The editorial staff at MLSsoccer.com is looking back over the year with our "Best of 2010" awards, running Dec. 13 through Jan. 2. Each day we'll hand out an award from a variety of categories culled from the storylines of Major League Soccer and the North American soccer scene.
This time we're turned the spotlight on the Most Underrated Player of the Year, and the winner is San Jose's rock steady defender Jason Hernandez.
The 2007 MLS Expansion Draft saw a lot of big names available, but that of Jason Hernandez -- then of Chivas USA -- wasn’t one of them.
Three years later, having anchored the San Jose Earthquakes backline for three years of steady improvement, Hernandez is still under the radar. But in the corridors of MLS folks-in-the-know, the 27-year-old New Yorker is spoken of in glowing terms, praised for his work both on-the-field and off.
No team was hit harder by injury this season than the Quakes, yet San Jose conceded just 33 goals on the year. Hernandez was the one constant in the lineup, starting 27 games and anchoring a backline that was adjusted on an almost weekly basis.
Even when star rookie Ike Opara went down with a midseason injury, or when the Quakes changed keepers, or when any number of calamities befell his team, Hernandez was always there with a calm clearance or a saving tackle. It was a virtuoso performance from start to end, and due -- finally -- some much-deserved praise and recognition.
Second Place: Matt Pickens
Pickens isn’t often mentioned in the ranks of great MLS keepers, but another season as solid as 2010 could get him there. The Colorado backstop didn’t find himself among the league leaders in any major category, but he did find himself hoisting an MLS Cup after a fantastic 120 minute display in the final.
Third Place: Osvaldo Alonso[inline_node:313580]
The little Cuban d-mid has been ever-present in Seattle since the Sounders’ jump to MLS, and it’s hard to imagine they’d have been anywhere near as successful without him. While Seattle’s attackers have gotten much of the publicity, it’s Alonso’s work as a ball-winner and distributor from the central channel that makes the Sounders so formidable.