Best of 2011: Rosales a welcome hero for Sounders

The editorial staff at MLSsoccer.com is looking back over the year with our Best of 2011 awards, running Dec. 19 through Jan. 2. Each day we'll hand out an award in a variety of categories culled from the storylines of MLS and US international players, including Biggest Controversy, American Export of the Year and, via fan vote, the Moment of the Year.

In the latest installment, new media editor Fidencio Enriquez breaks down the Transaction of the Year, given to the best acquisition or trade of 2011. The votes went to Mauro Rosales, who helped lead the Sounders to the best regular-season record in franchise history and a third consecutive berth in the postseason.

Step one: Pick up an experienced and clever playmaker from Argentina.

Step two: Plug him into your midfield.

Step three: Let him pull the strings.

Step four: Watch the magic unfold and enjoy.

The formula worked to perfection for the Columbus Crew when they brought Guillermo Barros Schelotto to MLS and, this year, the Seattle Sounders tried to emulate that recipe by picking up 30-year-old Mauro Rosales from Argentine giants River Plate.

A club-record 13 assists (good for third in MLS), five goals in league play, an MLS Newcomer of the Year award, a place in the quarterfinals of the CONCACAF Champions League and a US Open Cup later, the Sounders can brag that acquiring Rosales was the best move made by any MLS club in 2011.

Although it took Rosales a few games to get fit, the move paid off nearly from the beginning for the Sounders. Taking over the right wing position – a spot in flux after Freddie Ljungberg’s departure midway through 2010 – Rosales reveled in the role of playmaker, dishing out three assists in his first four starts.

Rosales’ contributions became even more crucial for the club when it lost left winger Steve Zakuani with a season-ending broken leg injury late in April. With one of their biggest offensive weapons off the table, Rosales took on added responsibility and delivered.

Look no further than his effort in a 2-1 comeback win at Kansas City in August. With Seattle down 1-0 in the 90th minute, Rosales received a pass inside the box, got rid of two defenders, and curled it towards the far post. A couple of minutes later, he weaved through the Sporting defense and laid the ball off to Mike Fucito, who in turn found Lamar Neagle. Neagle then bent it past ‘keeper Jimmy Nielsen for the dramatic victory.

It was displays like that that put Rosales in the thick of the MLS MVP discussion, but an injury that forced him to miss much of the final month of the season – including the two legs of Seattle’s Western Conference Semifinals matchup against Real Salt Lake – hurt his bid for the award.

Still, Rosales was such a key factor for the Sounders in 2011 that the club decided to lock up the Argentine with a multi-year deal earlier this month.

“It’s no wonder he has become such a fan favorite,” Sounders general manager Adrian Hanauer said when the Rosales deal was announced. “His love for the game is evident; he plays with passion and joy, with a flair and an acute sense for doing what the game demands. Mauro has helped make us a strong club and … we hope to only grow in strength.”

Hey, if signing him in 2011 yielded such a great performance, why not sign him again and hope to get an equal – or even better – display in 2012 and beyond?

2. Faryd Mondragón to Philadelphia: It was no coincidence that the Philadelphia Union’s defense made a dramatic improvement upon the arrival of the Colombian veteran, who helped lead the club to its first postseason appearance. He finished with seven shutouts, a paltry 1.09 goals-against average and offered stability the Union will lean on heavily in 2012.

3. Dwayne De Rosario to D.C. United – No, D.C. didn’t make the postseason, even with DeRo surging to the first MVP of his already storied career. But the move to land a bona fide superstar brought some hope back to the league’s most storied franchise, and whether or not he can lead United back to the promise land will be one of the stories to watch next year.

WATCH: Mauro Rosales wins Transaction of the Year