Major League Soccer announced the final set of nominees for its end-of-year awards Monday, revealing the candidates for Coach of the Year, the MLS Fair Play Award and U.S. Soccer Foundation Humanitarian of the Year.
Two of the three nominees for Coach of the Year will go head-to-head in Sunday's MLS Cup Final at The Home Depot Center. Bob Gansler, the head coach of the Kansas City Wizards, guided his team to the best record in the Western Conference despite a spate of serious injuries. Both Preki, the 2003 MLS MVP, and Chris Klein, an early candidate for MVP this season, had their 2004 campaign cut short due to injury, while striker Igor Simutenkov and goalkeeper Tony Meola also missed significant time. The Wizards had the best defense statistically in MLS this season and are now on the verge of capturing their second trophy this year, having already won the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.
Peter Nowak, the head coach of MLS Cup finalist D.C. United, has led his club to within one game of a championship in just his first season at the helm. After an up-and-down start to the campaign, United surged in the second half of the season, winning five of their last six regular season games to finish the year in second place in the Eastern Conference. Nowak has overseen the resurgence of forward Jaime Moreno, the breakout year of Alecko Eskandarian and the steady growth of teenage phenom Freddy Adu while turning United into an attacking power that finished second in MLS in goals scored.
The third candidate for Coach of the Year, Greg Andrulis, might not have his team playing for MLS Cup on Sunday, but he is certainly deserving of the nomination. After losing their first three games of the season, the Crew went on to win the Supporters Shield by posting the best record in the league, ending the season with an MLS-record 18-game unbeaten streak. During the course of the season, Andrulis's club developed a dominating defense and a knack for maintaining possession, attributes that made them an opponent to be feared and respected.
The finalists for the MLS Fair Play Award all displayed patience and poise this season. The Colorado Rapids' Ritchie Kotschau proved to be a vital cog in the Rapids defense, twice clearing what seemed like sure goals off the line and providing strong defense throughout the year. At the same time, Kotschau avoided falling into the trap of excessive physical play, committing just 30 fouls on the year and going the entire season without earning a caution.
Chicago Fire midfielder Justin Mapp posted similar stats, committing only 19 fouls in 24 games played without earning a single caution. Mapp also had an impressive campaign on the attacking end before missing the final weeks of the season through injury, notching three goals and four assists for 10 points to help ease the loss of DaMarcus Beasley.
The third finalist for the MLS Fair Play Award can only be described as a wise veteran. MetroStars defender and captain Eddie Pope provided his team with another season of stern defense while only committing 17 fouls and earning one caution.
The finalists for U.S. Soccer Foundation Humanitarian of the Year all reached outside the bounds of their play on the field to benefit their communities. The nominees are Colorado Rapids midfielder Chris Henderson, Chicago Fire midfielder Jesse Marsch and Dallas Burn defender Steve Jolley, who won the award in 2002.
Jason Halpin is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.