Leave it to MLS to miss a slam dunk. As part of their daily unveiling of award winners leading up to the MLS Cup (an idea that I like that they do), the league announced the winners of the Comeback Player of the Year and Coach of the Year. One of these awards was a no-brainer while the other one had reasonable arguments for all of the candidates, but strong arguments in favor of one of the finalists. So MLS of course went with the biggest names and announced that David Beckham and his coach Bruce Arena had won Comeback Player and Coach of the Year, respectively.
The problem was that neither was the most deserving of this award, and in Beckham’s case it wasn’t even close.
Before I explain the error of MLS’s ways I want to make two critical points. The first is that I acknowledge that these votes have multiple components, with front offices and players being involved in the voting. When I say “MLS” I am also criticizing those elements of the vote. Secondly I acknowledge the fact that some of you may criticize my perspective because I am an avowed DC United fan when I am not professionally covering events. I won’t be able to convince some of you otherwise except to say that my opinion is shared by non-DCU writers.
On to the awards, and I’ll start with Comeback Player of the Year. The three finalists for the award were Dominic Oduro (poor 2010 season), David Beckham (2010 Achilles injury), and Charlie Davies (2009 car accident, missed 2010). Beckham edged out Davies for the award in the weighted vote with Oduro trailing by a decent percentage. This is an absolute sham. Statistically speaking, Beckham had a better season than Davies; Beckham was a key midfielder for a team that won the Supporters Shield and almost led the league in assists. Davies tailed off after a great start to the season and by October there were questions as to whether he would even be brought back by DC United. Beckham was the league’s first international superstar, Davies has a great story but by the end was making some questionable PR moves.
That aside, this is not a Player of the Year or Most Photogenic award, this is a comeback award, and it is hard to argue that Davies does not deserve this over the rest of the field. His 2009 car wreck was so horrific his life was in danger potentially and his career certainly was in doubt; he visibly carries the scars with him. The fact that he scored eight goals and carried DC briefly before the De Rosario trade when the prior year he didn’t even play professional soccer is incredible. Granted, he isn’t back to where he was but he has come a long way and his comeback is mighty impressive. Beckham also made a comeback from injury, but that was an Achilles injury probably due to playing overseas plus repeated travel. Some have claimed that Davies did not deserve to win because he did not play in MLS last season; Beckham was hurt playing in Serie A and openly angling for an overseas loan. If prior MLS playing time was a criteria (and it should be stated if so), Geoff Cameron deserves this award. But to give it to Beckham over Davies is a terrible mistake.
Now to Coach of the Year, and this one is less cut and dried. Bruce Arena is undoubtedly a great coach, there is no doubt about that, and to bring this team of immense egos to the finish line in the regular season is a tremendous accomplishment. Phil Jackson was coach of the year in the NBA for a reason. However, on a team where you could solve your striker problem by shedding one designated player to sign another three million dollar a year international, that should count as a strike against your candidacy. That’s not a coaching skill, that’s a competitive advantage.
Let’s now consider the candidacy of Peter Vermes, a coach I put on my hot seat early in the year. For the first few months of the season, Sporting Kansas City did not have a home stadium, and rather than drift down into the bottom of the league the team survived to finish first in the Eastern Conference. There was certainly talent on the team due to some shrewd signings like Omar Bravo, but it was the team’s growth around some young players like C.J. Sapong and Teal Bunbury that really pushed it over the top. Graham Zusi is now being discussed as a potential USMNT call-up and Omar Bravo, while a proven international talent, could have struggled more in integrating himself to MLS like so many others have before him. This was a team that made a lot out of not as much proven talent as LA and Seattle, but still clinched the first seed in the competitive East. Were they a better team than LA and Seattle? No but they made do with less, and that should be a major consideration for Coach of the Year.