MLS midseason awards
From the best (take a bow, Wondo) to the worst (sorry, Philly) ...
This much is certain about the first half of the MLS regular season -- it hasn't been dull. The two conference leaders, D.C. United in the East and the San Jose Earthquakes in the West, didn't even make the playoffs last year. Los Angeles, nearly everyone's favorite to not only win MLS Cup this year but to lap the field in the process, is currently outside of the playoff picture. Then there is the madness that has taken place in Philadelphia, where manager Peter Nowak's willful dismantling of a playoff side not only saw the team tumble down the standings but cost him his job as well. The storylines don't end there as illustrated by our midseason awards.
MVP: Chris Wondolowski, San Jose Earthquakes
If healthy, Thierry Henry probably would have locked up this award, but his injury-hit campaign means the uber-consistent Wondolowski gets the nod. The San Jose striker has tallied an astonishing 14 goals in 16 games and looks set to obliterate his previous career high of 18 goals in 2010. Perhaps more incredibly, the rest of the league seems no closer to figuring out how Wondolowski manages to gain that yard of separation needed to turn half chances into goals.
Biggest Disappointment: Philadelphia Union
Two weeks ago, this award would have gone to the Galaxy, but a three-game winning streak that ended last weekend against San Jose has put L.A. back in the playoff hunt. For that reason, the total implosion witnessed in Philly wins this dubious achievement award by a nose. Rather than build on last year's run to the playoffs, manager Peter Nowak set about shedding his roster of experienced players. The salary cap was believed to be the prime reason for Nowak's jettisoning of Sebastien Le Toux and Faryd Mondragon, but the saga involving the departure of Danny Califf, one that involved a he said, he said over the player's fitness, called Nowak's man-management skills into question. Nowak was eventually cut loose, and now it's left to former assistant John Hackworth to pick up the pieces.
Coach of the Year: Ben Olsen, D.C. United
This is essentially a dead heat between Olsen and San Jose's Frank Yallop. Both managers have engineered remarkable turnarounds, but Olsen gets the nod for the simple fact that this is only his second full year in management. And he wasn't even United's first choice to take the job full time following his interim stint during the second half of the 2010 campaign. United still have some issues on defense, but the team's attack has been breathtaking, and Olsen's ability to squeeze production out of heretofore journeyman players such as Maicon Santos has been impressive.
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Trade of the Year: Kenny Cooper from Portland to New York
Yes, Portland reportedly got a fair chunk of allocation money plus a first-round draft pick in next year's SuperDraft in exchange for a forward who was never John Spencer's type of player. But you can't argue that it has been money well spent for the Red Bulls, who have seen Cooper return to his prolific ways to the tune of 11 goals. Honorable mention: San Jose's acquisition of winger Marvin Chavez from Dallas for allocation money. The guy has been electric for the Quakes.
Goalkeeper of the Year: Dan Kennedy, Chivas USA
Kennedy edges out Columbus' Andy Gruenebaum for this award. The Chivas netminder's body of work this season has been impressive, especially when you consider that the Goats' anemic offense has supported him to the tune of just 11 goals, easily the worst strike rate in the league. That has left Kennedy with little margin for error, but he's responded well and his shot-stopping is one of the reasons why Chivas hasn't disappeared from the playoff race entirely.
Defender Injury of the Year: Omar Gonzalez, L.A. Galaxy
Granted, every team has injuries, and losing one player shouldn't be so impactful as to nearly scuttle a season. But that is precisely what has happened in L.A., where Gonzalez's aerial dominance at both ends of the field has been sorely missed because of his torn left ACL he sustained while on trial at Bundesliga side Nuremburg. The good news for L.A. is that Gonzalez could be back by the end of the month, just in time for the stretch run.
Defender of the Year: Jay DeMerit, Vancouver Whitecaps
This is easily the toughest award to handicap. The Real Salt Lake duo of Jamison Olave and Nat Borchers haven't played up to their usual standards. San Jose's Victor Bernardez has been stellar, but has been limited to nine games, and few other candidates have really emerged. That leaves DeMerit, who has been much more consistent this year and has helped Vancouver emerge from a wretched expansion campaign to be one of the better sides in the Western Conference.
Game of the Year: Los Angeles Galaxy vs. San Jose Earthquakes, June 30
The first matchup between the two sides, a 3-2 win for San Jose in L.A., would have been hard to top given that the Quakes came back from two goals down. But top it they did on June 30. This game had everything: good goals, bad goals, great saves, then some shoddy goalkeeping, and finally another spirited San Jose comeback from two goals down. Then, it was all punctuated by David Beckham sparking a late-game melee by drop-kicking the ball at referee Hilario Grajeda and a prone Sam Cronin, all from 30 yards. The team's next meeting at Buck Shaw Stadium on October 21 should be quite a treat.
Newcomer of the Year: Saer Sene, New England Revolution
The Jay Heaps era has had both ups and downs so far this season, but Sene's play has given both club and manager a major boost. The former Bayern Munich reserve has delivered eight goals and two assists, and he has proven versatile as well, dropping back into midfield at times. All told, Sene has done plenty to keep New England's long-shot playoff hopes alive.
Super Sub of the Year: Alan Gordon, San Jose Earthquakes
Gordon's numbers boggle the mind. In 413 minutes of play, the target forward has recorded six goals and one assist. That translates to a staggering average of 1.30 goals every 90 minutes. That's higher than any other player in the league with over 100 minutes of play this season. Four of Gordon's goals have either been game-tying or game-winning goals, translating to six points in the standings and an Everest-sized amount of confidence for the Quakes.
Rookie of the Year: Ryan Meara, New York Red Bulls
The New York goalkeeper has been stellar in net as well as on the balance sheet. In preseason, it looked like the Red Bulls had a massive void to fill in goal, but Meara has been solid and at times spectacular this year, especially with his ability to dominate in the air. And his salary of $33,750 per year makes him an exceptional value, especially given New York using a Designated Player spot on Frank Rost last season.
Comeback Player of the Year: Chris Pontius, D.C. United
There's perseverance, and then there is Chris Pontius. The DCU attacker was a contender for the same award last year when he appeared to have rebounded spectacularly from a hamstring injury, only for his season to end in September due to a broken leg. It left open the question of whether he could shake the injury bug long enough to let his talent shine through. So far this season that is precisely what has taken place, with Pontius netting nine times and helping lead United to the top of the Eastern Conference.
Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPN.com. He is also the author of "Soccer's Most Wanted II: The Top 10 Book of More Glorious Goals, Superb Saves and Fantastic Free-Kicks." He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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