>Monday Lunch: MLS MVP, Best XI, and Playoff Preview

Posted: October 25, 2010 in mls
Tags: , , ,

>By Evan Ream
 
Another MLS season is in the books, and with just the playoff games left to decide the Cup winner, it is time to hand out my post-season awards. There were many deserving candidates this year in David Ferreira, Landon Donovan, Edson Buddle, Javier Morales, and Omar Cummings, but I have to go with the man, the myth, the legend, the WONDO. Chris Wondolowski had an MLS season for the ages. The man almost single handedly guided the Earthquakes into the playoffs. With 18 goals, Wondo accounted for over 50% of his teams goals. Wondo was one of only three Earthquakes to score multiple goals. Second on the team to his EIGHTEEN were Ike Opara (a rookie defender) and Arturo Alvarez (the most inconsistent player in the history of soccer) with 3 goals each. A lot of pundits have been pointing out the fact that Wondo only had 1 assist on the entire season, but with numbers like this it is clear that Wondo had no one to pass to. In addition, many of his goals came from either right midfield, or while he was partnered up top with the terrible Cornell Glen.
 
When it comes down to it, the way I define the Most Valuable Player award is the player that means the most to his team. FC Dallas scored eight fewer goals this year than they did last year; the reason for their success this year wasn’t their offense, but the improvement of their defense. Thus, David Ferreira is cut out of my vote. When Donovan and Buddle went to the World Cup, LA didn’t really miss a beat. In fact, their team didn’t really start to slump until they came back and even then, they still finished with nearly 60 points and set a franchise record with 18 wins (post shootout). Javier Morales was on by far the best overall and deepest team in the league and when he was hurt, they didn’t miss him. Omar Cummings had a good season as well, but you couldn’t key on just him because Colorado has Conor Casey as well. In the end Wondo, isn’t just the best candidate, he is the only candidate. Of his 18 goals, 9 were game winners and the Earthquakes only won 13 games. Pretty much the only difference between this year’s Earthquakes team and last year’s was the play of Wondo. I don’t know what else can be said, the man was a genius.

For my Best XI, I decided to do something a little different. There were so many quality individual performances this year that I essentially decided to make a best XXXIII or Best XI first, second, and third teams. As always, since everyone in MLS uses a 4-4-2, I will be going by that formation, none of the BS 3-5-2 that the media always uses to determine the Best XI. When I made these teams, I tried to focus mainly on playoff teams because more important than any other statistic, is winning. I chose players that directly contributed to their team’s wins.
 

Best XI Third Team
 
Angel      Ferreira
 
Shea   Mastroeni   Juninho   Gaven
 
Dunnivant   Iro   Marshall   Alston
 
Pickens

 
Juan Pablo Angel (New York Red Bulls) proved as always that he can score goals, scoring 13 goals for the 3rd place team in MLS. For the first half of the season, he was first team material, but he dropped off towards the second half.
 
David Ferreira (FC Dallas) is an MVP candidate for many people, and could well win the award, but I have a hard time putting a forward who scored just 4 non-penalty kick goals higher on the list. He does deserve credit for being the focal point of the Dallas offense that scored 42 goals (4th in the league) and contributing 13 assists; but I just didn’t think he was as good as the other four forwards I put on the list.
 
Brek Shea (FC Dallas) had a breakout year and would be higher on this list in most years, if not for the depth of quality left midfielders this year. Shea, who wasn’t a starter at the beginning of the season, scored 5 goals and drastically improved his overall game to the point that he got a call from the USMNT.
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Pablo Mastroeni (Colorado Rapids) had his first good MLS season in a long time. For a while now, it had seemed as if he would just coast through his games, not really caring about winning. The addition of Jeff Larentowicz to the midfield seems to have changed all of this as Pablo has actually shown up to play in one of the best central midfields in the league.
 
Juninho (LA Galaxy) was the most underrated part of the Supporter’s Shield winners this year. Without him in the lineup, the Galaxy often seem lost and unable to build up consistent attacks. Juninho didn’t score or set up a lot of goals this year, but for my money he was the best linking player in MLS this year. As good as the Galaxy’s defense and offense was, in the midfield they usually had a bunch of aging veteran role players. Juninho was the guy who put the team on his back and did work both offensively and defensively.
 
