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D.C. Soccer Awards for Players and Team of the Year

As 2014 is just getting kicked off and MLS and NWSL are about to start up in the next few months, it is the perfect time to look back on the key events in the D.C. Metro area in 2013. Although the records of some of the teams leave a lot to be desired, there are still plenty of positive things to take from 2013 and build on in 2014. While D.C. United and the Washington Spirit both had disappointing years, the development of their younger players and the continued dominance of local college teams shows that the region is much deeper than the two top-flight teams.

So without further adieu, here are our picks for the best of 2013 and what to look out for in 2014.

Just as a short explanation of how the process works, while it is easy to determine what the best teams are in the region, it is a little bit tricky determining the best individual players. So for the purpose of these awards, the field has been limited to only players who grew up in the region. So while Patrick Mullins may have had a great season for the University of Maryland, he is originally from New Orleans and thus is not eligible.

Best Local Men’s Player:  Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake and U.S. Men’s National Team- Crofton, Md.)

2013 was a rebound year for Beckerman. Although he has always been well respected in Major League Soccer circles for his passing and work ethic in the midfield, he was never really able to get regular time in the U.S. Men’s National Team.  Until this year. Beckerman was a key contributor to both the World Cup Qualifying campaign and with the MLS heavy team that captured the 2013 Gold Cup. He also almost captured a double with his club, leading a very young Real Salt Lake team to both the finals of the U.S. Open Cup and the MLS Cup final.

His hard work in 2013 should pay immediate dividends for both club and country for 2014. Although Real Salt Lake did lose their manager Jason Kreis to the expansion New York City club, RSL will still be a major player in the Western Conference come March. Beckerman’s ability to organize an attack from the midfield position will be critical in setting up the likes of Luis Gil and Robbie Findley. He will also figure heavily in Coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s squad for the 2014 World Cup. Klinsmann likes to have a midfielder that has no problems for headers and 50-50 balls. These are skills and qualities that will be critical when it comes time to play against the likes of Germany and Ghana in Brazil.

On a side note, he also recently got married which we here at D.C. Soccer are all in favor of.

Honorable Mention: Defender A.J. Delagarza (Los Angeles Galaxy- Bryans Road, Md.)

Player(s) to Look Out For in 2014: Forward Kenny Cooper (Seattle Sounders- Baltimore, Md) and Center-Back Oguchi Onyewu (Queens Park Rangers-Olney, Md.)

This is a very big year for both players. With each making a major move in the past few months, both Cooper and Onyewu will be looking for more playing time and a chance to earn one more big paycheck.

For Onyewu, the most important thing is to just get playing time. Although his C/V lists some pretty major teams (A.C. Milan, Sporting Lisbon, Queens Park Rangers) he has played in only 27 club matches. There has been some rumors that he might be headed to MLS with D.C. United being an obvious front-runner. After two knee surgeries, it is really make or break for his career.

The future seems to be a bit brighter for Cooper. He did not have a bad season with F.C. Dallas last season, scoring 6 goals in 22 matches. However he did have a 17 game goalless drought in the middle of the season which essentially torpedoed F.C. Dallas’ hopes for making the playoffs. The key difference in playing for F.C. Dallas and Cooper’s new club, the Seattle Sounders, is that the Sounders like to play with a prototypical center forward, while F.C. Dallas look for someone with good passing skills. Part of the reason why Cooper succeeded with the New York Red Bulls is that Thierry Henry and Dax McCarty would set him up goal scoring opportunities. Having the likes of Lamar Neagle and Shalrie Joseph getting him balls in the box should help.

 

Best Local Women’s Player:  Midfielder Christine Nairn (Washington Spirit-Annapolis, Md.)

A native of Annapolis, Nairn comes to the Spirit after having played last season with the Seattle Reign, where she led the team in assists (6).  To say that the Spirit had difficulties last scoring would be an understatement, the club only tallied 16 goals last season. Although their forward line is still very young and untested, adding a player of Nairn’s caliber should alleviate some of the pressures on their forwards and on their best attacking option, midfielder Diana Matheson (8 goals in 19 matches.) Nairn has also made two appearances with the U.S. Women’s National Team and will look to make an impression this season with the hopes of getting a spot on the team come the 2015 Women’s World Cup.

 

Best Local Young Men’s Player: Midfielder Gedion Zelalem (Arsenal-Bethesda, Md.)

There is no one locally or in U.S. Soccer with a higher ceiling than Gedion Zelalem. The son of Ethiopian immigrants, Zelalem first made a name in the DMV area playing for the Olney Rovers (Md.) It was while playing with Rovers in the Dallas Cup, one of the top Youth tournaments in the United States and the world, that his talents caught the attention of Arsenal. Although he was only able to sign a professional contract last year at the age of 16 (American labor laws do not allow players to sign professional contracts earlier than 16) Zelalem is already playing for their Under-21 squad. With Arsenal currently injury issues with their midfield, there has been some speculation that he might cracked the 18 man roster at least for the Gunners FA Cup matches. Whether he does or not, the fact that he is just 17 and looking to crack the lineup of one of the best clubs in the world proves that he is the best young local player.

What will be interesting to see is which national team Mr. Zelalem chooses to represent. He could either represent Ethiopia, Germany (where he was born and spent the early part of his youth,) and the United States. As his profile continue to rise, so too will the question as to which team he wants to play for.   

