January 2011

Long Awaited 1st Annual Yanks Are Coming US Soccer Awards Winners: Part One

By Neil W. Blackmon, writing from Atlanta

Stu Holden. What Hair ! What Work Rate ! What a Player !

A month ago, we began taking votes for the First Annual Yanks Are Coming US Soccer Awards. The idea was to post the winners New Year’s Day as a Happy New Year’s present to our readers who themselves played a crucial role in determining winners. Quite obviously, we never informed any of you who won the awards. Our good friends at The Shin Guardian were gracious enough to post their winners—you can read their wonderful piece here—but we felt it mostly pointless to create those awards if we couldn’t at least finally name our winners. Plus, we had two extremely nice plaques made for the winners of the two “biggies”—the Brian McBride Award for Most Outstanding Men’s Soccer Player, and the Claudio Reyna Technical Trophy awarded to the Most Improved American Player. Those plaques were mailed today to the clubs of the respective winners, and we hope they’ll make a nice addition to their (already likely vast) trophy cases.

We’ll get to the winners quickly, but first an explanation of how the voting process worked. Each Yanks Are Coming writer had one vote. Since our friends at The Shin Guardian were nice enough to do their own piece and encourage reader voting as well, we felt it fair to give them a collective vote as well. Reader votes were cumulated over the span of about a week. There were a bunch of ya’ll who voted and we appreciate it. To ensure these awards are always reader interactive, we decided the reader vote would count as a cumulative two votes. In other words, the winner of the reader poll would get a nice head start against the writers/Shin Guardian vote and if there was mass internal dissent on a particular award (which happened  a few times), the readers champion would likely be the actual champion.  In addition, while we will not list who individual writers voted for, but we will list the reader vote tallies and as such tell you who the reader’s champion was in each category. Two reader’s votes were ties—we just split the difference. One award resulted in a tie—so we let the reader’s vote be the arbiter.

Let’s get to the nitty gritty. Congrats (mostly) are in order to the winners! Part One dishes out the first six awards, including the Reyna Trophy, which is really a plaque, which is in the mail to (spoiler alert!!) jolly old England.

2010 Yanks Are Coming US Soccer Awards Winners

Jeff Agoos/Clint Mathis/Alexi Lalas Award For Best US Hairstyle: Stu Holden

The US Men and Women’s National Teams have had no shortage of characters. One of the most visible ways a soccer player can express him or herself is through a hairstyle, and this award honors the one individual who keeps the legacy of its namesakes—Jeff the Ponytail Agoos, Clint the Mohawk Mathis and Alexi the Ginger Fro Lalas – most alive every time he or she steps on the pitch. This was an overwhelming and dominating victory for Bolton Wanderers midfielder Stuart Holden. We’ve all seen the Abercrombie model blonde locks, dashingly put in place with a wonder gel that seems to never wilt as a match goes on, much like young Stu Bolton’s work rate. As such, it isn’t a surprise that this was one of our most lopsided wins. Reader vote tallies are below, but Holden’s grip was equally strong among the TYAC/Shin Guardian writers, where he received three of the first place votes. Also receiving writer love: Oguchi Onyewu, Kyle Beckerman, Sacha Kljestan (BEFORE THE HAIRCUT), and USWNT manager Pia Sundhage, who well, rocks a faux-hawk.

Reader Tally: Holden 25, Brek Shea 12, (Free) Benny Feilhaber 11, Sacha Kljestan before the haircut 11, Heath Pearce pornstache 11, AJ De La Garza 10, Tim Howard 10, Conor “Mallrats” Casey 1.