Eddie Gaven (Columbus Crew), although his Goals Against Average this year is a Dario Sala-esque 10.00 by my count, he still makes my Third Team. The Eight Year Veteran (who is still apparently just 24?!?!?!?!?!?!) contributed 3 goals and 5 assists while providing consistent work defensively for the hard working Crew team. Gaven wasn’t the most spectacular, but in the mold of a young Brian Mullen, you could always count on him to get the job done and give you 110% every game.
 
Todd Dunnivant (LA Galaxy) is simply an average left back in a league with a lot of terrible left backs. Dunnivant had some good and bad moments, but he is just a role player.
 
Andy Iro (Columbus Crew) was on the team that allowed the second most goals (34) among playoff teams. The reason why he is on this list is not because of that amount though. I blame the Crew’s defensive problems on the rapid decline of Frankie Hejduk and the injury to Gino Padula. Iro had a breakout season partnering the always good Chad Marshall, and even chipped in 3 goals. In order for the Crew to win games, they need to get goals from their role players because they don’t have a traditional scorer and Iro helped this cause greatly.
 
Chad Marshall (Columbus Crew) pretty much did the same types of things as Iro, but was a little bit better in every way.
 
Kevin Alston (New England Revolution) is the only member of a non-playoff team that made any of my Best XI teams. It should be noted that there aren’t a lot of great outside backs in the league, but Alston is one of the exceptions. Fast and athletic, Alston was also good in contributing to the attack and was one of the few bright spots of the Revolution season.
 
Matt Pickens (Colorado Rapids) was one of the reasons why the Rapid’s patchwork defense (that is made up of four outside backs) actually worked this year. Although the Rapids allowed 32 goals, Pickens was excellent (aside from the last game of the season).
 

Best XI Second Team
 
Cummings   Montero
 
Zakuani   Larentowicz   Alonso   Richards
 
Benitez   Ream   Borchers   Pearce
 
Rimando

 
Omar Cummings (Colorado Rapids) is the reason why Conor Casey scores goals. Cummings is arguably the most dangerous player in the league. He can beat you with either foot or in the air. He finishes well and creates well for others. Cummings is one of the few complete players in the league and for that, he is deservedly on my Second Team.

Fredy Montero (Seattle Sounders FC) was not only one of just seven players to put up double digit assists, but he was only one of two players to put up a 10-10 season (10 goals 10 assists) and the only one to do it for a playoff team. For a few months in the season, Montero put the team entirely on his back and led them to their playoff push, only to cool off in the end.
 
Steve Zakuani (Seattle Sounders FC) was the other big reason why Seattle found success this year. Zakuani, in his sophomore season, was the only midfielder to score 10 goals this year. Zakuani is the best dribbler in MLS, and combining that with great vision, and decent finishing gives you a great player. I wish I had two spots in my First Team for left midfielders because Zakuani had the best season of anyone on the Second Team XI.
 
Jeff Larentowicz (Colorado Rapids) was the player most responsible for turning the Rapids from playoff outsiders to the team everyone is picking to upset a higher seed. Larentowicz combined his usual great ball winning skills with better distribution, and he even scored the odd goal (4), not to mention being the reason for Pablo Mastroeni to actually start trying again. Pretty good deal for just Cory Gibbs.
 
Osvaldo Alonso (Seattle Sounders FC) isn’t a flashy player, but when it comes down to it, he gets the job done better than almost everyone in the league. The Alonso-Sturgis midfield pairing turned the Sounders into one of the hardest teams to breakdown in the league with Alonso being the premier player in that partnership.
 
Dane Richards (New York Red Bulls)Richards finally found himself: all he needed was Thierry Henry. Before Henry arrived, Richards was a speed demon who could trouble defenses, but also made too many mistakes to be taken seriously. After Henry arrived, Richards gained the confidence (and apparently skill) to take players on and score spectacular goals. Richards scored 5 goals over last half of the season, at times putting the Red Bulls on his back; seemingly regaining his 2008 playoff form in which he absolutely trashed Wade Barrett, Chris Wingert, and Gino Padula.
 
