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.
New Media Editor Andrew Wiebe takes a look at the next award, as New York midfielder Dax McCarty collects the Underrated Player of the Year award for his tireless, yet not always fully appreciated, work for the star-studded Red Bulls.
He’s captained the national team. Statistically speaking, he was MLS’ top passer in 2012, the ever-present metronome behind one of the league’s most potent attacks, and the league's second most dogged tackler, a near-perfect midfield combination of composure and tenacity.
And, oh yeah, he’s also one of the league’s most colorful personalities, a gregarious extrovert who seems to thrive with a camera in his face, and a tech-savvy 25-year-old who owns one of the league’s most engaging, genuinely funny Twitter accounts.
And New York’s Dax McCarty is also 2012’s Underrated Player of the Year.
How could a player with that kind of resume fly under the radar? Is it ignorance? Have we simply not been paying attention to the rise of one of MLS’ most-talented two-way midfielders?
Perhaps, but I prefer to think people have simply realized it’s high time to give McCarty his due. Of course, "La Flecha Roja," as one Spanish-language commentator christened the North Carolina product, made it easy after logging a career year in his first full season as a Red Bull.
McCarty led New York in minutes played (2,918) and starts (33), acting as a jack of all trades for deposed coach Hans Backe while primarily playing as a defensive midfielder, but filling in admirably in wide positions and occasionally at the point of the attack. And despite being tasked with covering for his attack-minded teammates when the ball turned over – a task he may not have preferred but proved adept at – McCarty still managed to find a way to find a niche when the Red Bulls streamed forward.
He matched his career-high with three goals, including an against-all-odds header in traffic, and chipped in three assists, a modest tally but one that doesn't accurately reflect his contributions in the lead up to his teammates' final passes.
With Juninho Pernambucano and Tim Cahill playing in front of him, there's no reason those numbers won't jump come 2013. Yes, he'll still be tasked with doing the dirty work in the midfield, but if 2012 was any indication, McCarty may just turn out to be the most effective of the three. He'll almost certainly be the most active.
So what's next for the budding star? Hopefully another chance with the US in January followed by another consistent, healthy season in the Big Apple. Perhaps even a central role in capturing a trophy to join the dust currently occupying New York's trophy case.
But no matter what McCarty accomplishes, nobody should be surprised this time around. Not if they've been paying attention, at least.
2. Sam Cronin, San Jose Earthquakes
San Jose were practically unstoppable this season, and Cronin is one of the main reasons Chris Wondolowski, Alan Gordon, Steven Lenhart and Simon Dawkins had so much freedom to beat down the doors of opposing defenses. The former first-overall SuperDraft pick made Frank Yallop's side tick, and even though his contributions were overshadowed by Wondo's chase for history and the rise of the Goonies, Cronin deserves every morsel of praise coming his way.
3. Brad Evans, Seattle Sounders
Osvaldo Alonso may bring the bite in the Sounders' midfield, but Evans is the brains, acting as head coach Sigi Schmid's lieutenant within the white lines. The 27-year-old wasn't just a cog in the machine, either. He chipped in four goals and four assists in a career-best 29 starts in 2012, and next year promises to be just as productive as Seattle's confidence in Evans continues to grow.