Here’s a look at the votes I cast on my end-of-season Major League Soccer awards ballot. Individual awards include a vote for a second-place candidate, and I’ve listed those too.
Most Valuable Player: Robbie Keane (Los Angeles Galaxy)
For quite some time I thought this would come down to a head-to-head battle between Chicago’s Mike Magee and Montréal’s Marco Di Vaio. Both players had key roles as their respective teams chased playoff berths.
A lot of people across MLS have been touting Magee as the leading nominee because he seemed to singlehandedly will the Fire into the playoff race.
But I can’t bring myself to vote for a player whose team didn’t make the postseason, unless his candidacy simply overwhelms all the others. Magee’s doesn’t, and here’s why.
Of the three players who scored 20 or more goals in MLS this season, Magee had the lowest percentage of goals scored relative to his team’s entire scoring.
The numbers are as follows. I’ve added in assists to provide some supplementary context, though I did not compute percentage of total assists. Given the way goals get built up, it’s not necessarily a fair measuring tool.
Mike Magee, Chicago: 15 goals out of 41 total (36.6%), 4 assists
Mike Magee, Los Angeles: 6 goals out of 20 total (30.0%), 0 assists
Mike Magee, overall: 21 goals out of 62 total (33.9%), 4 assists
Marco Di Vaio, Montréal: 20 goals out of 50 total (40.0%), 2 assists
Camilo Sanvezzo, Vancouver: 22 goals out of 53 total (41.5%), 6 assists
It turns out that Di Vaio scored a higher percentage of his team’s goals than Magee did, and Camilo beat both of them. Camilo also had more assists.
But like the Fire, the Whitecaps didn’t make the playoffs. So Di Vaio had the top spot on my ballot locked down.
Until Sunday night.
Thomas Floyd of the Washington Times tweeted this about Robbie Keane during the Sounders-Galaxy game:
Keane in just 23 games leads MLS in goals plus assists (27). Galaxy are 12-3-7 with him, 3-8-0 without. He's the league MVP. #SEAvLA
— Thomas Floyd (@thomasfloyd10) October 28, 2013
Floyd wasn’t quite right on the first sentence, as Camilo (28) beat Keane in the final tally of goals plus assists. But the second sentence got my attention.
The Galaxy lost eight of the 11 games in which Keane didn’t play. Five came during FIFA windows when he was with the Republic of Ireland’s national team.
Di Vaio played in 33 of the Impact’s 34 games this season. He wasn’t called up to Italy’s national team, but he also didn’t get hurt as much as Keane did.
So it was Keane’s goals plus assists in fewer games against Di Vaio’s higher goals tally and better health.
That’s a tough call to make. I decided to put one more factor on the table: performance in the pressure-packed last 10 games of the season.
Keane delivered four goals and two assists in nine appearances, with the one absence being due to a national team call-up. Di Vaio delivered five goals and no assists in 10 appearances.
By the slightest of margins, Keane won my vote.
Defender of the Year: José Gonçalves (New England Revolution)
The Portugal native helped marshal a young and often overlooked team into an impressively cohesive unit. As a result, the Revs are headed to the playoffs for the first time in four years.
I voted Sporting Kansas City’s Matt Besler second, as he is a consistently strong performer for club and country.
Comeback Player of the Year: Kevin Alston (New England Revolution)
Alston is a virtual lock to win this award. After being diagnosed with leukemia in April, he not only returned to full health, but returned to the field for the Revs late in the season. That wins.
I voted Philadelphia’s Conor Casey second for resurrecting an injury-prone career and delivering much-needed veteran leadership to the Union.
Goalkeeper of the Year: Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)
Colorado’s Clint Irwin has the best story, rising from the American soccer wilderness to lead the Rapids to the playoffs. But Rimando has the better goals-against average, and Real Salt Lake finished five points higher in the standings than Colorado.
Had Rimando not led the U.S. national team at the Gold Cup, his minutes played and total saves would likely be closer to Irwin’s numbers.
So Rimando gets my vote and Irwin gets second place.
Newcomer of the Year: Diego Valeri (Portland Timbers)
Valeri has sparkled all season as the creative playmaker in Portland’s midfield. While Diego Chará and Will Johnson provide the steak for Caleb Porter’s team, Valeri provides the sizzle.
The Argentine has also provided a team-high 10 goals and a league-high 13 assists. He’d get MVP consideration if the Timbers didn’t also have three players with nine goals and one with seven.
I voted Los Angeles goalkeeper Jaime Penedo second, because even though he was a midseason arrival, he singlehandedly saved the Galaxy’s season by shoring up its defense.
Rookie of the Year: Deshorn Brown (Colorado Rapids)
Colorado’s remarkable season has been fuelled by two rookies, Brown and Dillon Powers. You don’t often see attacking players come straight out of college soccer and play 30 or more games in a season, as both Brown and Powers have.
Powers had more assists and minutes played, but Brown had more goals and games played. Indeed, Brown was the Rapids’ leading scorer on the season, with at least twice as many goals as any of his teammates.