Jair Benitez (FC Dallas) was a huge reason for Dallas’ success defensively this year, despite the plethora of injuries. Benitez was great in the attack and rarely got beat the entire season. He is pretty much the definition of solid if unspectacular.

 
Tim Ream (New York Red Bulls) was one of two players to play every minute of every game this season. To do this as a Rookie should pretty much win him the award. For more thoughts on Ream, check here.
 
Nat Borchers (Real Salt Lake) was the third best defender on the best team and defense in the league (which speaks to their depth). Borchers made very few mistakes in helping RSL set the record for fewest goals allowed in a season (20). Borchers also scored clutch goals in consecutive weeks against Colorado and New England in order to keep RSL in the hunt for the Supporter’s Shield.
 
Heath Pearce (FC Dallas) could be the best and only left footed right back in the world. It boggles my mind that Dallas has two left footed outside backs when most teams can’t even find one. Pearce managed to overcome his genetics and have a terrific season defending while still contributing 6 assists to the attack.
 
Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake) has really matured over the years. He used to be just a great shot stopper who lacked size and made mental mistakes. Rimando put it all together finally and led the best defense in league history, not to mention leading the first MLS team to win a CONCACAF Champions’ League group as well.
 

MLS Best XI First Team
 
Buddle   Wondolowski
 
Lindpere   Beckerman   Morales   Donovan
 
Wingert   Olave   Gonzalez   Franklin
 
Hartman

 
Edson Buddle (LA Galaxy) scored 17 goals in 25 games. I’m not really sure what else to put here. This just seems (and is) a no-brainer.
 
Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes) see top of article.
 
Joel Lindpere (New York Red Bulls) was the best player for the Red Bulls this season, and my vote for newcomer of the year (if I had one). Lindpere provided 3 goals and 6 assists including the first ever goal in Red Bull Arena. This guy just did everything this season though. He scored and set up goals, he provided great linking play, he had a great defensive work rate, and he filled in at central midfield when needed.
 
Kyle Beckerman and Javier Morales (Real Salt Lake) get to be mentioned together because they play so well together. RSL’s starting central midfield for the last three years is by far the best pairing in the league. Although they can both defend and attack, they are so complimentary that they let each other focus on their specialty. Beckerman is a great defensive midfielder and linking player. Morales is a great offensive midfielder and also a great linking player. Together they were the co-quarterbacks for the best passing team in the league (and possibly league history). Consider that as a central midfielder Morales had a 9-9 season. There have certainly been better seasons then that, but when your attacking midfielder has a season that good and you play with two true forwards, then you are likely compromising your defensive responsibilities by pushing up too often. Not here. Not RSL. They allowed just 20 goals and the defense shouldn’t be the only ones to get credit for it. This is the best and most important partnership in MLS and they deserved to be mentioned together because of that.6a00e54ef2975b883301157115b59c970c-500wi
 
Landon Donovan (LA Galaxy) was his usual amazing self. When on form he is one of the best players in the league, if not the best, and he was on form this year. In just 24 games, Donovan provided 7 goals and a career high and MLS best 16 assists. If you are reading this blog then you don’t need any more convincing that he deserves this spot.
 
Chris Wingert (Real Salt Lake) was the second best defender on the best defense in the league. Wingert didn’t have a great season attacking, but since he is not needed to, I don’t hold it against him. RSL keep their outside backs home most of the time because of how much their midfielders push up, so when tasked with it Wingert defended and defended well. Wingert doesn’t really get beat, nor does he make mistakes and that is why he is the Best XI First Team left back.
 
Jamison Olave (Real Salt Lake) was the best defender on the best defense in the league and is my 2010 Defender of the Year. Olave is a physical beast who is also great with the ball at his feet. The difference between this year and last year is that he cut most of the mental mistakes out of his game and became a much smarter player. Olave also chipped in with 3 goals, a great amount for a defender.
 
Omar Gonzalez (LA Galaxy) improved on his rookie season and parlayed his strong play into a USMNT call up. Gonzalez still needs to cut down on his fouls and yellow cards, but he has all the physical tools to succeed and he did just that. The Galaxy allowed just 26 goals, a lot of which had to do with Gonzalez.
 
