2012 MLS Regular Season Report Cards, Awards
By Jeremiah Paschke-Wood | Only Love Soccer
MVP: Chris Wondolowski, San Jose. Along with tying Roy Lassiter’s league record with 27 goals, Wondo handed out a healthy number of assists and spurred the best team (and highest-scoring one) in the league. Now can they do it in the playoffs?
Rookie of the Year: Darren Mattocks, Vancouver. He’ll likely not receive the award from the MLS, but Mattocks looked a cut above other rookies (and most MLS forwards in general) during an impressive midseason scoring streak. Ill discipline and the odd injury have seen him taper off a bit in the latter stages, but he still deserves the award.
Manager of the Year: Frank Yallop, San Jose. Many thought Yallop should’ve been fired after a poor 2011 season, but the Quakes were not only the best, but the most exciting team in the MLS this season. Winning an MLS Cup will be sweet for Yallop, particularly if it comes at the expense of former employers LA.
San Jose Earthquakes. The Quakes (and manager Frank Yallop) earned a bit of vindication after a poor 2011 season by rollicking to the Supporter’s Shield. They will hope to avoid the curse that befalls many of the No. 1 seeds in the playoffs of getting knocked out early.
Bright spot: Chris Wondolowski, obviously. Moving forward: It will be hard to match the success of this season, whether or not the Quakes win the MLS Cup, but a bit more cover in defense is probably the only spot that really needs work at this point.
Sporting Kansas City. Probably the league’s most organized, dominant in possession team, Sporting nonetheless were one of the lowest-scoring to make the playoffs. I guess a 1-0 win is still a win, right? After last season’s Eastern Conference finals appearance, the next step is expected.
Bright spot: Jimmie Nielsen, goalkeeper. Moving forward: With a Champions League berth already earned thanks to their Open Cup win, KC will probably need to make sure the current squad is up for the challenge of playing on three fronts. A more conventional winger might help with goalscoring.
DC United. Somehow, despite losing Dwayne DeRosario to injury at midseason, United went on an improbable and often fortuitous run to second in the East. They’re still probably not considered one of the elite teams in the MLS, though.
Bright spot: Chris Pontius, forward. Moving forward: With a young, hungry team, only some tweaking will be needed in the offseason, though removing the logjam at forward (De Rosario, Hamdi Salihi, Pontius, Josh Wolff, Lionard Pajoy, Maicon Santos, Long Tan) is needed.
Real Salt Lake. It says a lot how expectations have been raised in Utah that a season that sees RSL finish second in the West and make the Champions League group stage again can be seen as a disappointment, but yeah, it was a bit of a disappointing year for RSL. Not as tight defensively (due mostly to injury); unable to score without Alvaro Saborio. Plus, Kyle Beckerman seemed worryingly undisciplined at times.
Bright spot: Saborio. Moving forward: Javier Morales is paid a lot and getting old. Scouting out a replacement for him – perhaps from the current squad – might be a good idea. With all the injuries to the defense, you wonder if another defender is needed.
Seattle Sounders. As seems to happen, often, the Sounders endured a ho-hum start to the season before rallying and challenging for first in the west, then eventually petering out to third. Nonetheless, the Sounders are a legitimate title contender.
Bright spot: Osvaldo Alonso, midfield. Moving forward: Questions over whether Fredy Montero will head to Europe are inevitable. It feels increasingly likely. He will need to be replaced, if so. Otherwise, not a lot needs to be done with this squad.
New York Red Bulls. A much more coherent squad than last season and slightly better defense has the Red Bulls feeling good about possibly making a run to the MLS Cup. The question is, is the talent of Thierry Henry and co. enough to overcome the much better organized favorites like Kansas City, RSL and LA?
Bright spot: Henry. Moving forward: Rumor has it that manager Hans Backe will be dismissed in the offseason. If so, don’t be surprised if a big name comes in to replace him. Rafa Marquez is rumored to leave every offseason. Could this be the one where it finally happens?
Chicago Fire. The Fire briefly flirted with top spot in the East, but closed out the season with a bit of a whimper. It’s clear that their ability to score goals is almost completely reliant on the play of Chris Rolfe.
Bright spot: Rolfe. Moving forward: Keeping the team intact, with the exception of maybe Dominic Oduro, would be nice. Also, adding a capable midfielder to slowly take over for the ancient Pavel Pardo would be good. Oh, and a fullback that could move Dan Gargan to the bench.
Houston Dynamo. Impressive home form has battled with horrendous away performances, with home form being just enough to get them into the playoffs. Whether they can battle to the championship game again is debatable.
Bright spot: As always, Brad Davis, though Will Bruin and Oscar Boniek Garcia had their moments. Moving forward: Not too many changes needed, though replacements for the departed Geoff Cameron and retiring Brian Ching are probably a good idea.
LA Galaxy. A disjointed, sloppy start to the season soon gave way tot he expected run to the playoffs. As returning champs, the Galaxy will be favorites, but it wasn’t always easy going.
