Gauchos in the Pros: Pontius, Kennedy Named as MLS Midseason Best
By Ridge Mahoney, Soccer America Confidential
Surprise teams San Jose and D.C. United are well-represented for their accomplishments so far this season as we acknowledge the top performances so far this season.
There are two basic formulas to picking a Best XI: either choose a formation and select from the top candidates in each spot, or simply try to attain a reasonable representation of forwards, midfielders, and defenders while singling out the best goalkeeper.
Both involve compromise, and since this selection is not designed to oppose Chelsea in the MLS All-Star Game or any other team in any other competition, the second method has been chosen.
So here's the MLS Midseason Best XI, along with a few more players deserving of mention for their play so far in 2012. This is not a team based on a formation or other strategy; instead, it acknowledges the top performers.
Chris Wondolowski (San Jose)
Six weeks ago I tweeted Wondo was my MVP pick and he's done a great job of fending off any jinx. Eighteen goals two seasons ago, 16 last year, and 14 already in 2012 gives him an unprecedented body of work as a goalscorer, but as any opposing coach or defender will tell you, he's absolutely maddening in his use of space and movement off the ball.
Chris Pontius (D.C. United)
The "What If?" poster child of MLS, as in "What if Chris Pontius could stay healthy for an entire season?" That question has yet to be answered but his steady and at times spectacular performances are essential part of United's resurgence. He's good with both feet, strong, and underrated in the air.
Thierry Henry (New York)
Most players with just 11 games played would be excluded from consideration, but Henry is tied for fourth with nine goals, and he brings poise and savvy around the goalmouth that always stands out. His runs and touches have helped teammate Kenny Cooper score 11 goals and when Henry sits out a game, the Red Bulls suffer greatly.
Backups: Kenny Cooper (New York), Danny Koevermans (Toronto FC).
Dwayne De Rosario (D.C. United)
As defenses have keyed on last season's MVP, DeRo has played more as a provider for Pontius and Maicon Santos while leading the league with 10 assists. He's still explosive and dangerous, and reading exactly when he's going to burst forward to threaten the goal continues to perplex opponents.
Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)
Zusi is tied for second in the league with eight assists, and though he and his midfield teammates are sometimes outmanned in the SKC system, he can still provide the attacking impetus during the run of play as well as deliver good set pieces. He's also a devoted two-way player with commendable workrate.
Oswaldo Alonso (Seattle)
He covers more ground than most players in the league and while a tendency to give balls away in risky areas occasionally crops up, he can hunt down the ball very much as Chris Armas used to do. If the Sounders finally break through to reach their first MLS Cup it will be largely because they bring the same tenacity and consistency as does Alonso to every confrontation in every game.
Backups:Marvin Chavez (San Jose), Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Landon Donovan (Los Angeles), Dax McCarty (New York),Marco Pappa (Chicago).
Aurelien Collin (Sporting Kansas City)
He needed some time -- as in the 2011 season – while he adjusted to MLS and life in America, but this year the French defender is strong in the air, a dependable tackler, and brazen enough to attempt the occasional bicycle kick. Coach Peter Vermes says he has a "strong personality," his teammates say he's crazy in a good way. Whatever the persona, he gets the job done.
Carlos Valdes (Philadelphia)
Anybody who doesn't think Valdes is a major reason that Amobi Okugo has done a decent job of converting from midfield to centerback isn't paying attention. The Union's defensive performance has improved since ex-head coach Peter Nowak shipped Danny Califf off to Chivas USA, and that's much more a tribute to Valdes than a slap at Califf. He's also a main reason rookie keeper Zac MacMath is holding up very well.
Jamison Olave (Real Salt Lake)
Like many of the RSL regulars, he hasn't been available as often as Coach Jason Kreis would prefer, but the team is 11-2-1 when he starts. He can be beaten for pace, but such as always been the case, and most forwards would just as soon be somewhere else when he closes in.
Steven Beitashour (San Jose)
He draws notice for his assists – he led the Quakes with seven last year and already this season has eight – yet he's also good in the tackle, reasonably fast, and very difficult to beat one-v-one, which are the hallmarks of a reliable outside back. He has made life difficult for some of the league's top flank attackers.
Backups:Jalil Anibaba (Chicago), Victor Bernardez (San Jose), Jay DeMerit (Vancouver).
Andy Gruenebaum (Columbus)
The longtime veteran has been peppered with shots for a team that doesn't score much, and he's compiled a 1.06 goals-allowed average and made more saves than any keeper except Matt Pickens of Colorado. The Crew really hasn't missed injured starter Will Hesmer, but the pressure increases sharply for keepers in the second half of the season.
Backups:Jimmy Nielsen (Sporting Kansas City), Dan Kennedy (Chivas USA).