MLS presents Best XI on eve of Cup
The San Jose Earthquakes and the New England Revolution, the league's top two teams during the regular season, each feature three players in the RadioShack Best XI, which was announced Saturday night at the league's annual Major League Soccer Gala Awards event.
The Earthquakes completed the second-best regular season in MLS history this year, and a major part of their success was their stout defense, which allowed just 31 goals and was the only team in the league to allow less than a goal a game. Two members of that defensive unit -- goalkeeper Pat Onstad and center back Danny Califf -- were voted to the Best XI.
Onstad, the league's Goalkeeper of the Year, wins his second Best XI nod. He also won both the goalkeeper honor and a Best XI spot in 2003. The 37-year-old shot-stopper posted league-bests in wins (18), shutouts (12), goals against average (0.97) and save percentage (77.2 percent). His win, shutout and goals against marks are also club records.
Califf had a slow start to the season due to injury, but after solidifying his spot in the lineup a couple of months into the year, he helped shut down opposing attackers. In fact, it can be argued that Califf's presence is one of the primary reasons the Quakes allowed just 20 goals in their 27 games after April. In addition to being a tough-nosed defender, Califf showed an ability to get forward and be a force on set pieces, scoring twice this year for his first goals since 2002. This is his first Best XI selection.
"As much as I'd love to take credit for how well we did at the end, then that would also make me take credit for how poorly we did at the beginning. I like to kind of sit in between, you know," Onstad said. "I was pretty pleased this year; there's still a half-dozen to eight goals I'd like back, but if you can do that over the course of 32 games, that's not too bad."
Joining his Earthquakes teammates on this year's Best XI is midfielder Dwayne De Rosario, also a first-time selection. A finalist for the Honda MVP award, De Rosario had a breakout season in 2005 after shifting from his traditional spot as a striker to an attacking midfield role. De Rosario led the league in assists with 13 and was also the Quakes' leader in goals with nine. One of his goals -- a free kick blast in the final week of the season -- was voted by fans as the Sierra Mist Goal of the Year.
The Revolution's Best XI contingent is led by Honda MVP Taylor Twellman, who earns his second Best XI nod. The striker won the Budweiser Golden Boot as the league's top scorer by putting home 17 goals, six of which were game-winning goals. Twellman was the heart of a team that consistently won games with goals in final five minutes of games, and he'll go for a clean sweep of the league's top trophies when he and the Revs face the Los Angeles Galaxy in MLS Cup 2005 on Sunday at Pizza Hut Park in Frisco, Texas.
Also representing the Revs in the Best XI are midfielders Shalrie Joseph and Clint Dempsey, both receiving their inaugural Best XI honor. Joseph is widely regarded as the best defensive midfielder in the league, an imposing physical presence with remarkable passing ability, to boot. His penchant for getting involved in the attack, as well, led him to post a career-high six goals to go along with five assists.
Dempsey started off the year on fire and was an early candidate for the MVP award after scoring five goals in the season's first six games. While he wasn't able to maintain that pace, he did finish with 10 goals on the year and tallied a team-high nine assists with his all-out attacking style.
Alongside Califf as defenders are first-time honoree Chris Albright of the MLS Cup finalist Los Angeles Galaxy and MLS Defender of the Year Jimmy Conrad of the Kansas City Wizards, who was also on last year's Best XI. Albright, a converted forward, combines tenacious defense with his natural instinct to attack, serving as one of the Galaxy's most consistent defenders and a threat along the right side. He finished the season with a goal and two assists.
Conrad didn't have the type of season in terms of team success that he would have liked, but he was his usual self in the middle of the Wizards defense. As a unit, the Wizards allowed an uncharacteristically high 44 goals this season, but Conrad's strong play was enough to earn him his first U.S. national team call-ups, in addition to a piece of hardware as the league's top defender. Conrad was a regular as the Stars and Stripes battled their way to the crown in the CONCACAF Gold Cup in July, after which he won a handful of World Cup qualifying calls.
Joining Dempsey, De Rosario and Joseph in the midfield are FC Dallas' Ronnie O'Brien and D.C. United's Christian Gomez. O'Brien served as the Hoops' motor this season, notching six goals and a club- and career-high 12 assists. O'Brien's pace and pinpoint service helped the Hoops qualify for the MLS Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2002 and earned him his second consecutive Best XI nod.
"It's always nice. For an award that's voted on by your peers, it's one of the best honors you can get," O'Brien said. "It's a good achievement, but obviously we didn't do that well this year. We'd much rather be playing tomorrow and leave that award for someone else. But we'll take what we can get at the moment."
Just as O'Brien was the creative force behind FC Dallas, first-time honoree Gomez was the engine for United. From his attacking midfield position, Gomez was a constant threat to opposing defenses, picking them apart for 11 goals and nine assists. Like past great playmakers, Gomez's ability made the players around him more successful.
Jaime Moreno, Gomez's attacking partner in Washington, rounds out the Best XI as the second forward. Moreno equaled his career high with 16 goals, but came up just short of Twellman in the Golden Boot race. During the year, Moreno, now a four-time Best XI selection, passed Roy Lassiter to move into second place on the league's all-time scoring list. He finished the season with 94 career goals.
Jason Halpin is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.