As we anxiously await what should be riveting second legs of the MLS Conference Semifinals, the MLS awards are beginning to be doled out. Donovan Ricketts of the LA Galaxy has earned top honors as the league’s finest goalkeeper, and “Will he play for the US or won’t he” Honduran-born sensation Andy Najar has captured a well-deserved rookie of the year award. Congratulations to both for well-earned victories in these award competitions, and best of luck to Ricketts in the second leg of a tough semifinal against Seattle Sunday night. Given that it is awards time for MLS, we thought we’d get in on the action. Here are The Yanks Are Coming MLS Best Eleven.
Kevin Hartman, FC Dallas—This is only a slight knock against Ricketts winning keeper of the year. Don’t get me wrong—Ricketts’ eleven clean sheets are admirable and his team finished as the Supporters’ Shield winners—so clearly the 0.90 GAA was enough. And Ricketts was plain heroic in the 1-0 win at Seattle in the first leg of the playoffs, despite injuring his shoulder early in the game on the artificial surface. That said, Kevin Hartman obliterated the league record in goals against with a 0.62 mark, and until they fell late against the LA Galaxy, he could do no wrong for over three months as the Hoops rolled off nineteen without a defeat. In fact, he wasn’t even on the pitch for the eventual end of the streak as he was the man injured in the strange Thierry Henry goal celebration that got the Frenchmen fined and wait for it….discussed for more than thirty seconds on PTI and Sportscenter. Maybe that tilts my bias a bit, but that’s just the way it’s going to be. We’re going with the former LA Galaxy keeper over the current netminder.
Chad Marshall, Columbus Crew—Another all-star appearance for the two-time MLS Defender of the Year. It’s a bit of a no-brainer to put this guy on your best eleven, even though some might claim he didn’t quite have as good a year as the past two. There may be some truth to that, but he’s still one of the best in the league and a central reason the Crew are back in the playoffs for the third consecutive season.
Nat Borchers, Real Salt Lake—Real Salt Lake conceded only seven goals at home this season, a remarkably low number and Borchers, who led the backline in matches played and minutes logged, is a large reason why. He didn’t find the back of the net as often as his backline mate Jamison Olave did, but the lovechild of Oliver Kahn and Denis Leary is calm with his clearances and does well with his passing to get the ball outside to the Real sidebacks, who love to get forward and help the counterattack. Borchers might win MLS Defender of the Year, and if he does we won’t argue. We also won’t argue with Bob Bradley giving a guy who is clearly a late bloomer and appears to be a more talented version of Jay DeMerit, another shot with the national team.
Sean Franklin, Los Angeles Galaxy—Before you argue understand that the 2008 Rookie of the Year finally put it all together this season, overcoming an injury-plagued 09 and a consistency-riddled Rookie of the Year campaign to become, in my view, the most exciting young right back in MLS, and perhaps, with all due respect to flavor-of-the-month Eric Lichaj, in the USMNT player pool. Franklin’s pace is one-thing but what’s more impressive is his positioning and is ability to battle on set pieces—two things that make you wince at the thought of Jon Spector playing more right back for the United States. All those skills were on display Sunday against the Sounders flashy winger Steve Zakuani, but there were several performances in the regular season that merit this Best Eleven spot.
Heath Pearce, FC Dallas—The beauty of this is I don’t need to take players from every position—and so I just won’t. Pearce was integral to the extended FC Dallas unbeaten streak, and in some respects that was the tiebreaker between him and other worthy candidates, including Omar Gonzalez and Jamison Olave. Another tiebreaker was the fact that Pearce’s form increased greatly after he was left off Bob Bradley’s roster for South Africa. A great deal of players might have allowed that heartbreak to affect their play—Pearce did the opposite, parlaying it into perhaps the best run of form in his career and another USMNT shot.
Sebastian Le Toux, Philadelphia Union—In another universe, one where MVP’s could play for losing teams even if their name didn’t rhyme with Ralex Bodriguez, Le Toux might be taking home more than just MLS Best Eleven honors this year. The Frenchmen scored forty percent of the Union’s goals this year, and added ten assists. Amado Guevara was the MVP of MLS for a side with a losing record in 2004—but that was the Metrostars, where the media bias might have tilted the envelope a bit. Either way, he and Danny Mwanga have a bright future at PPL Park.
Chris Wondolowski, San Jose Earthquakes—The main thing here is the goals scored total—when you score eighteen times in twenty-nine games and capture the Golden Boot—you find yourself on the Best Eleven. What’s fascinating is that it took him being slotted back to the right and out of the center of the midfield or his forward position to make it happen. This was managerial brilliance—plain and simple—a move of position for a player who was lacking confidence for a bit. It was rewarded with a late-season goal binge and a playoff spot for the Quakes—something many didn’t think a realistic goal when the season began.
David Ferreira, FC Dallas—The heart and soul of the Hoops attack, the Colombian is a high-level MVP candidate that does a bit of everything: score goals, tally assists, keep possession. On a team that was leveled with injuries early in the year, he was the glue that kept it together. That was enough for Jeff Carlisle to write a few weeks ago that he should win the MVP Award. I don’t agree with that, but I know a Best Eleven player when I see one, and Ferreira passes the eye-ball test.
Landon Donovan, Los Angeles Galaxy (MOST VALUABLE PLAYER)—The league’s best player had quite a year: Everton hero and player of the month to start with, back to Los Angeles for the league’s fastest start to the season, a Supporters’ Shield to close it off, and oh…a group-winning, clutch-defining, unforgettable, historic goal to cap a massive World Cup. He also helped the Galaxy weather a tough spell without David Beckham, and his presence on the pitch went far in making this a season teammate Edson Buddle won’t soon forget. I think I give him more credit for that than most writers, which is why I think Donovan (seven goals, fifteen assists on the year) should win the MVP award.
Guillermo Barros Schelotto, Columbus Crew—Number Seven is the heartbeat of a Crew team that is seeking a third straight CONCACAF Champions League appearance. He’s been resilient and steady in all competitions, and while his nine goals and eight assists aren’t at the level of say an Omar Cummings, Schelotto quite frankly doesn’t have the quality around him these days that Cummings, who has benefitted greatly from Conor Casey’s return to form, has at his disposal. This is probably our most controversial choice—but Schelotto can vindicate us with a second leg “W” this week at Crew Stadium.
Edson Buddle, Los Angeles Galaxy—Very likely to finish first or second in the MVP voting (though I think that is largely due to Donovan’s marvelous play, as I noted above), Buddle has managed to crawl out of the lion’s stomach that he disappeared into this summer in South Africa after the Australia match and return home to continue a brilliant run of form that nearly was rewarded with a Golden Boot. Buddle’s return to form late in the year in particular keyed the Galaxy’s late run that helped them hold onto the Supporters’ Shield.
That’s it folks. Agree? Disagree? Let us know below—and enjoy the second leg of the conference semifinals.
Neil W. Blackmon is Co-Founder and Associate Editor of The Yanks Are Coming. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or you can find him on Twitter at @nwb_usmnt.