Friday, March 21, 2008

MLS Young Player of Year Award 1996-2007

See yesterday's post for my thoughts on the "old player of the year" for the same time period.

This post attempts to answer the question, "if such an award had been in existence for the whole of MLS history, who would've won it in each year?" But first one small note: the normal standard for a "young player" is U23. I've selected an age cutoff date which I explained yesterday. A player must be under 23 years of age on July 1 of the season to be eligible. I'm also taking into account only the regular season games.

1996 - Steve Ralston, TB (22 years old)

There were not a ton of young players in MLS' first season, and even fewer of those were impressive. Eddie Pope was also eligible, as was a young Jaime Moreno (but who only played in 9 regular season games). While Pope may have scored the winning goal in the MLS Cup, he only played 18 games during the season due to the Olympics. Ralston started 31 games and scored 7 times en route to being named rookie of the year for the league's top team. He's also the only player I have winning young player and old player of the year (for 2007).

1997 - Ronald Cerritos, SJ (22)

Made the Best XI scoring 12 times in 22 games. Sadly, Moreno and Pope were too old in this season. I have to go with the guy on the Best XI, as I was not a fan at this time, but I bet Frankie Hejduk, Matt McKeon, and Welton were possibly deserving too.

1998 - Stern John, CLB (21)

26 goals in 27 games, the second highest total ever. Yes, he played in tiny Ohio Stadium, where games involved an average of 5.00 goals per game
(!) that year. And yes, 20 of his 26 goals were scored there. But if take a look at the numbers for 1996 and 1997, you'll see that the Crew's home games featured fewer goals than their away games in those two years. 1998's the exception, not the norm. Plus, scoring that season reached its peak in MLS at 3.57 goals per game, and the Crew had a high powered forward line with Jeff Cunningham and Brian McBride as well. So the stadium may have helped him a little bit, but even if he had 20 goals instead of 26 it would still be a remarkable season.

1999 - Stern John, CLB (22)

Now, with the opening of Crew Stadium there's no excuse. John led the league in goalscoring for the second straight season with 18, tied with Kreis and Lassiter. However, there were many other good candidates who may have deserved this award instead: Jeff Cunningham, rookie of the year Jay Heaps, Clint Mathis, Ben Olsen, and Josh Wolff.

2000 - Carlos Bocanegra, CHI (21)

Rookie of the year and a rock for the Fire. Just barely edged out Nick Garcia in a strong year for young defenders. KC had better defensive stats, but I'll go with the award winner. Other good years were enjoyed by Junior Agogo, Dema Kovalenko, and Brian West.

2001 - Tim Howard, NY (22)

The goalkeeper of the year takes it here. This was his first season as a starter and his best year in MLS. There were two main choices here; the other one was Landon Donovan in his first MLS season. He was very good, but not quite Best XI material yet.

2002 - Carlos Ruiz, LA (22)

Once again, two candidates. Ruiz and Twellman, what an impact they both made. Ruiz was the league MVP, the youngest player ever to win it.

2003 - Landon Donovan, SJ (21)

This was the season, a year after the amazing World Cup run, where Donovan and DaMarcus Beasley really showed what they could do in the league. I thought Donovan had a very good case for MVP that year but it was not to be. He wasn't a finalist, but certainly in the top 5 by anyone's standards.

2004 - Eddie Gaven, NY (17)

Dempsey was the rookie of the year, but a 17 year old Eddie Gaven was better.
Eskandarian had his first (and only) really good MLS season, but Eddie Johnson broke out and would be a better choice at forward. So for me this year came down to Donovan, Gaven, and Johnson, and it was probably the hardest decision. However, it was a down year for Landon. Anyway, Gaven was really something else in 2004.

2005 - Michael Parkhurst, NE (21)

Dempsey may have had a great year, but I thought he faded late. Parkhurst was the top rookie and anchored the New England in the first year of their not-quite dynasty, playing every single minute and only committing six fouls.

2006 - Kenny Cooper, DAL (21)

Adu, Bornstein, Mapp, and Parkhurst were also contenders, but Cooper's season easily won the voting of US soccer bloggers on my little poll here (and with me as well). Johnson, meanwhile, had a disappointing year.

2007 - Sacha Kljestan, CHV (21)

You could've made a list of contenders from only Chivas players: Bornstein, Guzan, Kljestan, Mendoza, etc. Altidore had a great year as well, and so did Edu and Toja. Very stacked year for young players.

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