MLS recognizes year's best during ceremony

Major League Soccer announced today the remainder of the 2004 award winners during a media ceremony at The Home Depot Center's Stadium Club, two days before MLS Cup 2004 to be played between D.C. United and Kansas City Wizards this Sunday, November 14 at the HDC (ABC Sports at 3:30 p.m. ET).

After MetroStars midfielder Amado Guevara was named Honda Most Valuable Player on Thursday, New England Revolution midfielder Clint Dempsey was named Gatorade Rookie of the Year in his first professional season, contributing to the Revs appearance in the playoffs. Colorado Rapids was represented twice during the ceremony, when Joe Cannon was awarded Goalkeeper of the Year and Chris Henderson received this year's US Soccer Foundation Humanitarian of the Year award.

Veteran Robin Fraser of the Columbus Crew was recognized as Defender of the Year while Crew head coach Greg Andrulis was named Coach of the Year. MetroStars defender Eddie Pope was recognized with the Kraft MLS Fair Play award, and D.C. United forward Freddy Adu was awarded the Nick GaS Play of the Year.

San Jose Earthquakes forward Brian Ching was named Comeback Player of the Year, and his teammate and scoring partner, Dwayne De Rosario received the Sierra Mist Goal of the Year award for his volley on August 7.

This year's OSI Referee of the Year was presented to Abbey Okulaja, who is in his second year as an MLS official.

The MLS Best XI for this season will be announced at the MLS Gala Ceremony at the Universal Globe Theater on Saturday, a night before MLS Cup 2004 between D.C. United and Kansas City Wizards.

Gatorade Rookie of the Year
Clint Dempsey (New England Revolution)

The No. 8 selection overall in the 2004 MLS SuperDraft, Dempsey led all rookies in scoring with seven goals and one assist for 15 points while playing in 24 games for the Revolution. The Furman University product showed impressive versatility, serving as needed in multiple midfield roles while also playing as a striker. A tough, hardnosed battler with a complete skill set, the stoic Dempsey played like a veteran, leaving his mark with a never-say-die attitude and his penchant for diving headers in the box. His season was interrupted with a broken nose - and he still played one match despite the injury - but he rebounded to reclaim his place in the Revolution lineup and be part of another late-season run for the club.

Goalkeeper of the Year
Joe Cannon (Colorado Rapids)

A finalist for the MLS Honda MVP award, Cannon picked up right where he left off following the 2002 season when he was selected the MLS Goalkeeper of the Year while with the San Jose Earthquakes. After a short spell in France, the 29-year-old moved to the Colorado Rapids last year, but did not start in a league game until April 2004. One of only four players in MLS to play every minute of every game, he led MLS in saves (150) and save percentage (80 percent) while facing the most shots in the League (431). Cannon tied for the MLS lead in shutouts with 10. Selected as the team's Most Valuable Player, Cannon surrendered only 32 goals on the season, including five penalty kicks and one own goal. In 15 home games, the Rapids allowed just eight goals, a new all-time low in League history.

MLS Defender of the Year
Robin Fraser (Columbus Crew)

The nine-year veteran enjoyed one of his best seasons in MLS after an offseason trade from the Colorado Rapids to the Columbus Crew, winning Defender of the Year honors for the second time after he won in 1999 when his leadership took the Los Angeles Galaxy to MLS Cup. Aided by 10 shutouts, the Crew set an MLS record by finishing out the regular season with a record 18-game unbeaten streak. A key to the campaign was when the Crew changed to a three-defender scheme, with Fraser in the middle of a young group that also included a 19-year old rookie - and the team allowed the fewest goals in the Eastern Conference (32) on its way to its first Supporters' Shield in club history.

