NEW YORK – The Portland Timbers’ meteoric rise to the top of the Western Conference may have ended one step short of MLS Cup, but their momentum certainly hasn’t stopped during awards season.
Major League Soccer announced Tuesday that the club landed a league-leading three players on the 2013 Best XI squad, one day after head coach Caleb Porter was named Coach of the Year for the Timbers’ remarkable turnaround this season.
Portland’s three players – midfielders Will Johnson and Diego Valeri and goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts – were all heroes this year in the Rose City, where the Timbers resurrected their reputations after finishing next-to-last in the Western Conference in 2012.
Portland finished with the best regular season in the Western Conference this season and dumped the rival Seattle Sounders out of the playoffs before they were eliminated by Real Salt Lake in the Conference Championship last month.
The Argentine import Valeri, 27, is also one of three finalists for the league’s Newcomer of the Year award after scoring 10 goals and adding 13 assists this season, while the 36-year-old Ricketts is up for his second career Allstate Goalkeeper of the Year award after posting a career-high 14 shutouts this season. Both awards will be announced on Wednesday.
MLS players, club leadership, and media members voted one goalkeeper, three defenders, four midfielders and three forwards to the Best XI this year. Johnson is one of six newcomers to the Best XI squad, while Ricketts, who was a Best XI selection in 2010, is among five players who have made the All-Pro side in the past.
Three players are back on the Best XI for a second consecutive year, and two will play in MLS Cup at Sporting Park on Saturday. Sporting Kansas City defender Matt Besler and midfielder Graham Zusi – who both emerged as stalwarts this year for the World Cup-bound US national team – are back after nods in 2012, while LA Galaxy defender Omar Gonzalez has been named to his third Best XI team after previous selections in 2011 and 2010.
All three forwards up for the Volkswagen MLS MVP award were named to the team – Mike Magee (Chicago Fire), Marco Di Vaio (Montreal Impact) and Robbie Keane (LA Galaxy) – as was the New England Revolution’s José Gonçalves, who was named Defender of the Year last week. Keane was also named to the team in 2012.
New York Red Bulls midfielder Tim Cahill rounds out the team after his 11 goals and five assists helped lead the club to the Supporters’ Shield, the long-awaited first piece of silverware in the franchise’s 18-year history.
Notable omissions include Galaxy forward Landon Donovan – who had his streak of five straight Best XI appearances snapped – and Vancouver Whitecaps forward Camilo Sanvezzo, who becomes the first Budweiser Golden Boot winner left off the team since both the Galaxy’s Carlos Ruiz and New England’s Taylor Twellman were excluded in 2003 after sharing the award.
Real Salt Lake – who downed the Timbers in the Conference Championship and will take on Sporting Kansas City on Dec. 7 in the MLS Cup final – have been shut out during awards season so far, after head coach Jason Kreis finished third on the Coach of the Year ballot and voters excluded their players from the Best XI. Veteran Nick Rimando is up for the Goalkeeper of the Year.
The LA Galaxy boast more Best XI appearances than any other franchise in MLS history (29), followed by D.C. United (24).
2013 MLS Best XI:
Donovan Ricketts Goalkeeper Portland Timbers Nationality: Jamaica
A finalist for the Allstate Goalkeeper of the Year, Ricketts ranked among the league leaders in wins (13), goals-against average (0.97) and saves percentage (73 percent). The Jamaican international set MLS career highs in shutouts (14), saves (92) and minutes played (2,880) across 32 matches with the Portland Timbers. This is his second MLS Best XI selection.
José Gonçalves Defender New England Revolution Nationality: Portugal
In his first MLS season, Gonçalves was named the 2013 MLS Defender of the Year and finalist for Newcomer of the Year. The dominating center back played every minute of the season while captaining a New England Revolution team that finished third-best in the league with a 1.12 goals against average. He also anchored a defense that accounted for a club-record 14 shutouts on the way to their first playoff appearance in four seasons. This is his first MLS Best XI selection.
Matt Besler Defender Sporting Kansas City Nationality: USA
Last year’s Defender of the Year and finalist for this year’s award, Besler has established himself as one of the best central defenders in the League. He led a defense that allowed the fewest goals (30) this season, while contributing two assists. This is his second MLS Best XI selection.
Omar Gonzalez Defender LA Galaxy Nationality: USA
A finalist for Defender of the Year and the youngest among this year’s Best XI selections, Gonzalez served as the backbone of the LA Galaxy defense starting 27 games this season. His consistent play helped the LA Galaxy keep 10 clean sheets in 2013. This is his third MLS Best XI selection.
Tim Cahill Midfielder New York Red Bulls Nationality: Australia
In his first full MLS season, the two-time World Cup participant and English Premier League veteran was the driving force behind the New York Red Bulls Supporters’ Shield-winning season. Cahill scored 11 goals and added five assists, while starting 27 matches. This is his first MLS Best XI selection.
Will Johnson Midfielder Portland Timbers Nationality: Canada
In his first season with the Timbers, Johnson scored a single-season career-high nine goals and added five assists. His strong play and leadership helped the Timbers claim the best record in the Western Conference (14-5-15), which included a 15-game unbeaten streak. This is his first MLS Best XI selection.
Diego Valeri Midfielder Portland Timbers Nationality: Argentina
A finalist for Newcomer of the Year, Valeri signed with the Portland Timbers as a Designated Player before the start of the season from Argentina’s Club Atlético Lanús. The cunning playmaker led MLS in assists with 13 and added 10 goals, propelling the Timbers to an MLS club single-season record with 14 wins. This is his first MLS Best XI selection.
Graham Zusi Midfielder Sporting Kansas City Nationality: USA
Zusi scored a single-season career-high six goals and tallied eight assists in 27 league appearances. The dynamic midfielder helped Sporting advance to MLS Cup and solidified his spot on the US national team. This is his second MLS Best XI selection.
Marco Di Vaio Forward Montreal Impact Nationality: Italy
A finalist for the 2013Volkswagen MLS MVP Award, Di Vaio proved to be one of the most dangerous players in MLS this season. The vastly experienced Italian striker netted 20 goals for the Montreal Impact all from the run of play (no PK or free kicks), with five of those coming as game-winners. This is his first MLS Best XI selection.
Robbie Keane Forward LA Galaxy Nationality: Ireland
A finalist for the 2013Volkswagen MLS MVP Award, Robbie Keane had one of the most complete performances of his career this season. The Irish international finished third in MLS with 11 assists and fourth in MLS with sixteen goals. The talented forward is Ireland’s all-time leader in goals and their current captain. This is his second MLS Best XI selection.
Mike Magee Forward Chicago Fire Nationality: USA
A finalist for the 2013 Volkswagen MLS MVP Award, Mike Magee had a break out year finishing second in the league with 21 goals while adding four assists. After being traded from the LA Galaxy on May 25 to his hometown Chicago Fire side, Magee made an immediate impact, scoring seven goals in his first seven matches and led the team to a playoff berth. This is his first MLS Best XI selection.