So the Jamaican gets my vote, with Powers second. One of the two will win the award - unless they split the vote so much that someone else takes it with a minority of ballots. I hope that doesn’t happen, because it would be unfair to both players.
Humanitarian of the Year: Jeb Brovsky (Montréal Impact)
The young defender’s Peace Pandemic program helped fundraise enough money to bring 400 Gutatemalan children - including many orphans - to Montréal’s CONCACAF Champions League game at Heredia. Brovsky has done a lot of charity work in Guatemala, and has brought the Impact organization on board to help with his efforts in providing supplies and other resources.
I voted Houston’s Brian Ching second. This was admittedly in part to recognize his retirement from a soccer career that has included many highlights on the field and years of community service in the Houston region.
You can read about Ching’s efforts this season and learn about the other award nominees here. Michael Lahoud was the Union’s nominee for his work to help build schools in his native Sierra Leone.
Coach of the Year: Mike Petke (New York Red Bulls)
The debate over Coach of the Year has almost broken Twitter a few times in recent days. There are many worthwhile candidates.
New England’s Jay Heaps brought the Revs back to the playoffs, and helped develop four young stars: defender Andrew Farrell, midfielder Kelyn Rowe, and forwards Diego Fagundez and Juan Agudelo.
Portland’s Caleb Porter turned the Timbers from one of MLS’ worst teams into one of its very best, with a playing style and mentality that was distinctly his own.
To me, though, the two leading candidates are Colorado’s Oscar Pareja and New York’s Mike Petke.
Pareja took a team that is perennially one of MLS’ lesser lights and turned into a force. He developed Brown, Powers, Irwin and Chris Klute, and made a very smart Designated Player signing in Panamanian playmaker Gabriel Torres.
Petke delivered the first piece of significant silverware in the star-crossed 18-year history of Major League Soccer in the New York market. The Long Island native has put his heart and soul into delivering the Supporters’ Shield to the team he played for when it was known as the MetroStars.
But that in and of itself is not why I voted for Petke. I did so because Petke made one of the season's most courageous coaching decisions in MLS.
And I can't help thinking it was a decision that many of the big-name, big-money coaches who sat in Petke's chair before him would have made.
On September 1, as the playoff race started to heat up in earnest, Petke benched Thierry Henry because he wasn’t playing well enough.
It took some serious balls to do that. Do you think Hans Backe, Petke’s immediate predecessor, would have asserted his will like that against Major League Soccer’s biggest star and its second-richest player?
Consider also that some remarkably famous names have coached the MetroStars/Red Bulls in the past. Among them are:
- Carlos Quieroz, longtime assistant to Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United
- Carlos Alberto Parreira, who coached Brazil at the 1994 and 2006 World Cups
- Bora Milutinović, who coached six club teams and eight national teams in his long career, including the United States at the 1994 World Cup
- Juan Carlos Osorio, who has worked as an assistant at Manchester City and been a head coach in the United States, Mexico and Colombia
- Bruce Arena, former U.S. national team head coach
- Bob Bradley, former U.S. national team head coach
In finally delivering a trophy to the South Ward, Mike Petke did something that none of those coaches did. Heck, he did something that Bruce Arena and Bob Bradley didn’t do while in charge of the team. And he did it with a true act of coaching, which is an art as much as a science.
For that, Petke wins my vote, with Pareja second.
Referee of the Year: Ismael Elfath
Assistant Referee of the Year: Kermit Quisenberry
It’s becoming impossible for one man in the middle to properly officiate soccer. The game is too fast and too skilled to keep up with. But there have been a lot of bad calls in MLS this year. The alternatives to Elfath were Hilario Grajeda and Baldomero Toledo, and I’ve had issues this year with both of them. So Elfath got my vote.
I admit to voting for Quisenberry because I’ve seen him work more games than the other candidates, Frank Anderson and Bill Dittmar, and never had any major complaints.
And I will note that Anderson was part of the crew that worked Sunday’s Seattle-Los Angeles game, in which a header by Omar Gonzalez that clearly crossed the goal line was not given as a goal. He was the far-side ref, so may not have been close to the play, but the entire crew can communicate via headset. He should have been watching the play from somewhere, so he gets a share of the blame.
Overall Best XI
This comes with a disclaimer that the formation rules are liberal. There have to be three defenders, three midfielders and three forwards, and the last spot can go to any player. Here’s who I chose, in alphabetical order at each position.
Goalkeeper: Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)
Defenders: Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), José Gonçalves (New England Revolution), Chris Klute (Colorado Rapids)
Midfielders: Tim Cahill (New York Red Bulls), Diego Fagundez (New England Revolution), Dax McCarty (New York Red Bulls), Diego Valeri (Portland Timbers)
Forwards: Marco Di Vaio (Montréal Impact), Robbie Keane (Los Angeles Galaxy), Camilo Sanvezzo (Vancouver Whitecaps)