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.
Sporting Kansas City beat writer Steve Brisendine takes a look at the next award, as SKC defender Matt Besler hauls in the Breakout Player of the Year in one of the closest votes of the series.
It seems kind of odd, at first read, to name Sporting Kansas City center back Matt Besler as the Breakout Player of the Year for 2012.
What about his MLS All-Star nod in 2011? Doesn't that count for anything?
Honestly? Not for half as much as what Besler accomplished in 2012, even though he didn't repeat as an All-Star. After his selections as Defender of the Year and a member of the MLS Best XI, and the attention he has gotten from US national team coach Jurgen Klinsmann, there's no denying that the steady center back has blossomed into a star for his hometown team.
He did it quietly, serving as the linchpin in a defense that yielded a league-low 27 goals. When fullbacks Seth Sinovic and Chance Myers went down the flanks on overlapping runs, or Best XI center back Aurelien Collin took off up the pitch to join the attack, Besler played the safety role. There are no stats for opposing attacks thwarted by solid positioning, but if there were, Besler would be at or near the top of the league.
"Besler is a very steady player, which you need at his position,” Sporting manager Peter Vermes said last month. “Even though some might think he was a bit under-the-radar, he is consistent, a solid defender, very technical and possesses an excellent soccer brain. His top notch work ethic and determination has seen him get better every year.”
Besler took a low-key approach to his individual accomplishments, framing them within the context of team success, and never begrudged the more flamboyant Collin his attention. Still, it was clear that Besler wanted to be thought of as one of MLS' best at his position.
“I think the consistency is probably what I'm most proud of,” he told MLSsoccer.com after his Defender of the Year honor was announced. “I think MLS is a tough league to defend, and I think our team and I think me, individually, I showed it almost every game.”
Now, he's hoping to show it off for the Nats. He was in the 18 for the United States' historic 1-0 win at Mexico this past summer, but did not play. But with Klinsmann looking to field separate squads for this year's World Cup qualifying Hexagonal and the CONCACAF Gold Cup, Besler should find himself wearing the U.S. kit in 2013.
2. Will Bruin, Houston Dynamo
After five goals as a rookie in 2011, Bruin more than doubled that tally with 12 in the regular season in 2012. Then he went on a playoff tear, scoring four times in the postseason as the Dynamo reached the MLS Cup finals for a second straight year.
3. Andy Gruenebaum, Columbus Crew
It was a good year for players from the Kansas City area, with Besler and Gruenebaum finishing first and third in this category. Gruenebaum became Columbus' No. 1 goalkeeper in 2012, his seventh season with the Crew, and rewarded the elevation with a league-best 124 saves.
Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com.