It was the year of the midfielder in MLS, with a plethora of midfield maestros emerging to dominate play even as stars such as David Ferreira, Steve Zakuani and Javier Morales suffered serious injuries early on. That didn’t stop players like Brek Shea from emerging, or David Beckham from finally playing up to the level expected of him when he first arrived. We also saw midfielders like Brad Davis and Dwayne DeRosario enjoy MVP-caliber seasons. There were so many tremendous campaigns from midfielders that you could put together a Best XI with just midfielders and have all worthy selections. In fact, that I had to six of them on my MLS Best XI (though Dwayne DeRosario spent his share of time as a second forward). Fortunately for MLS, there were also standouts at other positions, and selecting the very best at each was about as tough as you would expect. Where the selections came from was not too tough to predict, as the Los Angeles Galaxy and Seattle Sounders - the two best teams in MLS during the regular season - combined for six selections. Here are my picks for the 2011 MLS Best XI.
Kasey Keller, G, Seattle Sounders
The legendary goalkeeper saved his best MLS season for last, retiring in style with a strong campaign that saw him lead the Sounders to a third straight U.S. Open Cup title while also finishing among the league leaders in most major goalkeeping categories. He did all this at the age of 41.
Omar Gonzalez, D, LA Galaxy
The 2011 MLS Defender of the Year put together an outstanding season in his third year as a pro, serving as the unquestioned leader of the leagueâ¿¿s best defense. He improved in multiple facets of his game, from his ability to read the game, to his ability to lead the back-line. He hasnâ¿¿t gotten a call-up from USMNT coach Jurgen Klinsmann yet, but it shouldnâ¿¿t be too long.
Nat Borchers, D, Real Salt Lake
A Best XI-caliber centerback for a second straight season, Borchers outplayed fellow RSL defensive standout Jamison Olave this season and was easily one of the best defenders in the league. His ability to snuff out danger as well as contribute to the attack on set pieces made him an all-around threat.
Todd Dunivant, D, LA Galaxy
The best and most consistent fullback in MLS this season, Dunivant made his ninth pro season his best as he locked down the left flank for the Galaxy, helping LA post the best defensive record in the league. His qualities going forward coupled with his defensive discipline made him the standard by which all other fullbacks were measured.
Brad Davis, M, Houston
You canâ¿¿t find an MLS player who was more important to his teamâ¿¿s success than Davis, who was the unquestioned catalyst for Houstonâ¿¿s offense. Davis led MLS in assists with 16 and provided some of the best set piece service MLS has seen in a long time. It is not a stretch to say that the Dynamo would not have made the playoffs, let alone an MLS Cup Final, without Davis.
Brek Shea, M, FC Dallas
The best young player in MLS in 2011, Shea enjoyed a breakout season in MLS as he helped FC Dallas overcome the loss of reigning MLS MVP David Ferreira. Shea finished the season with 11 goals and four assists and also dazzled for the US national team, riding his red-hot form to a starting role under Klinsmann.
Osvaldo Alonso, M, Seattle Sounders
The engine that drives Seattleâ¿¿s high-octane system, Alonsoâ¿¿s relentless work rate, sharp passing and tenacity made him the heart and soul of the Sounders. His heroics in the teamâ¿¿s multiple cup competitions would have made him a strong MVP candidate if the U.S. Open Cup and CONCACAF Champions League accomplishments were factored into the league award.
David Beckham, M, LA Galaxy
While he faced deserved criticism through his first four years in MLS, Beckham produced the type of season expected of him when he arrived in 2007. He not only provided his trademark free kicks and delivered 15 assists, Beckham also improved his defensive contributions. Though it wonâ¿¿t count for Best XI, Beckhamâ¿¿s three assists in the playoffs have only further illustrated just how well he has playing this season.
Mauro Rosales, M, Seattle Sounders
When Steve Zakuani went down with a season-ending broken leg, there were serious questions about the Sounders offense. By seasonâ¿¿s end Seattle finished with the highest-scoring offense in the league. A big reason for that was the emergence of Rosales as one of the best playmakers in the league. His ability to drive the attack produced five goals and 13 assists, much of which came against good teams. Weâ¿¿ll never know how far Seattle could have gone in the playoffs if Rosales hadnâ¿¿t suffered a late-season knee injury.
Dwayne De Rosario, M, DC United
Traded early in the year by Toronto FC, then by the New York Red Bulls, DeRosario reminded his former teams and MLS just why he is considered one of the best players in MLS history. He put up a staggering 16 goals and 12 assists on a young D.C. United side that fell just short of a post-season berth. The four-time MLS Cup champion has never won an MVP award, but this could be the year.
Chris Wondolowski, F, San Jose
Wondolowski proved his breakout 2010 season was no fluke by following up his 18 goals last season with a league-high 16 goals this season. His impressive form earned him a place on the U.S. Gold Cup squad, though he couldnâ¿¿t keep the woeful Earthquakes from missing the playoffs.