120612_dempseybradley_isi_usmntbb101612_47 Bill Barrett/isiphotos.com
Godfrey's Column

Who Is the U.S. Player of the Year? Our Analysis

The Futbol de Primera Player of the Year ballot features 25 names, and voters have to pick, and rank, the top three from that list. Here's an inside look at how ASN's editor in chief approached the vote.
BY John Godfrey Posted
December 06, 2012
5:45 AM
The 2012 Fútbol de Primera Player of the Year ballot arrived in my inbox a short while back, and I have to fill it out and send it in by Friday, December 7.

Rather than doing so behind closed doors, I figured I would bring ASN readers along for the ride, give you a sense of my thought process, and provide you with the opportunity to tell me what an idiot I am. So let’s dive in, shall we?

First, some background:

* Created in 1991, the Fútbol de Primera Player of the Year Award is now in its 22nd year. You may remember it as the Honda Player of the Year award, but the automotive angle is now absent from the entire affair. (Same award, though.)

* Voters include print, radio, television, and Internet journalists from across the nation.

* Here’s the biggie, direct from the ballot: “The “Fútbol de Primera Player of the Year” award recognizes the best player on the U.S. national team who has played in at least three games during the calendar year. This year, 25 players have met this requirement.”

Jozy Altidore
Kyle Beckerman
Carlos Bocanegra
Terrence Boyd
Michael Bradley
Geoff Cameron
Edgar Castillo
Steve Cherundolo
Joe Corona
Clint Dempsey
Landon Donovan
Maurice Edu
Herculez Gomez
Clarence Goodson
Tim Howard
Fabian Johnson
Jermaine Jones
Sacha Kljestan
Oguchi Onyewu
Michael Parkhurst
Brek Shea
Jose Torres
Danny Williams
Chris Wondolowski
Graham Zusi

Twenty-five names are too many to process, so let’s get rid of a few. The United States national team played 14 games in 2012, so anybody who played in fewer than half of those games should be cut right off the bat, right? Let’s see where that leaves us.

Jozy Altidore (7 games played)
Carlos Bocanegra (10 games)
Terrence Boyd (7 games)
Michael Bradley (9 games)
Geoff Cameron (10 games)
Steve Cherundolo (9 games)
Clint Dempsey (9 games)
Maurice Edu (11 games)
Herculez Gomez (11 games)
Clarence Goodson (7 games)
Tim Howard (12 games)
Fabian Johnson (8 games)
Jermaine Jones (12 games)
Danny Williams (7 games)

OK, we’re down to 14. That’s progress.

Where is Landon Donovan, you ask? Where is the seven-time winner of this award? Sorry, he missed the first cut. He only played six times for Jurgen Klinsmann in 2012. And while he did score three goals for the national team this year, all three came in a meaningless blowout against a terrible Scotland side. Clearly, Donovan will not be winning his eighth Player of the Year award in 2012.

Let’s pare things down a bit more. What about minutes played? By assessing the remaining 14 players in terms of actual time on the pitch, two names jump out immediately and need to get lopped off: Terrence Boyd only played 170 minutes, many as a substitute, and Jozy Altidore saw just 313 minutes in a U.S. jersey. Subs are important, but they don’t win the FDP Player of the Year award. Adios guys.

So now we’re at 12. And, to be blunt, some of these guys just are not realistic candidates for the award. Let’s remove Bocanegra, Edu, Goodson, Jones, and Williams. Why? Bocanegra, the captain, was solid but unspectacular this year. Edu and Goodson were uneven at best for the national team. Jones is a stud for Schalke but he struggles to find consistent form for his adopted country. And Williams, despite moments of brilliance throughout the year, played himself out of consideration with his disastrous showing against Russia on November 14.

Seven players left: Bradley, Cameron, Cherundolo, Dempsey, Gomez, Howard, Johnson. One midfielder. One goalkeeper. Three defenders. Two forwards.

We need to get down to three per FDP guidelines, and then rank those remaining three. Perhaps a closer look at the six games that truly mattered in 2012—the World Cup qualifiers—will help us narrow down the options. Here are the most basic statistics for this group.

