The Washington Times - October 29, 2012, 11:25AM

Seven months and 18 days after the MLS regular season kicked off, it came to a close Sunday night. As we brace ourselves for the playoffs, let’s look back at the 2012 campaign by focusing on its standout players. Here are my first- and second-team all-league selections, as well as the votes I submitted for the various MLS awards.

FIRST TEAM
GK Jimmy Nielsen
 (Kansas City): The veteran compiled 15 shutouts and a pristine 0.79 goals against average while playing every minute of every game.
RB Steven Beitashour (San Jose): The Earthquakes’ attack-minded right back started all but one game, racking up six assists.
CB Jay DeMerit (Vancouver): His renaissance season was a big reason the Whitecaps went from 55 goals allowed to 41, and from last place to a playoff spot.
CB Matt Besler (Kansas City): The calm, dependable defender is the glue that holds Kansas City’s league-best back line together.
LB Heath Pearce (New York): After a trade from Chivas USA, the versatile defender gave the Red Bulls stability while playing on the left and at center back.
RM Landon Donovan (Los Angeles): Despite some injury troubles, the league stalwart enjoyed another stellar campaign, notching nine goals and 14 assists.
DM Osvaldo Alonso (Seattle): The Cuban’s ability to win tackles in midfield and spray the ball all over the field is unrivaled in MLS.
CM Graham Zusi (Kansas City): Following a breakout 2011, Zusi led the league with 15 assists and chipped in five tallies of his own for a KC team that only scored 42 goals.
LM Brad Davis (Houston): Whether playing on the flank in a 4-4-2 or more centrally in a 4-3-3, Davis stayed productive, contributing eight goals and 12 assists.
CF Thierry Henry (New York): Although his minutes were managed through various ailments, the French star remains a world-class talent, as evidenced by his 15 goals and 12 assists in 25 games.
CF Chris Wondolowski (San Jose): In a far more defensive era of MLS, Wondo still managed to tie Roy Lassiter’s 16-year-old record of 27 goals — nine more than anyone else this year.

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SECOND TEAM
GK Michael Gspurning
 (Seattle): His 0.73 goals against average led the league, and Seattle’s defense dropped off when he missed 13 games with a hip injury.
RB Lee Young-Pyo (Vancouver): At 35 years old, the South Korean veteran still went the full 90 in 33 matches.
CB Aurelien Collin (Kansas City): A bruising ball-winner, Collin also used his aerial prowess to contribute three goals.
CB Victor Bernardez (San Jose): While the Earthquakes’ prolific attack got all the attention, the hulking Bernardez quietly led a solid defense.
LB Gonzalo Segares (Chicago): The Costa Rican scored three goals while providing a reliable presence at left back, game in, game out.
RM Mauro Rosales (Seattle): The Argentine playmaker recorded 13 assists for the second straight year while offering creativity from the flank.
DM Kyle Beckerman (Salt Lake): RSL’s midfield-clogging captain notched four goals and four assists while dictating the tempo centrally.
CM Dwayne De Rosario (D.C.): Before suffering a sprained knee ligament last month, the reigning MVP still managed to compile seven goals and 12 assists.
LM Chris Pontius (D.C.): Alternating between the left flank and a withdrawn forward role, Pontius broke out with 12 goals and four assists while also emerging as a locker room leader.
CF Robbie Keane (Los Angeles): The Irishman wrapped the year in scorching form, finishing with 16 goals and nine helpers despite missing five games because of Euro 2012.
CF Alvaro Saborio (Salt Lake): Perhaps the streakiest player in MLS, the Costa Rican poacher buried 17 goals for RSL.

Most Valuable Player
1. Chris Wondolowski (San Jose)
2. Graham Zusi (Kansas City)
3. Thierry Henry (New York)

This race has been a battle for second since the early stages of the season, as Wondolowski started the year hot and rarely let up while leading the Earthquakes to the Supporters’ Shield. His 27-goal haul was three more than Chivas USA’s entire team scored.

Goalkeeper of the Year
1. Jimmy Nielsen (Kansas City)
2. Michael Gspurning (Seattle)
3. Andy Gruenebaum (Columbus)

Gruenebaum led MLS in saves and Gspurning in goals against average, but Nielsen’s shutout total and direction of the league’s top defense gives him the honor.

Defender of the Year
1. Matt Besler (Kansas City)
2. Jay DeMerit (Vancouver)
3. Aurelien Collin (Kansas City)

For a while, this seemed like Collin’s award to lose. But over time, it became evident it was the brash Frenchman’s more tactically sound teammate who deserves the accolade.

Coach of the Year
1. Frank Yallop (San Jose)
2. Ben Olsen (D.C.)
3. Peter Vermes (Kansas City)

Olsen made a late push for this one, guiding United to a 5-0-2 record following De Rosario’s knee injury, but you can’t look past Yallop taking San Jose from out of the playoffs to the Supporters’ Shield.

Rookie of the Year
1. Austin Berry (Chicago)
2. Nick DeLeon (D.C.)
3. Matt Hedges (Dallas)

DeLeon started and ended the year strong. His former Louisville teammate Berry, meanwhile, was more consistent, going the full 90 in 28 straight games after seizing the starting job in early May.

Newcomer of the Year
1. Michael Gspurning (Seattle)
2. Victor Bernardez (San Jose)
3. Felipe Martins (Montreal)

Gspurning, who posted the third-best goals against average in MLS history, edges out Felipe, who compiled four goals and 10 assists for the expansion Impact, and Bernardez.

Comeback Player of the Year
1. Chris Pontius (D.C.)
2. David Ferreira (Dallas)
3. Omar Gonzalez (Los Angeles)

Gonzalez returned midseason from a torn ACL to stabilize the Galaxy’s back line, and Ferreira’s nine assists in 17 games back from a broken ankle are impressive. But Pontius’ contributions following a broken leg late last year can’t be overlooked.