I wasn't all that surprised to see a shared MVP award, when Sporting Kansas City's season honors were announced on Wednesday. That's the sort of club Peter Vermes has assembled. There's no One Guy on this team.
And there's no arguing that goalkeeper JImmy Nielsen and attacking mid-turned-winger Graham Zusi both deserved MVP-level recognition. Nielsen leads the league with 15 shutouts and was one defensive lapse (not his) away from tying Tony Meola's single-season record, and Zusi has morphed into an assists machine and an up-and-comer with the U.S. National Team.
But here's the thing: When I turned in my media ballot, I didn't have either of them at the top of the list.
My MVP? Center back Matt Besler, Sporting's Defender of the Year this season. He's been as big a key to Kansas City's success this season as have Zeus and the White Puma.
Don't believe me? Check out Nielsen's save numbers. He has 77 -- 14th in the league, and he could drop a few spots after this weekend's regular-season finales. Some of the ones he's made have been spectacular (witness his six Save of the Week honors, including this week's), but he just hasn't had to face as many shots as his peers who play behind weaker defenses. (Paging Andy Gruenebaum and Dan Kennedy ...)
A good deal of that is due to the play of the back line and d-mid Julio Cesar (who should be on everyone's All-Underrated Team this year, but I digress.) And who is the cornerstone of that back line? Besler.
I've heard it argued that Besler isn't even Sporting's best CB, that Aurelien Collin is the more skilled of the tandem and makes a bigger impact on larger areas of the pitch. But here's the deal: Collin can be Collin because Besler is Besler: steady, rarely out of position and there to be a safety net when Collin gets caught out trying to be a No. 10.
Besler doesn't have a whole lot of highlight-reel moments -- but if not for him, opponents this year would have had a lot more. The Defender of the Year award is a nice recognition of that, but he should have been right up there with the Co-MVPs.