Bradley: 9 games played; 9 games started; 810 minutes played; 2 goals; 2 assists.
Cameron: 10 games played; 9 games started; 812 minutes played; 0 goals; 0 assists.
Cherundolo: 9 games played; 9 games started; 781 minutes played; 0 goals; 0 assists.
Dempsey: 9 games played; 8 games started; 755 minutes played; 6 goals; 1 assist.
Gomez: 11 games played; 10 games started; 785 minutes played; 3 goals; 0 assists.
Howard: 12 games played; 12 games started; 1,060 minutes played; 4 shutouts; 1.10 goals against average.
Johnson: 8 games played; 8 games started; 677; 0 goals; 2 assists.

Aside from Dempsey’s six goals, nothing here really stands out as a statistical dealbreaker or dealmaker. That said, keeping three defenders on this list when the U.S. struggled defensively throughout World Cup qualification seems wrong. Cameron established himself as a first-team regular in 2012, but major gaffes in Panama and at home against Guatemala hurt his case. And Cherundolo, while steady throughout the year, was not spectacular in 2012. Both get cut at this point.

OK, then. We have five finalists for three spots. Bradley, Dempsey, Gomez, Howard, Johnson. That’s a manageable list. Time to make some hard choices.

Dempsey’s six goals and Bradley’s consistently excellent play ensure two of the top three spots. I don’t know how anybody can argue with that. So who else makes the list?

Gomez deserves plaudits for his incredible work rate and great attitude, and his timely goal in the home qualifier against Jamaica in Columbus was huge. But he also disappeared for long stretches and had a few bad games—most notably on the road against Antigua and Barbuda. Love the player and the person, but he tops out at No. 5 for the year.

So it’s down to Howard and Johnson.

Howard had a number of highlight-reel performances in 2012, including a heroic showing in a friendly in Russia. But he also let in a number of soft goals in key spots. In the first qualifier against Guatemala, Howard got a late break on Marco Pappa’s 83rd-minute free kick and cost the team a win. In the return match against the same team in Kansas City, Carlos Ruiz danced around Howard easily for an early goal. While Ruiz’s goal cannot be blamed on Howard, it has to be said that the U.S. goalkeeper didn’t force the striker into a difficult shot.

Johnson, on the other hand, was remarkably consistent at left back, a position that has haunted the U.S. national team for years. Adept at moving forward and getting into the attack, Johnson has the speed and the technique to play an offensive role when needed. But he also possesses the grit and savvy to lock down his flank as required. While it may seem like faint praise, Johnson is the U.S. national team’s defender of the year. And given Howard’s occasional bursts of inconsistency, he makes my top three instead of the goalkeeper.

I have the final three: Bradley, Dempsey, Johnson. But what is the order?

As good as he was, Johnson did not perform better than Bradley or Dempsey in 2012. He gets the No. 3 spot on my ballot.

So who is No.1?

If statistics told the whole story, Dempsey would be the winner. With six goals and one assist for the national team, he proved—yet again—that he is a deadly striker and a true difference-maker in the offensive half of the field. Despite his unsettled club situation throughout much of 2012, Dempsey maintained his focus and dedication to the national team, and was a key reason the U.S. moved on to the Hex.

If you just look at the intangibles—guts, leadership, vision, consistency—Bradley gets the nod. A two-way player who can adapt his game on the fly, Bradley has the skill and the know-how to play just about any role for the U.S. team—and he often does. With two goals and two assists in 2012, Bradley made an impact on the score sheet, but his true value to the team is never fully realized by looking at the statistics.

Bradley, Dempsey. Dempsey, Bradley.

Bradley is No. 1 in the ASN 100. Dempsey is right behind him at No. 2. You can’t go wrong with either of these guys, but I feel strongly that Bradley is the most important player in the U.S. player pool—he’s the guy who drives the bus, and when he is absent from the lineup the U.S. tends to look lost. He gets my vote.

1. Michael Bradley
2. Clint Dempsey
3. Fabian Johnson

That’s how I filled out my 2012 Fútbol de Primera Player of the Year ballot. Who would you list as your top three? I’d love to hear in the Comments section below.

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