Sean Franklin (LA Galaxy) built on his promise and became the best attacking and defending outside back in the league. His ability to hit crosses was amazing this year and was reflected in his 6 assists on the season. Franklin is hard to beat one on one and hard to track up the field because he runs all game. He and Donovan form the best right side pairing in the entire league.
 
Kevin Hartman (FC Dallas) only played in 19.5 games before getting hurt, but he was THAT good that he is still my Goalkeeper of the Year. All you need to know is that in the 20 games in which Hartman played, Dallas allowed 12 goals and lost just 1 game. In the 10 games that Dario Sala played, Dallas allowed 16 goals and lost 3 games. Essentially, without him, they were average, but with him, they were impeccable.
 
Lastly, I would like to ACTUALLY preview the playoffs. To do this, I am going to do power rankings for each team starting at the bottom (IE the number 8 team would be the least likely to win MLS Cup in my opinion, while the number 1 team would be the most likely).
 
8. San Jose Earthquakes: Being the lowest seed is always tough, as SJ will welcome Henry, Angel, and Marquez to Buck Shaw this Saturday. San Jose probably has the worst actual team among playoff teams, but in the playoffs it can all come down to individual performances. San Jose could still win if their attacking trio of Wondolowski, Convey, and Geovanni does work, but I think this team is more just happy to be in the playoffs at all given their quality.
 
7. Columbus Crew: Losing your top keeper in the last 10 minutes of the last game of the season in a meaningless game has to hurt. Slumping in the last month of the season also has to hurt. Playing a team on a major hot streak probably hurts the most. That is why the Crew are going to get upset this series by the Rapids and go home early for the second straight year.
 
6. FC Dallas: Dallas are slumping and are winless in their last three games in addition to being just .500 in their last five. They are still one of the hardest teams to beat in MLS, but Dario Sala sure makes it easier. Dallas will probably lose to RSL, but they definitely will if Hartman doesn’t play.
 
5. Colorado Rapids: The Rapids have lost just once in their last five games, but that isn’t why they are so dangerous. Both Conor Casey and Omar Cummings are on form right now. It only takes one hot striker to win a playoff series, but Colorado has two. Adding the experience of Brian Mullen also helps.

 
4. New York Red Bulls: Despite being the top seed in the east, the Red Bulls are very beatable. They have won three of their last five, but I just don’t know if they can do it given the form of their forwards. This being said, they have the easiest path to MLS Cup, being in the same bracket as the San Jose and Colorado who picked up just 46 points each, and Columbus who are in the middle of a major slump. If they don’t make it to the Cup, they should be majorly disappointed, but they likely lose to the west seed no matter what which is why they are so low.
 
3. LA Galaxy: I know, I’m crazy putting the Galaxy all the way at third, but their schedule is so hard that it has to be this way. Opening up in Seattle is the hardest opening game anyone will play this round. Although they won the Supporter’s Shield, they have been only a mediocre team in the second half of the season. They soundly beat Seattle in both games this season, but they also lost four games at home, which doesn’t exactly strike confidence in anyone.
 
2. Seattle Sounders FC: Seattle lost their last game, but they didn’t really have anything to play for which makes it understandable. Seattle has won four of their last five games to finish off the season stronger than anyone else. With Steve Zakuani, Blaise Nkufo, Fredy Montero, and an emerging Sanna Nyassi, the Sounders have too many in form attacking weapons to be denied by LA’s sturdy defense.
 
1. Real Salt Lake: If you have been following this blog in any way shape or form, then you know that I have a major boner for this RSL team. They are just too good and too hard to beat for them to lose, especially in the first round. This team is an improvement on the team that grinded out results last year in the playoffs and won on any way possible. They do have a tough opening game in Dallas (assuming Kevin Hartman plays), but if any team can do it, its RSL. They are my favorite to win MLS Cup again.
 
Picks:

Colorado 2 Columbus 0
FC Dallas 0 Real Salt Lake 1
San Jose 1 New York 2

LA Galaxy 0 Seattle Sounders FC 1

 
Thanks for reading, join me next week for a playoff round 1 recap.

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