The MLS Best XI confirmed that SBN Soccer's MLS awards voters can have varied viewpoints on just about everything. Rookie of the Year? Not so much.
In a landslide victory, Sporting Kansas City striker CJ Sapong was our collective pick as the MLS Rookie of the Year, taking 18 first-place votes out of a possible 22. With ballots asking for the top three rookies, no other player even found himself with 18 votes of any kind. Sapong's first-place vote haul was the most of any SBN Soccer Award winner.
Sapong wasn't just popular among voters. The forward managed to appear in every single match for Sporting during the regular season - their only player to do so - and started in all three of their playoff matches to boot. Due to injuries for Omar Bravo and Teal Bunbury and international duty for Kei Kamara, Sapong got minutes at all three forward positions for the former Wizards, and even kept a fully fit Bunbury out of the side for a spell.
In the full-throttle 4-3-3 favored by Vermes, Sapong proved to be an ideal fit. While his outstanding athletic gifts were important, the James Madison University product's work rate was arguably his most important quality. That's not to say the kid can't play a little; Sapong's 5 goals left him equal with Will Bruin for the rookie lead, and he also managed 5 assists. Sapong's 2011 season already has people buzzing about his potential future with the US national team, and may lead to a European training stint over the winter.
While Sapong rightfully garnered the lion's share of first-place votes, our voters were less certain of who deserved their second- and third-place votes. DC United's Perry Kitchen, despite shuttling between right back, center back, and defensive midfield, came in second overall, just ahead of New England Revolution center back A.J. Soares, Philadelphia Union midfielder Michael Farfan, and attacker Darlington Nagbe of the Portland Timbers.
Over the course of the 2011 season, Kitchen and Soares were both likely the strongest defender at their respective clubs, but in each case that also left them at times with too much of the load to carry. Farfan, meanwhile, seemed to play all over the place or not at all for reasons only known to the Union's secretive manager, Peter Nowak. Nagbe struggled in the early going, but eventually found his footing as a winger and managed to do this, among other highlights.