Honorable Mention: Midfielder Michael Sauers (University of Maryland-Baltimore, Md,) Midfielder Collin Martin (D.C. United-Chevy Chase, Md) and Midfielder Jose Carranza (D.C. United Academy-Manassas, Va.)

Player to Look Out For in 2014: Forward Michael Seaton (D.C. United-Bowie, Md.)

The first-ever player to play in MLS and be born after the league was founded, Seaton is considered to be one of the top prospects in all of Major League Soccer. A product of the Freestate Soccer Alliance in Bowie, he has already received 2 caps with the Jamaican national team and will be a major asset for them in their efforts to qualify for the 2015 Gold Cup. On loan last season to the Richmond Kickers in USL Pro, Seaton scored 5 goals in 15 matches. For United, he could a major asset as the club will look to not only defend their U.S. Open Cup title, but also in the MLS regular season, and the CONCACAF Champions League. He has tremendous speed, and at 17 will only be able to improve his accuracy and shot selection.

 

Best Local Young Player, Women: Midfielder Andi Sullivan (Washington Spirit Reserves, Stanford University)

Named by Top Drawer Soccer as the #2 recruit for 2014, Sullivan is considered to be one of the top Midfielders in Women’s Soccer. Sullivan was also named the NSCAA Youth Women’s player of the year and helped the U.S. Women’s Under 17 National Team win the 2012 U-17 CONCACAF Gold Cup. She also currently plays for Bethesda School Club, one of the top soccer travel teams in the United States. Sullivan will be joining a Stanford team that made it to the third round of this year’s NCAA Women’s College Cup and should improve with five players (Goalkeeper Jane Campbell and Defenders Stephanie Amack, Maddie Bauer, and Laura Liedle)  playing for the U.S. Women’s U-20 team. Sullivan will also figure prominently in the U-20 National Team, which will be going through the CONCACAF Qualification process in August in Canada. 

Honorable Mention:  Midfielder Ashley Spivey (Baltimore Bays- Baltimore, Md.)

Best Team: The University of Virginia Lady Cavaliers

Usually when one talks about the University of Virginia and soccer, it is about the men’s team. Although the men’s team did have a good year this year, it is the Lady Cavaliers that had the best season in Charlottesville. A team that is normally dominated by traditional powerhouses like North Carolina, Duke, and Maryland, the Lady Cavaliers led a renaissance of sorts in the ACC Conference this year going undefeated during Conference play and ending up with a record of 23-1-1. Included in this sterling record is a 2-0 victory against North Carolina in Cary, NC. That victory was only their 2nd in 40(!) matches against the Lady Tar Heels. The club also set school records in goals (78) and shutouts (16.)

Though they did fall in their first-ever College Cup, 4-3 in penalty kicks against #2 UCLA, there is a lot that this can be build off of for next season. Rising Senior Midfielder Morgan Brian, who is a finalist for the Hermann Trophy and was just named Top Drawer Soccer’s player of the year, will be returning to build off of a season where she scored 16 goals and led the ACC with 14 assists. They will also be bringing back Sophomore Forward Makenzy Doniak (NSCAA First-Team All- American, 20 goals last season) and Sophomore Defender Emily Sonnett (First Team All-American). But they will be losing 6 seniors to graduation. But even if there is a slight drop-off from last season, the Lady Cavaliers have shown that there is a new powerhouse in the ACC and women’s soccer.

Honorable Mentions: The University of Maryland Men’s Soccer Team(Reached the Finals of the NCAA Men’s College Cup, ACC Tournament Champions) Richmond Kickers(USL Pro Regular Season Champions,) Baltimore Blast (MISL Champions)

Team to Look Out for in 2014: D.C. United

Given all that is happened in this off-season with the team, from trading for Eddie Johnson, signing 7 new players, and the always riveting “as the new stadium plan kind of sort of is getting built” turns, it is going to be a big year for D.C. United. So much of this team’s future rests on this one season, and not all of it is about the play on the field. It is a make or break year for United. If this latest stadium deal falls through, one could easily see either the team moving or Owner Eric Tholnir losing interest in the squad and selling off his stock in the team. While there has been no reason to doubt that the stadium deal will fall through, this is D.C. politics and nothing is done until the building is physically put up.

From a player’s perspective there should be a great deal of expectations with this team. Signing Forward Eddie Johnson will certainly give the team a much-needed boost in terms of offense, but he has had character issues in the past. Bringing in the likes of Defenders Nana Attakoura, Sean Franklin, and Bobby Boswell, Midfielder Davy Arnaud, and Forward Fabian Espindola will certainly add depth to the squad, but will it be to the detriment of players like Perry Kitchen, Nick DeLeon, Chris Korb, Luis Silva, and Jared Jeffrey? The key will be how Coach Ben Olsen manages the influx of players coming in and the long-term development goals of the team. Though he too is under a tremendous amount of pressure after last year’s heavily disappointing season.

Whether everything works out for United or everything falls apart, they will definitely be worth watching as their success or failure will have a huge impact on soccer in this area.

 

Posted in D.C. United, Georgetown, Howard, Maryland, USWNT, Virginia, Washington Spirit.