MLS awards consensus hard to pinpoint

BY foxsports • November 8, 2011

With the 2011 MLS season down to its last match, the MLS Cup Final, it is time to take a look at those who stood out from their peers and merited consideration for the league’s season-ending awards.

Every year, the debate over just who deserves these awards gets tougher and tougher, and with MLS now boasting 18 teams, the competition is even greater.

This year is no different, with perhaps only one award truly being an easy choice among the major honors. Whether you talk Coach of the Year, Defender of the Year or Goalkeeper of the Year, the options are plentiful and finding a consensus becomes pretty impossible.

The Most Valuable Player Award is also a difficult one to pin down this year, so much so that I will be devoting a separate column to that award next week. For now, here are my selections for the rest of the major 2011 MLS Awards:

ROOKIE OF THE YEAR- C.J. Sapong, Sporting Kansas City

The Sporting Kansas City striker ran away with the award, as he became a mainstay during Sporting KC’s impressive run from last place to first place in the East. The athletic striker proved difficult to contain with his combination of strength and speed. He finished the season with five goals and five assists, both MLS rookie bests, and he added a stunning goal in the playoffs to boot.

KC's starlet: C.J. Sapong was named Major League Soccer's 'Rookie of the Year' on Tuesday. (Photo by Newman Lowrance/Getty Images)  

Honorable Mention- A.J. Soares was one of the few bright spots on a New England side that endured a nightmare season. The skillful centerback will be one of the building blocks for the rebuilding job with the Revs. Chicago Fire defender Jalil Anibaba enjoyed a solid and consistent season at right back despite it not being his natural position.

While these rookie didn’t finish among the top three among my Rookie of the Year candidates, Perry Kitchen, Darlington Nagbe, Michael Farfan and Zac MacMath all showed flashes of being future stars.

DEFENDER OF THE YEAR- Omar Gonzalez, Los Angeles Galaxy

If there were ever a case for a defender being worthy of MVP consideration, you might look to Gonzalez, who has been the unquestioned leader and anchor of the best defense in MLS. He was already one of the better centerback's in MLS before this season, but in 2011 he managed to improve in all areas and became a truly imposing figure in the back.

Honorable Mention- While Jamison Olave was RSL’s best defender, and MLS Defender of the Year in 2010, Nat Borchers was RSL’s top defender and one of the league’s best in 2011. His leadership in the back and ability to serve as a threat on set pieces earned him a spot here. LA Galaxy fullback Todd Dunivant deserved consideration for being the best and most consistent fullback in MLS this year. His work on the left flank for LA was vital to the Galaxy’s capture of the Supporters Shield and impressive defensive record in MLS.

GOALKEEPER OF THE YEAR- Kasey Keller, Seattle Sounders

In a year with no clear-cut selection, it’s tough to argue with the sentimental pick of Keller, who is retiring after an amazing professional career. The thing is that while there may be sentiment in selecting Keller, he also posted what was arguably the best of his three seasons in MLS and is a worthy winner after finishing with an impressive 1.09 goals-against average despite facing the most shots in the league.

Honorable Mention- Real Salt Lake’s Nick Rimando deserves consideration for helping lead an RSL defense that faced its share of injuries and suspensions during the year and still posting a league-high 13 shutouts. FC Dallas’ Kevin Hartman also posted 13 shutouts, and a 1.06 GAA, while recording the second-most wins in the league.

NEWCOMER OF THE YEAR- Mauro Rosales, Seattle Sounders

When Steve Zakuani was lost for the season with a broken leg, the Sounders looked like they might struggle to generate offense. Little did they know that one of their newly-acquired players would step up and emerge as one of the league’s best playmakers. Rosales became the driving force in the attack during the team’s strong run though to the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals and the team’s third U.S. Open Cup title. The injury that kept Rosales out of the playoffs, and Seattle’s subsequent exit from the playoffs, showed just how valuable he was to the Sounders.

Honorable Mention- Vancouver striker Camilo Sanvezzo didn’t get as much hype as Whitecaps designated player signing Eric Hassli, but the Brazilian striker emerged as one of the best goal-scorers in MLS with 12 goals. New York striker Luke Rodgers saw his playing time limited by injuries, but he still emerged as revelation for the Red Bulls, providing the perfect strike partner for Thierry Henry, and played well enough to keep Juan Agudelo on the bench.

Though he only played in ten matches, Toronto FC’s Danny Koevermans deserves consideration for being a spark for the Canadian club as well, scoring eight goals and giving Toronto fans plenty to look forward to in 2012.

MOST IMPROVED PLAYER- Dominic Oduro, Chicago Fire

MLS gives out a Comeback Player Award, which would be a fine enough award if the league didn’t confuse matters by combining candidates coming back from injuries and adversity with players who are simply coming back from either mediocrity or the bench.

We’ll try to ease some of the confusion and award a Most Improved Player award and while there were plenty of outstanding candidates, Chicago’s Dominic Oduro was the clear choice. Regarded as one of the worst finishers in MLS prior to 2011, Oduro started the season with the Houston Dynamo before being abruptly traded after just one game. He responded to the trade by becoming the Fire’s offensive star, scoring 12 MLS goals to push the Fire to the brink of the playoffs.

Honorable Mention- Sporting Kansas City’s Graham Zusi spent his first two pro season as a seldom-used reserve but he emerged in 2011 as one of the best playmakers in MLS. He produced five goals and seven assists and helped KC boast one of the best attacks in MLS. Chivas USA’s Nick LaBrocca has been a starter in MLS for three seasons before 2011, but this season he really put things together, finishing the year with eight goals and six assists, impressive numbers in a struggling Chivas USA offense.

COACH OF THE YEAR- Peter Vermes, Sporting Kansas City

While it certainly can’t be argued that standout coaches Bruce Arena, Sigi Schmid and Jason Kreis didn’t once again show why they are some of the best coaches in MLS, and among the best in league history, but in terms of helping a team reach new heights and helping multiple players enjoy breakout seasons, it’s tough to argue with Vermes as the MLS Coach of the Year.

Captain of the ship: Peter Vermes helped the Kansas City franchise reach new heights in the 2011 season. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Vermes had to navigate a young team through the struggles of an 11-match road trip to start the season, and not only did KC recover, but the same team that missed the playoffs in 2010 finished in first place in the Eastern Conference in 2011. The squad did so on the strength of a core of young players who had breakout seasons, including Matt Besler, Chance Myers, Graham Zusi and Rookie of the Year C.J. Sapong.

Honorable Mention- Sigi Schmid deserves special credit for helping the Sounders compete on three fronts and succeed at them, all despite having lost Steve Zakuani early in the season. Seattle won a third straight U.S. Open Cup and qualified for the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals. The Galaxy was the strongest team in MLS coming into the season so Bruce Arena’s coaching efforts in 2011 might not get the credit he deserves, but to win a Supporters Shield and qualify for the CONCACAF Champions League out of the toughest group in the tournament, definitely deserves consideration.

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