Major League Soccer's regular season is over, so who deserves the league's MVP Award?
It's a tough one this year. No player broke from the pack in a league in which "parity" has become the buzzword. But if stats are put aside for a moment and consistent play is emphasized, the winner has to be D.C. United veteran forward Jaime Moreno. After nine years of solid service in MLS, the Bolivian star, who recovered from a possible career-ending injury last year, should be handed the league's top prize.
From the season's opening game against San Jose in April, when he stole the show from Freddy Adu, to Sunday's finale against the MetroStars, Moreno has been the key component in United's revival.
"He's the best all-around player in this league," United midfielder Ben Olsen said. "If you take Jaime's goals and the way he has performed all year, he's a class above 90 percent of the players in this league -- and everyone knows that."
When Moreno suffered a back injury playing for the MetroStars, it looked like his days in MLS could be over. Instead, he returned from a year of exile and regained his rightful position as the second-best player in United history after Marco Etcheverry.
The MVP Award has been given to the points leader in scoring four times, but that shouldn't be the case this year.
New England's Pat Noonan (11 goals, eight assists) and MetroStars playmaker Amado Guevara (10 goals, 10 assists) tied for the scoring title this season though both fizzled late. Moreno (seven goals, 14 assists) has been steady all year, including a couple of delightful moves that helped create two goals in Sunday's 3-2 win.
There's a good possibility a goalkeeper will be MVP, as was the case in 2000 with Tony Meola. Voters might be inclined to hand Moreno the comeback player of the year award and give the MVP to Jon Busch (Columbus) or Joe Cannon (Colorado), who had 10 shutouts each.
In the rookie category, the clear leaders are Clint Dempsey (New England) and Chad Marshall (Columbus), with Joshua Gros (United) also in the mix.
"Joshua Gros is having a very good all-around rookie season," said Olsen, who won the award in 1998. "In my rookie season, I went up and down, but this guy is an animal and just keeps going."
I'm tempted to go with Gros, a hard-working player, but the vote goes to Dempsey (six goals, one assist). He's a player with finesse, vision and a dominating presence.
The coach of the year has to be Columbus' Greg Andrulis, who barely held his job at the end of last season. He then turned the Crew around, leading the club on a 18-game unbeaten streak.
United midfielder Brian Carroll should claim the fair play award, and defender of the year goes to United's Ryan Nelsen, who could be playing overseas next year. As for comeback player of the year, hand it to Ronnie O'Brien of Dallas, who rebounded to start in the All-Star Game after suffering a broken leg last season.
Goal scoring -- This is the first season MLS's leading goal scorer had fewer than 15. Eddie Johnson (Dallas) and Brian Ching (San Jose) tied with 12 in a 30-game season. Last season, Carlos Ruiz (Los Angeles) and Taylor Twellman (New England) had 15.
"I think we are seeing a [change] in the league," Nelsen said. "Before, each team had individuals to draw crowds. Now organizations are looking for solid players who can work week in and week out, which brings consistency, which obviously brings parity."
U.S. news -- The CONCACAF Gold Cup will be held in the United States next July. The 12-team field will be composed of 10 CONCACAF nations and two invitees. Mexico defeated Brazil 1-0 in last year's Gold Cup final in Mexico City.