MLS Comeback Player of the Year
Brian Ching (San Jose Earthquakes)

Brian Ching completed an incredible comeback from a ruptured right Achilles tendon that prematurely ended his 2003 season. Ching suffered the devastating injury on Aug. 16, 2003 and missed the final 15 games of the year and playoffs after surgery. Ching recovered from his injury in style, exploding as a true force at forward for the Earthquakes and the U.S. national team. The 26-year-old tied for the MLS lead in goals with 12 - all scored in the run of play. The Hawaiian native also recovered from his injury to burst onto the scene and make an immediate impact with the U.S. national team, scoring two goals in his first two World Cup qualifying appearances.

US Soccer Humanitarian of the Year
Chris Henderson (Colorado Rapids)

This year, the U.S. Soccer Foundation Humanitarian of the Year honors Chris Henderson of the Colorado Rapids. This year, Henderson realized his goal of launching the Chris Henderson Foundation, which was formed to provide cash grants to aid underprivileged children throughout Colorado. He also sponsors "Henderson's Heroes," which provides the chance for needy children from the Leukemia & Lymphoma Association to attend every Rapids home game. Henderson also champions a number of charitable endeavors, including serving as the Rapids' Spokes-Player for Child Car Seat Safety, the Special Olympics, the Rapids Food Drive for the Compa Food Ministry, and ProActive ProAthletes Fighting Domestic Violence. He was this year named as the Sports Profiles Colorado Rapids Humanitarian of the Year.

The U.S. Soccer Foundation Humanitarian of the Year recognizes the MLS player who demonstrates exemplary community involvement, and is the only annual award that does not recognize a player for his actions on the playing field, but rather his ability to go above and beyond the call to contribute to his community.

Sierra Mist Goal of the Year
Dwayne De Rosario (San Jose Earthquakes)

Dwayne De Rosario' stunning strike on Aug. 7 for the San Jose Earthquakes against D.C. United was selected as the Sierra Mist Goal of the Year in balloting on the League's official website, With the Quakes ahead 1-0 at home, De Rosario picked a Brian Mullan cross out of midair at the top of the area and nearly ripped the net off its moorings with a full volley that United 'keeper Troy Perkins could only stand and admire. De Rosario's goal finished barely ahead of Steve Ralston's goal for New England against Chicago on Oct. 16, a wonderfully crafted goal that saw Jose Cancela chip a neat ball over the Fire back three for Ralston to sublimely sidefoot home on the volley which sealed the Revolution's advance to the MLS Cup Playoffs.

Kraft MLS Fair Play Award
Eddie Pope (MetroStars)
The MetroStars veteran and U.S. international once again demonstrated his classy playing style in the center of defense, issued just one yellow card over the course of the season as he was named Fair Play Award winner after being a finalist a year ago. Surrounded by a group of young defenders in the Metros back four, Pope not only transferred his skill and knowledge of the game, but also demonstrated true leadership in guiding the club back to the MLS Cup Playoffs in his second season there.

MLS Coach of the Year
Greg Andrulis (Columbus Crew)
In his fourth season at the helm of the Crew, Greg Andrulis was named MLS Coach of the Year for the first time after leading his club to the best regular-season record in the league - for which they won the Supporters' Shield - and an MLS-record 18-game winning streak along the way. The former long-time coach at Wright State University, Andrulis saw his team overcome a winless streak at the start of the season, making a pair of vital changes in tactics in going to a three-defender scheme and changing the role of Kyle Martino in sending the Crew to the best record in club history and the top seed in the Eastern Conference.

Official Sports Referee of the Year
Abbey Okulaja
MLS coaches, players and the media recognized Abbey Okulaja as the Official Sports Referee of the Year. In his second season as an MLS referee, he this year appeared in more games than any other official, serving as a referee 13 times and making seven appearances as a fourth official. While growing up in Nigeria, he was a youth international for his country. After moving to the United States in 1982, he played collegiate soccer for two years at Triton Junior College and two years at the University of Illinois, then began officiating in 1994. A business entrepreneur who owns a number of different companies in the Chicago area, he lives in Broadview, Ill. He has been a US Soccer-certified National Referee since 2000.