Despite one of the worst records in the league, the San Jose Earthquakes did not make a lot of high-profile changes heading into the 2012 season. Their biggest signing of the offseason turned out to be Honduras international Victor Bernardez.
It turned out to be the only one they really needed to make, which is why SB Nation has named him the 2012 MLS Newcomer of the Year.
With Bernardez anchoring the backline, the Earthquakes saw a dramatic improvement both on defense and offense. Defensively, the team allowed just 1.16 goals per game in matches he played, as opposed to 1.5 in the 10 he didn't.
Perhaps more impressively, Bernardez's presence allowed the other Quakes defenders to be more active in the attack. Earthquakes defenders contributed five goals and 19 assists this year, helping fuel an offense that scored a league-leading 72 goals during the regular season. For good measure, Bernardez scored two of those goals and added one more in the playoffs. A year ago, the Quakes defenders had two goals and 10 assists.
How we voted: Of all the individual awards SB Nation voted on, none were closer than Newcomer. In all, 11 players received at least one first-place vote and at least 16 received at least a point in the tally. Bernardez (8 first-place votes, 22 points) was able to edge out Sounders goalkeeper Michael Gspurning (7. 17) and Columbus Crew midfielder Federico Higuain (6, 16). Curiously, none of the players made as many as 25 league appearances.
Also garnering significant attention were Impact midfielder Felipe (4, 9), Dynamo midfielder Oscar Boniek Garcia (3, 8), Revolution forward Saer Sene (2, 7), Impact midfielder Patrice Bernier (1, 6) and FC Dallas forward Blas Perez (0,4). No other player appeared on more than one ballot.
What the bloggers say: Not often does the addition of a single player transform a team, but the arrival of Victor Bernardez in San Jose elevated the Earthquakes defense to a Supporters' Shield worthy level. No matter his partner at centerback, Big Vic stabilized the defense to such an extent that the Quakes outside backs were given free reign to overlap on the wings and contribute mightily to an offense that scored a franchise record 72 goals this season. In addition, his composure on the ball helped alleviate high-pressure tactics from opponents and his set-piece acumen provided a big boost on restarts.
An April injury and June international call-up to the Honduras national team limited Bernardez to 24 starts in 2012, but the 30-year-old former Anderlecht man adjusted quickly to the physical style of play that defines MLS and became the Quakes' enforcer.
As captain of the defense and contributor on offense, Bernardez was instrumental in the Earthquakes earning the highest goal differential (+29) in MLS. When an injury forced the defender from San Jose's Western Conference semifinal second leg match against the LA Galaxy, his importance to the team's defensive effort was highlighted as his absence hastened the Earthquakes exit from the playoffs.
- Robert Jonas, Quake, Rattle and Goal
About the voting: Every writer for SB Nation's MLS blogs was eligible to vote, with 34 submitting ballots. On the individual awards, two points was given for each first-place vote and one point for each second-place vote. Voting was conducted after the regular season and was not meant to include any post-season performance.