Seattle Sounders FC
by Ian L.
I’ve deleted and retyped that grade about 6 times in the last hour considering each grade between B- and A+ because this is a difficult season to nail down. On the one hand, Seattle won MLS Cup which was its main objective at the start of this (and every) season. On the other, to ignore the absolutely dismal first half of the year wouldn’t be painting a fair picture of the season as a whole. Seattle fans will rightly be thrilled with their first MLS Cup, albeit through an unexpected route, but until a coaching change and the acquisition of Lodeiro in July, the season looked to be historic for a very different reason.
Sigi Schmid was dismissed in July following a disastrous few months that culminated in a disastrous trip to SKC where only a weak Joevin Jones off target effort in the 88th minute spared the Sounders the ignominy of not even registering a single shot. The Lodeiro deal had been long coming and his arrival coincided with the appointment of assistant coach Brian Schmetzer as the interim head coach. Both of these changes seemed to spark the misfiring engine back to life and Seattle were the league’s best team from August onwards. Schmetzer certainly repaid the faith given to him by the front office when they dropped the interim tag in October. In a lot of ways it was the Sounders very best and also very worst season. The fact that they emerged as champions only speaks to the unpredictability of Major League Soccer.
Nicolas Lodeiro. There is absolutely no argument to be made here otherwise. This is a season that saw Stefan Frei making breathtaking saves week in and week out, that saw Osvaldo Alonso put together the best work of his career, and a young Jordan Morris lead the team in scoring while earning himself a Rookie of the Year award. There is still no argument to be made that Lodeiro wasn’t the most valuable player of them all. In 13 regular season games he scored 4 times and added 8 assists and tacked on 4 more goals in the postseason. A lot of players need time to adjust to the league. Lodeiro got off a plane and 72 hours later gave a full 90 minute man of the match performance against the Galaxy and never stopped playing well after that. Seattle would not only not have won MLS Cup without him, it’s hard to imagine they would have even made the playoffs.
It’s obviously Lodeiro again, but since we’ve already talked about him, let’s give some praise to Jordan Morris who came into the league with more hype than any homegrown player in history and managed to deliver. It was a little bit of a slow start for the youngster, having been given an even bigger scoring mantle after the departure of Obafemi Martins, but once he started scoring he went on to tally 12 goals in the regular season. Most people expected Jordan Morris to have a ROTY season, and he did just that. Lofty expectations. Lofty execution.
Seattle has always had a difficult time in Carson City. The LA Galaxy have managed to frustrate the Sounders on many occasions, so expectations were not high when they traveled down the coast on September 25th. Things started as they usually do when Seattle plays Los Angeles, with a Robbie Keane goal, but Seattle leveled through a Jelle Van Damme own goal in the 35th and then went on to score three more in the second half. Los Angeles would pull one back in the 85th minute as Robbie Keane converted a penalty that never should have been called, but it was truly the Sounders day.
I discussed it a bit briefly above, but the 3-0 loss at Kansas City was probably the lowest point in the history of Seattle’s franchise. Sporting Kansas City completely dominated the game, scoring three times, and only heroic goalkeeping by Stefan Frei would keep the scoreline even halfway respectable. There was zero impetus going forward, the players all appeared to be tired, and when watching them you couldn’t help but feel that the team had finally hit a breaking point. Schmid’s dismissal a few days later came as no surprise. If that was the turning point that finally caused Seattle to have no choice but to make a drastic change, then maybe it was a good thing in the end. I declared on Twitter that day that the Sounders would not be making the postseason this year, and nobody argued with me. What a difference a Lodeiro makes.
When you win the big trophy, there’s only one goal the next year, and that’s to win it again. Now, repeat MLS Cup winners aren’t a common thing as you have to be ready to strengthen your team even after a Championship run. Seattle will be without the services of Erik Friberg, Andreas Ivanschitz, and Nelson Valdez next season and they’ve taken some tentative steps towards replacing those guys with the additions of Harry Shipp and Will Bruin. The long term health of Clint Dempsey is a big question mark heading into 2017. If the 33 year old can make a full recovery, the Sounders are going to once again be a very dangerous attacking team. However, if his health issues keep him on the sidelines, his DP slot doesn’t give the Sounders a lot of flexibility this offseason. Sounders fans will be hoping that Jordan Morris doesn’t fall into a sophomore slump and builds on his stellar rookie campaign. Ozzie Alonso is a year older, but he just seems to be getting better. Chad Marshall is probably nearing the end of his career, but Roman Torres is a rock on which the Sounders can build a defensive line. The Sounders are perennial contenders, and I don't expect that to change in 2017.
Goal of the Year:
By Britt Jo
By MLS standards, the LA Galaxy had a decent year, but by LA Galaxy standards, 2016 was nothing more than mediocre. There were bright spots by way of Giovani Dos Santos goals, Jelle Van Damme and Ashley Cole teaming up in defense, and the return of Landon Donovan. However, the late game goals allowed (especially off frustratingly saveable shots) along with lack of consistent scoring lead to the team’s somewhat disappointing year. Although Donovan’s return was less than triumphant, he provided an emotional bright spark for fans who were sad to see him go two years prior and who were enduring their version of dark times.
Giovani Dos Santos provided 14 goals and 12 assists in 28 games played in the 2016 season. He’s the only player for LA to hit double digits in both categories this season, which offers some insight on the offensive woes of the club. Nonetheless, Gio’s consistent contributions all season long were one of the few solid positives from the team’s performance this year.
Jelle Van Damme is the most important newcomer for the Galaxy by filling the gap left by Omar Gonzalez’ departure seasons ago. He supported the team, both offensively and defensively, especially when some of the other stars were out due to injury, and also, added a much needed physical presence, especially after Nigel De Jong’s mid season exit.
