Most Overlooked: Golden Boot winner, Colorado Rapids boss headline shortlist of MLS Awards snubs
On Wednesday, Major League Soccer released its shortlists for this season's year-end awards. Veteran league observers will tell you that this can be a controversial process and while this year's finalists are as deserving a group as any, there are nonetheless some notable absentees.
In the spirit of the official shortlists, we're going to post our top 2013 awards snubs in the form of a three-member grouping. Unlike the actual finalists, we're also going to rank them by order of degree, and offer up some other worthy contenders who didn't make the cut.
Award Snubs Shortlist
1) Oscar Pareja, Coach of the Year
With all due respect to the worthy trio of Jason Kreis, Mike Petke and Caleb Porter, none of them faced a greater task than Pareja did in Colorado this season, even if all three have taken their teams a step or two further into the postseason.
The Colombian initiated a sweeping overhaul on multiple levels when he took the Rapids job – his first head-coaching post – in January 2012. Transitioning from the British-accented tactical directness of the Gary Smith era (which, mind you, had brought the club an MLS Cup trophy in 2010) in favor of a more intricate, possession-weighted approach, Pareja pulled the trigger on a serious youth movement to boot.
The Mile High Club limped to a 11-19-5 record (good for 37 points, six out from the final playoff spot) in a transitional 2012 campaign. But Pareja didn't compromise – he doubled down.
Parting with established MLS veterans Conor Casey, Omar Cummings and Jeff Larentowicz, the Rapids utilized a value-oriented South American talent pipeline and scooped up a motley assortment of promising prospects overlooked by others. Two first-round SuperDraft picks were spent on Deshorn Brown – seen as a one-dimensional speed merchant in some quarters – and Dillon Powers, a college standout widely perceived as lacking the necessary athleticism to mix it up in MLS midfields.
(You may have noticed that both are now Rookie of the Year nominees.)
Pareja's original plan was soon shredded by an injury epidemic of truly amazing proportions, however. In January newly-acquired striker Edson Buddle injured his knee while with the US national team. Playmaker Martín Rivero broke his foot in a preseason game in a freak incident with no other players near him.
Talismanic goalkeeper Matt Pickens' arm was broken in the third game of the season. Jaime Castrillón, leading scorer in 2012, hurt his knee, as did Chilean winger Kevin Harbottle and highly touted Ecuadorian defender Diego Calderón. Captain and club icon Pablo Mastroeni remained hampered by post-concussion troubles and nagging minor knocks. And the list went on.
So Pareja, who previously helped build the FC Dallas Academy system into one of the league's best, had to trust his unproven backups – and they responded with an eight-game unbeaten tear in April and May. Powers, Brown & Co. took to his buzzing 4-3-3 system with aplomb, earning the “Rapkids” nickname that soon had Colorado's suddenly resurgent fanbase bursting with pride.
By midseason, there was lively competition for playing time amidst a playoff hunt that was bolstered by a few smart acquisitions like the club's first-ever Designated Player, Gabriel Torres. By the time the Rapids' “statement game” arrived in a 5-1 thumping of the flashy Seattle Sounders on Oct. 5, the way forward was clear to see, and even an abbreviated postseason run can't dim the bright future on display in Commerce City.
2) Camilo, Volkswagen Most Valuable Player
How on earth did the Golden Boot-winning Whitecap get left out?
Initially expected to be a playmaker for Vancouver, the diminutive, dynamic Brazilian scored 22 times in league play in 2013, many – perhaps most – of the spectacular variety, including that unforgettable side volley on Oct. 6 which will surely finish at or near the top of the MLS Goal of the Year race.
He clinched his scoring title with a final-day hat-trick against Colorado, though his six assists would've edged him past Mike Magee and Marco Di Vaio even if they'd finished level on goals, and is one of only a few Whitecaps who can honestly say he did everything in his power to push the underachieving side into the postseason.
Even when taking into account the quirky early-MLS trait of awarding a “Scoring Champion Award” (which included assists as well as goals) instead of a golden boot until 2005, it's almost unprecedented to see the league's top scorer not make the MVP shortlist.
The only top scorer (be that the top point-getter or merely the top goal-finisher) in league history to be slighted in this fashion was Stern John, the Trinidadian who led MLS in both goals (26) and total points (57) in 1998, but saw winner Marco Etcheverry and finalists Cobi Jones and Peter Nowak pass him by in the MVP reckoning.
3) Jámison Olave, Defender of the Year
Let's be honest, plenty of us thought the big Colombian's best days were behind him when Real Salt Lake, feeling the pinch of the salary cap, shipped him east to New York last December.
RSL's staff have long shown a savvy eye on these sorts of decisions and Olave was on the wrong side of 30 in a position that can harshly expose those who lose a step. But the hulking center back turned out to be the missing link in a Red Bulls defense which anchored an historic run to the Supporters' Shield, ending nearly two decades' worth of trophy-less frustration in the Tri-State area.
Olave's commanding, calming presence ideally complemented the skills sets of colleagues Markus Holgersson and Ibrahim Sekagya, and there was little to no ebb in the rugged physicality that had made his last name a beloved verb in Salt Lake. His veteran leadership surely did no harm, either, as the previously-dysfunctional Red Bulls finally showed a chemistry that added up to more than the sum of their parts.
Add in the bonus of his four goals scored, and you have an emphatic case for a second career MLS DotY honor that went ignored by voters.
Honorable mention snubs
Tim Cahill, MVP
Javier Morales, MVP
Andrew Farrell, Rookie of the Year
Aurélien Collin, Defender of the Year
Rodney Wallace, Comeback Player of the Year
Jaime Penedo, Newcomer of the Year