MLSsoccer.com polled 20 of our editors, writers, videographers and statistics specialists to bring you the Best of 2012, running Dec. 17 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 Biggest Controversy, Breakout Player of the Year and, via fan vote revealed on Dec. 31, the Moment of the Year.
Next up, our closest vote of any category on the list. The Transaction of the Year is awarded to the best personnel move in 2012 (trade or signing, but no draft picks allowed) and the winner, Houston's move to sign Boniek García, oh-so-narrowly topped the runners-up from San Jose and Seattle. Armchair Analyst Matt Doyle explains why the signing changed everything in Houston.
The Houston Dynamo have had a lot of things since they came into the league in 2006. “Success” being the biggest one, but the list goes on a bit: successful US national team players, MLS legends, Goal of the Year winners and big-money sales to the English Premier League.
Two of the things missing from that list? A quality Designated Player, and a bit of tactical flexibility.
Enter Boniek García.
The Honduran attacker came to MLS on an undisclosed transfer from Honduran giants Olimpia in the middle of the year and transformed not only Houston’s season, but their identity as a team. Let’s face it: Prior to 2013, the Dynamo were a little bit predictable. After Boniek’s arrival, however, they became one of the most dynamic, flexible, possession-oriented teams in the league.
And that DP tag, which some pundits scoffed at? Turns out he was worth every bit of it. No, his name’s never going to be on the bright lights of a Hollywood marquee, and he’ll probably never lead the league in any statistical category (maybe ground covered?), but his ability both on and off the ball opened up space for the entire attack, facilitated a change to the 4-3-3 – he played both in the midfield and on the wing in that set-up, by the way – and gave the Dynamo the “scary pace” they’d always lacked.
His arrival coincided with a 6-0-2 run for then-struggling Houston, catapulting them up the standings and into the Eastern Conference hunt.
“All in all it’s been a seamless transition for him and he’s playing very well for us,” head coach Dominic Kinnear said in July. “One thing that’s been great about him, watching him, is that he plays on both sides of the ball. He’s played in a number of big games over the years so I don’t think the situation's gotten to him.”
It certainly didn’t. Even though he admitted to some nerves, it turned out that was just the right kind of fuel for a memorable season, in which he scored four goals, added six assists (one more of each in the playoffs) and was the winner of MLS Latino del Año. He even showed a little bit of prescience in his introductory press conference.
“It’s not so much pressure but nervousness,” García told MLSsoccer.com through a translator in June. “I feel nervous because I know what the expectations are and I want to come in and contribute from the get-go. The expectation for me is to do as well as possible. No. 1 is to try and do well at training, then try and get a starting spot. Then it’s to try and help the team do well and get to the playoffs and get all the way to the final.”
And that’s exactly what he did.
2 – Víctor Bernárdez, San Jose: Arguably the most important player on the league’s best regular-season team, Bernárdez joined the Quakes to little fanfare on a free transfer from Anderlecht last December. Not only was he a dominant force in the center of the defense, but he brought a comfort on the ball and in distribution that often keyed San Jose’s record-setting attack.
And in case anyone doubted his influence on proceedings, try for just a moment to recall the Western Conference playoffs vs. LA. Once Bernárdez limped off injured, the Galaxy basically took a flame thrower to the Quakes. Hard to imagine that would have been the case if Big Vic was on the pitch.
3 – Eddie Johnson, Seattle: Oh man, did this one seem to come with a string of “yeah, buts…” When Sigi Schmid and the Sounders rolled the dice, you didn’t have to look far or hard to find the doubters. Sure, EJ’s talented, but he hadn’t produced anywhere since 2007. Sure, he scored double-digit goals on a yearly basis, but that was in MLS 1.0. Sure, he says he’s matured, but isn’t this the same guy who’d just bombed out of Puebla for fitness reasons?
Sigi didn’t care. He remembered the guy who torched MLS defenses for much of the last decade, and trusted that that was the EJ he’d be getting in Seattle (and at a bargain-basement price, no less).
Sigi was right. That EJ was the one he got, and with 14 goals in the regular season, as well as a return to the US national team set-up, we all remembered why everyone had such high hopes for him in the first place.