The month of July was a great month for the team by going undefeated for the month and winning both in Seattle and Portland. However, to pick one best performance of the year would have to be the 5-2 win over RSL at home on April 23rd. This was a collective effort by the club with 6 different players taking part in the 5 goals of the day.
The 4-2 loss at home to the Seattle Sounders on September 25th was definitely an embarrassing one for the team. LA had a healthy team and was easily beat by a Western Conference rival, by way of being ahead a goal, scoring an own goal, and being completely bypassed by the league’s wonderkid all in one game.
The best case scenario for the Galaxy would be to tighten up defensively to avoid losing those ever painful last minute points. With many key defensive players returning, familiarity may finally be on their side. The addition of Curt Onalfo may bring the new spark that the team needs to be more consistent in goal scoring.
Goal of the Year:
With a season as intriguing as 2016, it’s only fitting that my pick for GOTY be this screamer from none other than Baggio Husidic:
By Steven Clark
United’s early season production seemed to be more of the same old Benny-ball seen over the past few years. Yes, there were flashes of creativity, but from March until the end of July, D.C. had only three matches in which they scored more than one goal. Additionally, United was also marred by early season issues off the field as well, between the front office and the fans and media, causing a rift between the club and those most fervently supporting them. Three major midseason transactions - Sam, Mullins, and the departure of Espindola - altered the offensive landscape. The Club then surged into the playoffs picking up 14 of a possible 21 points, and scoring no less than two goals in their last nine matches. That trend continued into the playoffs, but unfortunately ended due to an inhuman performance by Montreal’s Matteo Mancosu.
Deciding on an MVP proved difficult, considering that the defense was average overall and the offense did not turn on until midway through the season. A full-year MVP would be Lamar Neagle, but the team wasn’t complete until the arrival of Patrick Mullins and Lloyd Sam, combining for eleven goals (Mullins: 8) and eight assists (Sam: 6) in little over a dozen matches.
Mullins. Not only did D.C. benefit from Mullins moving from New York City, but Patrick himself saw a chance to revitalize his career after only producing six goals in a year and a half in Yankee Stadium.
United’s thrashing of Chicago 6-2 also saw Mullins score his first hat trick in his 70 match career.
D.C.’s first half against the LA Galaxy in the season opener showed signs of promise. They scored early and played attractive soccer. Then, the wheels came off after halftime, and the Galaxy quickly dashed any optimism fans had of a possible D.C. Renaissance by netting four before the final whistle.
Over the past five years, D.C. United has made the playoffs four times. Each successive occurrence has been followed by an earlier exit than the previous year. In 2017, Ben Olsen has to look ahead in terms of depth if he has any hope of making any headway into November. Given the rise in Orlando and New York City, and the sudden surge of acquisitions in Atlanta, finding space in the postseason pool will be exponentially harder. RFK’s potentially last season may also mean the last year of frugal spending, so a new DP will most likely not be in the cards for at least twelve more months.
Goal of the Year:
By Anders Aarhus
New York City FC took a huge step forward in 2016. Patrick Vieira shrugged off the long history of failed foreign coaches in MLS to lead City to a second place finish and the club’s first ever playoff appearance. Frank Lampard finally played a significant amount of games, Vieira got the best out of Andrea Pirlo, and David Villa finished second in the golden boot race, giving NYCFC one of the best attacks in the league. The defense was not as impressive – City allowed the most goals of any playoff team – and it ultimately doomed NYCFC to an early playoff exit.
MVP: David Villa
There may be a legitimate debate about whether Villa should’ve won the league MVP over Sebastian Giovinco, but there’s no arguing he was NYCFC’s best and most important player in 2016. The Spanish forward continued his rampage through MLS defenses with a 23 goal, four assist season. Villa has been a model DP for NYCFC, taking his time in MLS seriously and going out of his way to promote the league. Next year may be his last in the states, but, judging by his 41 goals the last two years, it should be another productive one.
Newcomer: Jack Harrison
Does Frank Lampard qualify? (I kid, I kid). Only Jordan Morris’ incredible season kept Harrison from repeating Cyle Larin’s No. 1 overall pick to rookie of the year path. Harrison made an immediate impact on the field, so much so he even drew some speculative (very speculative) hype for a call to the England national team.
Best Performance: 5-1 win vs. Colorado Rapids, July 30
Colorado led the league with just 32 goals allowed, but NYCFC tagged the Rapids’ stingy defense for five at the end of July. It was a prime example of what City’s potent offense could do in the cramped confines of Yankee Stadium. Frank Lampard notched the first hat trick in NYCFC history with an 84th minute PK.
Worst Performance: 7-0 loss vs. New York Red Bulls, May 21
A blowout. At home. In a derby. A trifecta NYCFC fans are hoping they’ll never have to suffer through again. The Red Bulls jumped ahead with a 3rd minute Dax McCarty goal and never looked back, piling on three goals in the first half and four more in the second while holding NYCFC to just two shots on target. It was a harbinger of things to come as the defense allowed another seven goals over two legs against TFC in the playoffs.
There’s a lot to like heading into 2017. Lampard is gone, but Andrea Pirlo is back David Villa has shown no signs of slowing down. There’s also a nice stable of young talent to build around. The aforementioned Harrison leads an exciting group that includes Tommy McNamara, Khiry Shelton, Ronald Matarrita and newly-signed, USL MVP Sean Okoli. Sean Johnson is an upgrade in goal with the potential to be special. Defense will be a problem though. NYCFC hasn’t brought in any defenders so far this offseason and it will take more than a system change to fix the issues City had last year. If Vieira can continue his development as a coach and the defense improves even a little, NYCFC will be right back in the mix at the top of the East.
Goal of the Year: