AMSTERDAM – Voting for the Fútbol de Primera (formerly Honda) US Player of the Year award is a privilege and responsibility to be taken seriously, even when your pick for the winner usually does not end up with the trophy.
It's been 12 years since I was first offered a ballot for the prize, which calls for each voter's ordinal top three and then honors the best player on the US national team for that calendar year. And since my pick of Clint Dempsey was named the winner in 2006, I've only pulled the lever for one USMNT player who actually took home the award: Dempsey again, in 2011.
Last year, my choice was Michael Bradley, but Dempsey won. In 2010, I picked Dempsey over eventual winner Landon Donovan. The year before, I had Oguchi Onyewu over Donovan, in 2008 it was Tim Howard ahead of Donovan, and the year before that I tabbed Carlos Bocanegra over ... take a wild guess.
It's certainly not that I underrate Donovan, who won with my vote three times before he'd turned 23. Still, I wonder how many votes he and other winners have had from media members that relied on stat counts because they didn't actually watch every minute of every game. That seems the least one should do, which is the first reason you won't catch me weighing in on any MLS awards.
With all that in mind, it is time again to reveal my vote, another annual tradition. It seemed best this time to offer a full explanation – since, you know, my top guy probably won't win the award.
Before we get into naming names, let's go over a couple of key ballot points: I am only considering international play and I do give different weights to performances depending on the match. For example, a cracking show in a home friendly against El Salvador will obviously not factor as much as an equal display in the World Cup knockouts against Germany.
So ... who is the man put forward to break the jinx?
1) Jozy Altidore
Scoff, snicker or snort, I don't care. In my view, nobody was as consistently excellent as Altidore in the biggest half-dozen or so games of the year.
Along with Donovan, he led the team with eight goals, none of which could be minimized as Gold Cup padding. Of course, he had none through his first four appearances of the year, and was drawing considerable scrutiny despite some decent all-around play. And then came the Germany friendly.
After notching a dandy goal-and-helper in the 4-3 upset of Die Mannschaft in Washington, D.C., Altidore went on to score in another five consecutive US starts, including a hat-trick performance in the comeback win at Bosnia that showed about every skill you'd want from a striker.
Even better, in June, he grabbed the opening goal in three consecutive World Cup qualifying wins that turned the USMNT from a fourth-place team in the Hex to the runaway leaders on the verge of punching a ticket to Brazil 2014.
2) Michael Bradley
He also held the deed to midfield in friendly wins over Bosnia and Germany, combining his brands of no-nonsense gatekeeping and energetic attack influence to great effect against teams the US could meet in Brazil next summer.
Sometimes, though, just as true a measure comes when the team has to go without the midfielder. Bradley was nowhere to be found when disorganized US midfields were slapped around in stinging losses to Belgium and Costa Rica, and they conceded five goals in the four Hex matches he missed.
3) Clint Dempsey
In terms of minute-to-minute consistency, Deuce fell well behind Altidore and Bradley this year. Nevertheless, Dempsey managed six goals in 10 games.
Half of them came in CONCACAF Hexagonal play and the other three occurred in the back-to-back games with Belgium and Germany that propelled the team into one hot summer.
And while he did not find the net in the World Cup-clinching win over Mexico, Dempsey selflessly propelled the team forward throughout the game.
So there you have it, my ballot top three and the whys. Donovan and Clarence Goodson would round out my top five, if they had asked for so many on the ballot. Either way, though, Altidore remains the guy owed my apologies if he finishes second when the winner is announced.