The three candidates for both Defender of the Year and Comeback Player of the Year were announced Monday by Major League Soccer. Nominated for the defensive award are Jimmy Conrad of the Kansas City Wizards, the Columbus Crew's Robin Fraser and the MetroStars' Eddie Pope, while the comeback nominees are San Jose Earthquakes striker Brian Ching, D.C. United's Jaime Moreno and the Dallas Burn's Ronnie O'Brien. The winners will be revealed in the days before the MLS season wraps up with MLS Cup 2004 at The Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif.
Leading the Defender of the Year candidates is Conrad, who was a huge part of the Wizards formidable back line. He appeared and started in all but one of Kansas City's 30 regular season matches, helping make the Wizards' defense one of the stingiest in the league. An MLS All-Star starter in his sixth year in MLS, Conrad was a consistent force in Kansas City's defense, using impeccable timing, smart positioning and good ball skills to quell many opposing attacks.
Veteran Robin Fraser captained Columbus to the best regular season record in MLS, capturing the Crew their first-ever Supporters' Shield in the process. The 37-year-old MLS original started and appeared in 28 games for Columbus. His leadership and organizational skills helped the Crew set an MLS-record unbeaten streak, as the club completed their final 18 games of the season without suffering a loss.
Eddie Pope, a constant fixture on the U.S. national team, is another MLS original still going strong. He wore the captain's armband for the MetroStars for the second consecutive season, aiding in their third-place finish in the Eastern Conference. He missed eight matches during the regular season due to injuries and national team call-ups, and his presence was greatly missed while away.
Moreno picked up his second award nomination with his Comeback Player of the Year nod, having also been short-listed for the league's Most Valuable Player honor. The former Bolivian international returned to D.C. United in 2004 after an injury-plagued 2003 season with the MetroStars. He was limited to only 11 appearances a year ago as he was plagued by a severe back injury, but his return to the nation's capital seemed to spark a revival in his form, as he finished tied for second on the league's Budweiser Scoring leaders chart with 28 points. His 14 assists was tops in the league and he also led United in scoring.
Dallas Burn midfielder Ronnie O'Brien had his best season in MLS after missing most of 2003 with a broken leg. The Irish winger recorded 14 points on two goals and 10 assists, good enough for second in scoring for the Burn (tied with Toni Nhleko). After being sidelined for 24 matches last season following a gruesome injury, O'Brien played in 29 of the Burn's 30 matches this season, all as a starter. His energetic runs up and down the flank caused problems for defenses around the league.
Ching, a striker for the San Jose Earthquakes, rounds out the Comeback Player nominees. The Hawaii native netted 12 goals this season, tied for tops in the league, and added four assists to finish the 2004 campaign with 28 points to tie Moreno for the No. 2 spot on the Budweiser Scoring Leaders table. He missed much of 2003 after rupturing his right Achilles tendon, but regained his scoring touch in 2004, partnering with Landon Donovan to form one of the most dangerous attacking tandems in MLS. His fine form even caught the eye of Arena, and he didn't disappoint on the international stage, scoring a pair of important goals for the U.S. in World Cup qualifying.
Jonathan Nierman is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.