NEW YORK – Sporting Kansas City stole MLS headlines during an electric start to the 2012 season and when they stunningly bowed out of the postseason earlier this month, and they’re once again the talk of the league during awards season.
Sporting landed a league-leading four players on the 2012 Best XI squad announced Monday, including Most Valuable Player nominee and rising US national team star Graham Zusi and Defender of the Year Matt Besler.
Defender Aurélien Collin and goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen also made the list for the first time in their MLS careers, punctuating a standout season for both men on SKC’s backline. Collin was one of three finalists for the Defender of the Year award and Nielsen will find out Wednesday if he’s been named the Goalkeeper of the Year.
Sporting Kansas City finished with the best regular-season record in the Eastern Conference for the second consecutive season this year and won the US Open Cup for the second time in franchise history.
MLS players, club leadership, and media members voted one goalkeeper, three defenders, four midfielders and three forwards to the Best XI this year. Eight players were named to the Best XI for the first time in their MLS careers.
The San Jose Earthquakes landed two players on the Best XI after rolling to the Supporters’ Shield and their most impressive season since their 2008 rebrand: MVP candidate and league-leading scorer Chris Wondolowski and Honduran defender Víctor Bernárdez, who finished second in the voting for the Defender of the Year.
Once an unknown substitute languishing on the bench for the Houston Dynamo, Wondolowski has emerged as a regular figure on the league’s All-Pro squad. He’s now been named to the Best XI after each of the past three seasons, while amassing more goals in that span (61) than any other player in the league.
The LA Galaxy – who knocked Wondolowski and the Earthquakes out of the playoffs and will play against the Houston Dynamo in the MLS Cup on Saturday – landed two players on the list: midfielder Landon Donovan and striker Robbie Keane.
Donovan was named to the team for the fifth consecutive season and sixth time in MLS career, tying D.C. United midfielder Dwayne De Rosario for the most selections all-time. Keane makes the list in his first full season in the league after scoring 16 goals and adding nine assists.
Thierry Henry made the Best XI for the second consecutive season after posting MLS career highs this season with 15 goals and 12 assists for the New York Red Bulls. Henry will find out Nov. 29 if he’s beaten Wondolowski and Zusi to earn his first league MVP award.
Seattle Sounders holding midfielder Osvaldo Alonso made the team for the first time in his four-year MLS career. Alonso started 30 games this year for Seattle and becomes just the second Sounders field player to make the Best XI, following Freddie Ljungberg in 2009.
Midfielder Chris Pontius also made the list for the first time in his career after finishing with a career-high 12 goals and helping lead D.C. United to their first postseason berth since 2007.
Six members of the Best XI were named to the 2012 AT&T MLS All-Star Game First XI and eight were named finalists for other 2012 postseason awards.
The LA Galaxy boast more Best XI appearances than any other franchise in MLS (27), followed by D.C. United (24).
2012 MLS Best XI:
Jimmy Nielsen Goalkeeper Sporting Kansas City Nationality: Denmark Born: August 6, 1977
A finalist for the Allstate Goalkeeper of the Year, Nielsen led his team to the second best regular season record (18-7-9) in 2012, playing every minute of all 34 regular season games. Nielsen led the league in Goalkeeper Wins (18) and Shutouts (15), and was second in Goals Against Average with 0.79. This is Nielsen’s first Best XI selection.
Víctor Bernárdez Defender San Jose Earthquakes Nationality: Honduras Born: May 24, 1982
A finalist for MLS Defender of the Year and Newcomer of the Year, Bernárdez has emerged as one of the top center backs in MLS.
The hulking defender helped lead the Earthquakes to the league’s best record (19-6-9), contributing two goals and one assist. The Honduran international joined the Earthquakes after three years with Belgian Pro League giant RSC Anderlecht. This is his first MLS Best XI selection.
Matt Besler Defender Sporting Kansas City Nationality: USA Born: February, 11, 1987
This year’s MLS Defender of the Year, Besler has established himself as one of the dominant central defenders in the league. While leading the defensive unit that registered the best regular season goals against average (0.79) in MLS this season, Besler also contributed two assists. This is his first MLS Best XI selection.
Aurélien Collin Defender Sporting Kansas City Nationality: France Born: March 8, 1986
A tenacious central defender, Collin has anchored Sporting’s defense this season, while scoring three goals and one assist. A finalist for Allstate Defender of the Year, he started 28 and played in 29 games this season for Kansas City. This is his first MLS Best XI selection.
Osvaldo Alonso Midfielder Seattle Sounders FC Nationality: Cuba Born: November 11, 1985
Appearing in 30 games this season, Alonso dominated the central midfield for Seattle and aided the Sounders in earning their fourth consecutive MLS Cup Playoffs berth. The hard-working midfielder helped the Sounders defense hold the second lowest Goals Against Average in the league at 0.97, while offensively contributing one goal and two assists. This is his first MLS Best XI selection.
Landon Donovan Midfielder LA Galaxy Nationality: USA Born: March 4, 1982
Donovan led the league in game-winning assists this year with five, and was second in the league with 14 assists. This year he scored nine goals in 26 games for the Galaxy. In 2011, Donovan captained the Galaxy to its third MLS Cup title – scoring the final’s only goal – and the Supporters’ Shield for the second straight season.
Chris Pontius Midfielder D.C. United Nationality: USA Born: May 12, 1987
Pontius led D.C. United in goals this year with a career-high 12 strikes, while adding four assists. A finalist for the Comeback Player of the Year award, he returned from a broken leg at the end of 2011 and started 26 of the 31 matches he played this season. His play this season helped propel D.C. into the playoffs for the first time since 2007. This is his first MLS Best XI selection.
Graham Zusi Midfielder Sporting Kansas City Nationality: USA Born: August 18, 1986
A finalist for the 2012 Volkswagen MLS MVP, Zusi had a breakout season for Sporting Kansas City. He led the league in assists this season with 15, while also scoring five goals. The 23rd overall pick in the 2009 MLS SuperDraft, he started 31 of the 32 regular season games he played this year. Earlier this year, Zusi earned his first cap with the US men’s national team and quickly established himself as a regular, appearing in six matches in 2012. This is his first MLS Best XI selection.
Thierry Henry Forward New York Red Bulls Nationality: France Born: August 17, 1977
The French World Cup champion continued to excel in his second full season with the New York Red Bulls. He scored 15 goals and added a team-high 12 assists in 25 games. Henry has 123 caps for France, and is his national team’s all-time leading scorer with 51 goals. This is his second consecutive MLS Best XI selection.
Robbie Keane Forward LA Galaxy Nationality: Ireland Born: July 8, 1980
In his first full season with the Galaxy, Keane led the Galaxy attack with 16 goals, while adding nine assists in 28 games played. The talented forward is Ireland’s all-time leader in goals and their current captain. This is his first MLS Best XI selection.
Chris Wondolowski Forward San Jose Earthquakes Nationality: USA Born: January 28, 1983
The winner of the 2012 Budweiser Golden Boot award, Wondolowski led the league in scoring with 27 goals, tying the all-time single season record. He is the only player in MLS history to score the most regular season goals in three consecutive seasons. A finalist for the 2012 Volkswagen MLS MVP, Wondolowski tallied seven assists while helping the Earthquakes win the 2012 Supporters’ Shield. This is his third consecutive MLS Best XI selection.