We cheated. There, we admit it. We won't pretend as though SB Nation's MLS Best XI is anything that really is anything close to a cohesive playing unit. But, then again, the idea was never to have this team actually take the field together. So, consider our Best XI a fantasy, if you must, but it's also a pretty good reflection of which players we felt had the best seasons without getting to far out of control.
And it would seem as though SB Nation's soccer bloggers felt pretty strongly that the Portland Timbers deserved the most plaudits. The Western Conference's top team got three players onto our squad, which was two more representatives than any other team. That's in addition to having our Coach of the Year.
In any case, the team we assembled would at least be fun to watch.
In goal, it should be no surprise that we went with Donovan Ricketts. He was also our Goalkeeper of the Year, so this was a natural pick. The Jamaican international bounced back after a couple down years to turn in one of the best seasons of his already illustrious career and was a major reason the Timbers were so improved on defense. It seemed as if every week Ricketts was making a remarkable save to earn extra points for his team.
The backline is where our team gets a bit unrealistic. While a three-defender set is not such a bad thing, our third defender was Colorado Rapids left back Chris Klute. But put the formation aside for a second and just appreciate what a find the 23-year-old was. Somehow, Klute failed to make a MLS roster out of college and spent most of 2012 with the Atlanta Silverbacks of the NASL, before joining the Rapids late in the season. In his first full campaign, he responded with seven assists and was generally considered the best attacking full back in the league.
Whatever Klute may lack in defense should be covered up by our center backs: Sporting Kansas City's Matt Besler and the New England Revolution's Jose Goncalves. We've already gone into quite a bit of detail as to what made Goncalves such a good pick in our story explaining his Defensive Player of the Year award. Besler is a solid compliment to him, as he anchored the best defense in MLS and became a mainstay on the United States national team.
Our midfield is decidedly offense-first, as well. Will Johnson is the only player among the bunch that has any kind of defensive acumen and, truth be told, he's mainly on this team because of his nine goals and five assists. Both were career highs. He also gets points for helping organize a Timbers team that was in desperate need of an onfield leader.
Joining him are Tim Cahill, Diego Valeri and ... drumroll ... Mike Magee. Yep, we cheated again. We're quite aware that Magee played primarily as a forward this year, but in our defense he was primarily a midfielder before being traded by the LA Galaxy. He absolutely needed a place on this team, and our voters collectively decided this was the spot they wanted him, as the vast majority of voters listed him as a midfielder. That also helps explain how he managed to get onto 25 ballots, by far the most of any player.
In Cahill, our Best XI squad has another potentially two-way midfielder. After a slow start to his MLS career, Cahill found the back of the net 11 times this year, while also registering five assists.
Valeri, on the other hand, is pure attacking midfielder and would feel right at home with this group. The Argentinian import had no problem adjusting to MLS, bagging 10 goals and leading the league with 13 assists.
As strong as the other units might be, our forwards are really the class of the team. In Marco Di Vaio, Camilo Sanvezzo and Robbie Keane, our strike force combined for 58 goals and 19 assists. Camilo's performance was especially impressive when you consider he won the Golden Boot despite playing just 2,418 minutes and found himself coming off the bench with some regularity. If not coming one year removed from Chris Wondolowski's record-breaking season, Camilo's 2013 would be hailed as one of the greatest offensive seasons in MLS history.
Keane quietly put together his best MLS season to date, equalling his goal total of the previous season and exceeding his assist total despite playing about 500 fewer minutes.
Di Vaio might be the oldest player to ever make a Best XI team, as the Italian turned in the third most productive season of his illustrious career at 37 years old.
About these awards: Representatives from each of our 19 MLS blogs and assorted bloggers on SBNation.com were asked to submit a ballot listing their preferred formation and listing one player at each position. The players with the most votes were put on our team with reasonable constraints for position.