Bright spot: Robbie Keane, forward. Moving forward: Anything less than a spot in the MLS Cup championship match would be a disappointment, though the Galaxy are in the Champions League. In terms of personnel, Edson Buddle has been a terrible disappointment, and Landon Donovan seems either bored or ready to retire, How these play out could affect who is brought in.
Columbus Crew. The Crew were probably one of the best teams ever to not make the playoffs in the MLS. Unfortunately, a slow start to the season and a rash of injuries and the death of Kirk Urso proved to be too much for the team to overcome.
Bright spot: Eddie Gaven, midfielder. Moving forward: Getting rid of players that bring little to the table but cost a lot, like Olman Vargas and Emilio Renteria would be a plus. Did Andy Greunebaum impress enough in goal to make Will Hesmer expendable? Having Federico Higuain, Chad Marshall, Jairo Arrieta and Milovan Mirosevic healthy and around all season could make the Crew a contender for first in the East next year.
Vancouver Whitecaps. The Whitecaps could end up winning the MLS Cup, but they are certainly the worst regular season team in the playoffs this year. A solid defense could hardly make up for an offense that manager Martin Rennie seemed intent on rendering totally useless through trades and roster additions.
Bright spot: Jay DeMerit, defender. Moving forward: A long playoff run would be nice, though unlikely. Having Darren Mattocks in the team all year would be nice – as would having Omar Salgado healthy. Debatable whether the two DP’s – Barry Robson and Kenny Miller have done enough to justify their high salaries.
Montreal Impact. Despite looking extremely weak in defense to start the season, the Impact rallied and nearly made the playoffs. Coach Jessie Marsch has a tough job on his hands next season raising the game of an aging team next season, though.
Bright spot: Patrice Bernier, midfield. Moving forward: Marsch must bring in some young players to rest the weary legs of aging vets like Alessandro Nesta and Marco Di Viao. Getting a full season out of Nelson Rivas would be good. As would be getting rid of Justin Mapp and the wasteful Davy Arnaud.
FC Dallas. Blas Perez’s injury left the team with no focal point for attacks, and the midseason return of David Feriera wasn’t enough to spark them enough to make the playoffs. In truth, poor decision-making and a propensity for ill-timed sendings-off killed the team’s playoff prospects long before.
Bright spot: Perez. Moving forward: Barring a dramatic player departure, this Dallas squad should be back in the playoffs next year. Signing another forward is probably a good idea. Will Brek Shea depart for Europe?
Philadelphia Union. The Piotr Nowak era ended in a flurry of misguided trades that saw virtually all the players who took the team to the playoffs in the previous season playing for other teams. Predictably, the Union struggled.
Bright spot: The defense, led by Carlos Valdes. Moving forward: A little more firepower is needed. There are big questions over the status of Freddy Adu, who played seldom to end the season, but wasn’t overly impressive when he did play. The team is solid at goal and defense.
Colorado Rapids. The Rapids attempted to completely change their style of play under Oscar Pareja, with what could only optimistically be called “mixed” results. There has to be some question about whether Pareja stays on after the season they had, but is there a better option out there?
Bright spot: Martin Rivero, midfielder. Moving forward: The sooner the Conor Casey/Omar Cummings partnership ends, the better. The Rapids have a lot of good, young talent to work with. A premium must be put on keeping on-loan Rivero at the club, who looks like he could become one of the league’s best young players.
Portland Timbers. Whether or not you’re a fan of coach John Spencer, his chopping and changing of the lineup was a disaster in the Timbers’ second season. As was the signing of DP forward Kris Boyd.
Bright spot: Darlington Nagbe, attacking midfielder. Moving forward: New coach Caleb Porter brings a winning pedigree from college soccer. Boyd is almost certainly headed back to Europe. A replacement for Jack Jewsbury and/or Diego Chara wouldn’t be a bad idea, nor would a new central defender. The fan support continues to be great.
New England Revolution. At one point in the season, the Revs were 6-8-3 and fully in range of a playoff spot. They then went winless in 10 – all the losses by one goal – and finished well out of the playoff race.
Bright Spot: Saer Sene, forward. Moving forward: The Revs couldn’t hold onto a lead to save their lives this season thanks to a porous defense, but have lots of options in attack. Is Benny Feilhaber the answer in midfield, particularly on his salary?
Chivas USA. Despite having a reasonably promising squad of young players mixed with a few legitimate stars (Juan Pablo Angel, Juan Agudelo), Chivas are the lowest scoring team in the league and the worst home team.
Bright spot: Dan Kennedy, goalkeeper. Moving forward: Robin Fraser is likely out as coach. In fairness, the squad doesn’t need a lot of work – a class midfielder would be nice, as would a poacher who is younger than Angel.
Toronto FC. The worst start ever to a season is followed by the departure of the Dutch manager Aron Winters and eventually a 14-match winless streak to end the season.
Bright Spot: Fan support. Moving forward: Toronto fans seem unimpressed by current coach Paul Warriner, but it’s debatable whether another coaching change is the answer. Expect lots of new players and the token Colombian.