The editorial staff at MLSsoccer.com is looking back over the year with our Best of 2011 awards, running Dec. 19 through Jan. 2. Each day we'll hand out an award in a variety of categories culled from the storylines of MLS and US international players, including MLS Broadcaster Call of the Year, Gaffe of the Year and, via fan vote, the Moment of the Year.
MLSsoccer.com editor in chief Greg Lalas offers up the latest award, given to Chivas USA goalkeeper Dan Kennedy as the Underrated Player of the Year, who quietly kept the Rojiblancos alive during their first season under Robin Fraser.
It's an old adage: You're only as good as the players around you. Yeah, yeah, there's no "I" in team and all that. But let's be honest: No player is really going to get his due if his team stinks. That's the nature of the team-sport beast.
Not that Chivas USA stunk in 2011. They didn't make the playoffs, but they certainly didn't stink. And perhaps the biggest reason for that was the heroic play of goalkeeper Dan Kennedy.
After three seasons playing second fiddle to Brad Guzan and Zach Thornton, Kennedy broke out in 2011. The 29-year-old started 32 matches, posted nine clean sheets, and finished with a respectable goals-against average of 1.22 (11th in the league). But the numbers don't tell the whole story. Kennedy was forced to work behind a revolving-door, injury-riddled backline that had an unfortunate habit of missing marks, committing fouls and conceding a league-high three own goals.
Through it all, no one said anything. There were occasional, passing comments from some of his teammates and his coaches, but for the most part, the Goats' overall struggles kept Kennedy's performances out of the national conversation. But there was one watercooler chat in which he featured prominently: The guys from MLSsoccer.com's ExtraTime Radio were shooting the bull with Jimmy Conrad, during which the retired World Cup vet gushed about Kennedy, saying he deserved a look with the US national team.
Underrated? Not anymore.
2. Andre Hainault, Houston Dynamo – The Canadian defender became a headliner with his playoff goals, but his steady performances on the right side of the defense deserved more ink all season.
3. Sebastián Miranda, Columbus Crew – For defenders, if they don't mention your name at the end of the game, then you've done your job. No one seems to ever mention Miranda's name. They should. The Chilean right back, who started every match for the Crew, was as solid as any defender in the league in 2011.