the story ends, 2011 was not meant to be for the USWNT. As 2012 begins, the greatness that is Abby Wambach should continue to be appreciated, by all US soccer fans. By the end of the WC, Abby was the leading American scorer in all FIFA Women’s World Cup competitions with 13, just one goal behind Marta and Birgit Prinz for most all time. This December, she became the first women’s soccer player ever named AP Female Athlete of the Year.
On a personal note, having Abby win this award is a huge deal to all of us at The Yanks Are Coming. We’re a unique bunch, or so we like to think, and one of things we are so proud of is the fine college most of us attended– the University of Florida. Abby too calls the University of Florida in Gainesville her alma mater, and giving this award to a fellow Gator is a dream. For all that Abby has done for US Soccer and what she will do during the 2012 Olympics; she certainly deserves a place on US Soccer’s Mount Rushmore. Go Gators.