Armchair Analyst: "Cubo," Obafemi Martins, Jermain Defoe make my Midseason Awards, Best XI
We're just past the midway point of the MLS regular season, which means now is a good time to take stock of what we've been looking at over the last couple of months – and try to figure out the shape of the year to come.
Here, in the words of Andrew Wiebe (watch the video above), is some premature silverware:
Midseason MVP: Erick "Cubo" Torres
Cubo has seven goals against teams in playoff spots, which is the same number as Dom Dwyer and Bradley Wright-Phillips combined. That number bumps up to nine against playoff teams if Vancouver climb back above the thin red line.
He's been incredibly consistent, scoring his 14 goals across 14 games. He's been clutch, as he's tied for second in the league with four game-winning goals. He's been clinical, going 5-for-5 from the penalty spot. And he's improved greatly at both showing for the ball in possession, and then holding it up. It's still not his strong suit, but a willingness to work on weaknesses is how good players become great.
Runners-up: Dwyer, Obafemi Martins
Full-season Prediction: Martins
I picked Oba at the start of the season, and I'm sticking with him. When he and Clint Dempsey are playing together Seattle have been undefendable, and of the two, it's Martins who's played the bigger role.
Midseason Defender of the Year: Bobby Boswell
Boswell's dominance for D.C. United has been overlooked for one reason or another, but we've got to give him a nod here. United are third in the league in goals against average, and the 31-year-old former Defender of the Year (he won it in 2006) is probably the biggest reason why.
Since he's playing for an entirely rebuilt backline, with a young d-mid ahead of him and a young 'keeper behind him, he's curtailed his propensity for adventurousness and put team shape first, last and always. On the flip side, it's easy to see just how much Boswell's old team – the Dynamo – miss him, and are struggling without that kind of savvy leadership.
Full-season Prediction: Marshall
Like Boswell, Marshall is a former Defender of the Year (he won it in 2008 and '09). Unlike Boswell, everybody is noticing how great he's been for the Sounders, who are running away with the Supporters' Shield.
Midseason Midfielder of the Year: Benny Feilhaber
Why isn't there a "Midfielder of the Year" award? Also, why don't we consider d-mids for "Defender of the Year"? These things keep me up at night.
Anyway, Feilhaber wins my vote for the inaugural "Midfielder of the Year" nod. While he can still commit the occasional careless turnover, that's just about the only blight on his game. He's one of the league's elite chance generators, is the best tempo-setter in MLS, and he's even started chipping in with the occasional goal (cut to Columbus fans nodding sadly).
The best part, though, is how relentless Feilhaber has become defensively. It's not just tracking back – which he'll do from minutes 1 through 90; it's the way he's constantly in the right spot to help his teammates. It's gotten to the point that Peter Vermes was even willing to play his No. 10 as a d-mid for a few games after Uri Rosell was sold.
Full-season Prediction: Feilhaber
Benny's been playing at this level since last October and there's no reason to think he's going to drop off.
Midseason Goalkeeper of the Year: Nick Rimando
Rimando has never won Goalkeeper of the Year. That is a travesty.
There are other guys who've arguably been as good in the shot-stopping department so far in 2014, but nobody else in MLS comes close to Rimando when it comes to quick and accurate distribution to start the break, and nobody else is as quick and confident off the line as a sweeper-'keeper. Rimando's a soccer player first and foremost, and he changes the way the game is played for RSL.
Full-season Prediction: Rimando
I'll be shocked if he doesn't win.
Midseason Newcomer of the Year: Jermain Defoe
Defoe is still a world-class finisher, and his ability to rifle shot after shot into the roof of the net is uncanny. He's absolutely clinical at going high to the near post, which is a save 'keepers hate to have to make (and often don't).
There's a lot of stuff going right for TFC – stuff that usually hasn't – but the biggest reason the leauge's most historically LOL-tastic franchise is comfortably in the playoff picture is because of Defoe's finishing. They're getting goals from looks that other teams just don't.
Full-season Prediction: Defoe
He's going to score 20 goals, and he's going to make a run at the Golden Boot.
Midseason Rookie of the Year: Harry Shipp
I still think "Harrison" is a bad-ass name, but he wants to be called "Harry," so that's what I'm going to call him.
Shipp is probably the best example of how MLS academies have defied expectations. He is small and athletically unremarkable in the run+jump sense, but his balance and quickness are fantastic – defenders can't keep him in front of them when he's on the ball. He is, in other words, the type of athlete that smart soccer folks appreciate, and it is incredibly encouraging to see him (and many others of a similar type, including Colorado's Dillon Serna, LA's Raul Mendiola, D.C.'s Collin Martin and Philadelphia's Zach Pfeffer) coming through the Academy system.
As good as Shipp's balance and quickness are, his vision is even better. He's hit some of the best passes in the league this year, and – statistically speaking – is on pace for the best rookie season in league history.
Full-season Prediction: Shipp
It will probably be a unanimous vote.
Midseason Coach of the Year: Ben Olsen
Both Olsen and United were miserable last year. It's been a 180-degree turnaround so far in this season.
The most imporant part of Olsen's campaign hasn't been tactical trickery, though he's spiced up what used to look like a run-of-the-mill 4-4-2 with some neat midfield rotations and attacking structures. As good as that's been, the best part for D.C. is how Olsen has developed his young players and made them part of the core. Kitchen and Bill Hamid have been All-Star caliber; Birnbaum stepped right in for the injured Jeff Parke and D.C. haven't missed a beat; Nick Deleon and Luis Silva are rediscovering the form that once had them among the league's most exciting attackers.
United have been able to survive injuries, slumps and another crappy start to the season, and Olsen deserves the credit for all of that.
Runners-up: Sigi Schmid, Oscar Pareja
Full-season Prediction: Olsen
D.C.'s not going away, folks.
Midseason Best XI (4-4-2):
LB: Seth Sinovic – Still the most consistent fullback in the league.
CD: Boswell, Marshall
RB: Sean Franklin – Has locked down the right side defensively while providing an outlet in possession.
M: Alonso – As good as Kitchen and Kyle Beckerman have been, Ozzie's been better.
M: Lee Nguyen – One of the best in the league in chance generation, and has been diligent defensively.
M: Dillon Powers – Controls the game as well as anyone, hits the last pass and has become solid on defense.