Free Freddy Darko Adu Marinovich Golden Leaf Award (For Most Disappointing United States Soccer Player): Robbie Findley

This was the first award where our readers made the difference. In fact, even with reader votes—this was a tie, but this was the award where we let the readers break the tie since they voted in large number. Writer voting will reflect a different mindset, albeit not a unified one. The general concern with Findley receiving this award is the question of what constitutes a “disappointment.” The award is named for a few of the greater “busts” in the history of American sport—Ryan Leaf, Todd Marinovich, Freddy Adu and Bethlehem Shoals’ meal-ticket, Darko Milicic. We as writers weren’t completely certain Findley was ever supposed to meet the high level of expectation that these gentlemen were supposed to meet in their own respective ways. Now it is certainly true that Findley appears to have been eaten by a lion sometime between the Turkey match Memorial Day weekend (where he shined) and before the Slovenia match, where he was mercifully suspended on a silly yellow card by your favorite referee. But did we truly expect Findley to do great things in South Africa? We for the most part thought not—but the readers with one writer vote pushed him over the edge and into the “winner’s circle” for this award. Here’s hoping he sees merrier days in Sheriff Nottingham’s Forest. See what we did there?

Writer’s Votes: Sacha Kljestan 3, Robbie Findley 1, Ricardo Clark 1, Freddy Adu 1, Eddie Johnson 1, Gooch 1.

Reader Tally: Findley 19, Ricardo Clark 12, Gooch 11, Sacha Kljestan 8, Freddy Adu 2

To Win The Ching Award, You Have To Leave It All On The Field, like Deuce did against Ghana.

Brian Ching Award (Hardest Working Man (or Woman) In American Soccer): Clint Dempsey

Once an idea for a whole set of hard-working awards, Brian Ching, cult hero of The Yanks Are Coming is honored with this namesake award that seeks out the American player who most represents the grit, determination and fighting spirit that is part and parcel the brand identity of US Soccer. Let’s just say that more than a few tears were shed at the home offices when Ching was mystifyingly left off the World Cup roster last May after playing an integral role in qualification. We just didn’t get it. And no, we still don’t have any answers. I suppose the award winner above was better for Bradley-ball. Or perhaps Ching wasn’t as fit as he led on…though that seems doubtful. Readers broke a statistical tie here as well, throwing the weight of their votes narrowly to Deuce, whose blood-stained, mud-ridden jersey against both Algeria and Ghana symbolized the Yanks’ herculean effort in the first match and Dempsey’s individual will to win in the second. A deserving recipient of the first award named after our cult hero would be hard to find, save you know…the real, not faux-version that is Shane Victorino– flying Hawaiian himself.

Writer’s Votes: Deuce 2, Ching 2, MB 90 2, Landon 1, Bob Bradley 1

Reader’s Tally: Dempsey 18, MB 90 14, Kristine Lily 2, Heather Mitts 1

The Jon Levy Lightning Cup Award (Player or Person Most Likely to Induce Alcohol-Driven Joy and Rage in the Same 90 Minutes): Jozy Altidore

Once again, reader vote proved essential, bumping Josmer over the top and into the winner’s circle. The award is a nod to Co-Founder Jon Levy, who has been known to enjoy a Canadian Hunter or two in a certain Tampa Bay Lightning Cup while taking in a West Ham match early on a Saturday morning. The Lightning Cup is a core part of Jon Levy’s being, so it is only fitting that we allow him to explain his vote, which was not for the somewhat infuriating Altidore, but rather for Jon Bornstein. Before we get to that though, here’s The Shin Guardian take on Altidore as proper recipient: “Jozy, Jozy, Jozy….it’s like watching your kid finally being able to pick up things with their hands…only to find that they now know how to throw and break things too…” That’s about as good an analogy to watching the young striker play as you’ll ever find.

Levy’s Lightning Cup Vote: You’ve watched him play; you get it. I always end up saying his name in a couple distinctly different ways throughout the course of a match. From the mildly surprised “Bornstein?!”, to the holy shit moment “BORNstein!”, to the sadly all too familiar “Fuckin’ Bornstein”, he’s earned them all. And he deserves the Lightning Cup Levy Award. My vote on this one should count twice. I just wrote a paragraph about Jon Bornstein, where’s the Cup dammit, I need a drink.”

We just had to give Jon his say on the award. It has his name on it, for pete’s sake.

Writer Vote: Bornstein 4, Altidore 3, Robbie Rogers 1

Reader Tally: Jozy Altidore 16, Jon Bornstein 14, Clint Dempsey 12, MB 90 11, Edson Buddle 10, Ricardo Clark 10, Benny Feilhaber 8, Bob Bradley 7

Torres' Start Against Slovenia Didn't Have A Moment Like This-- But you get the idea.

Tony Romo Award (Most Overrated American Soccer Player): Jose Francisco Torres

Raise your hand if you’ve watched Sportscenter any time between July, when training camp coverage starts and I don’t know, mid-April, after the NFL Draft grades are handed out by the four-letter panel of “experts.” Ever notice how the Cowboys (America’s team, of course) are always a player or two away or a draft piece here and there away from absolute and complete world domination? If your hand is in the air, it’s a good sign you’ve watched Sportscenter. Ever. The old cliché goes all that is certain is death and taxes. I disagree. All that is certain is the Cowboys are a player or two away from winning the Super Bowl eleven-billion times in a row. And Death and Taxes. Why? Tony Romo, of course. The greatest quarterback to don the silver and blue since Roger Staubach. That Aikman guy? Nice player. But he’s no Romo. This guy was unwanted and now he’s an assassin, a game changing, and dynamic NFL signal caller surely among the league’s finest players!! The guy has as many fourth quarter career comeback wins as Tim Tebow and he’s 1 and a billion in the NFL playoffs. Talk to me when he actually does something other than watch a Super Bowl from a luxury box with a hot cultural icon or a former Miss Texas at his side. Enough vitriol. You just needed to capture the spirit of the award. Our winner—another Texan and a guy who, like Romo, is a good player and all but is just entirely overhyped by the diehards. A brief discussion about this guy with a couple of co-writers who helped propel Jose to victory here sums it up—Torres is a fine sub, but as a starter, he’s not been too impressive (Costa Rica in qualifying, Slovenia at the World Cup). With the US midfield suddenly looking like one of the most formidable units in international soccer (top ten at the least, you could confidently argue) – it is tough to see how Torres finds a place in the eighteen moving forward.

Writer’s Vote: Jose Torres 3, Alejandro Bedoya 2, Herculez Gomez 1, Freddy Adu 1, Charlie Davies 1

Reader’s Tally: Jozy Altidore 18, MB 90 15, Gooch 11, Freddy Adu 11, Ricardo Clark 11, Jermaine Jones 11, Jose Torres 2, Landon Donovan (that guy is crazy sauce) 1.

Claudio Reyna Technical Trophy (Plaque, actually): Stu Holden

Holden’s second award and this one was even more overwhelming than his hairstyle award, something we are certain he will appreciate. To call his emergence the first half of the EPL season for Owen Coyle’s Wanderers “remarkable” is not understatement. The man was viciously mugged and left for the abyss of the trainer’s table by Nigel de Jong in March as well, which makes it all the more remarkable. Given his near full time run out against the Czech Republic, questions could likely be asked of Bob Bradley regarding his playing time in South Africa, but fortunately it doesn’t appear as if we’ll have to ask those too often in the future. Holden is pure class, a deft passer, and underrated shooter, a sound defender with a Donovan-esque 10,000 meters is a walk in the park work rate who will be a mainstay for the Americans in the Brazil cycle.

We’ll leave you with Jon Levy, who was among many writers to cast his lot in Holden’s camp: “He’s gone from a nice midfielder to bring off the bench for the red, white, and blue to an influential constant for a rejuvenated Bolton Wanderers squad that’s suddenly got European dreams. Stu is what we’ve all been hoping Sacha Kljestan and Benny Feilhaber would turn out to be, a pure attacking midfielder that can influence the game from the center of the pitch. and as Bobbo knows, he can play the wing too. Clarence Goodson gets an honorable mention on the Reyna Award as well; look for more on CG from me soon.”

Congrats to Stu, and we truly hope you appreciate the plaque that is en route to Bolton.

Writer’s Votes: Stu Holden 5, MB 90 1, Clarence Goodson 1, Maurice Edu 1

Reader’s Tally: Stu Holden 26, Alex Morgan 7, MB 90 6

This is part one of two of The 2010 Yanks Are Coming US Soccer Awards. Neil W. Blackmon is Editor-In-Chief and Co-Founder of The Yanks Are Coming. He can be reached at nwblackmon@gmail.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @nwb_usmnt.

Neil W. Blackmon