MLS Best XI: What They Got Right, What They Got Wrong

By Matthew Evans
Don Garber
Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

During the buildup for the MLS Cup Final this Saturday, Major League Soccer has been announcing the recipients of the year-end awards and today, they announced the league’s Best XI as voted on by players, managers, technical directors and select media.

The goalkeeper selected was Donovan Ricketts of the Portland Timbers, and there is no argument here. Ricketts played incredible soccer, making key saves at key times to help the Timbers finish first in the Western Conference during the regular season. Ricketts appeared in 32 of 34 matches with a record of 13 wins, 14 draws and five losses, he also finished second in the league with a goals against average of 0.97.

Factor in the fact that he had 14 shutouts this season, and he was the clear favorite for this spot on the MLS Best XI. The other goalkeeper that had an argument would have been Sporting Kansas City‘s Jimmy Nielsen, who had a better goals against average. However, Ricketts finished with a better record, had more saves and more shutouts.

There were three defenders selected to the Best XI this season: 2013 MLS Defender of the Year Jose Goncalves of New England Revolution, Omar Gonzalez of the Los Angeles Galaxy and Matt Besler of Sporting Kansas City.

I do not agree with the appointment of Besler on this squad. He got on this list because of his play with the United States Men’s National Team along with his MLS play. If this list is created based solely upon performance during the MLS season, Chris Klute of Colorado Rapids would occupy the third defender spot.

Klute appeared in 31 regular season matches in comparison to the 23 appearances by Besler. Obviously he missed some action due to the national team, but when they were playing for their clubs, Klute was also more of an offensive weapon with seven assists during the year. He provided dangerous crosses during the times when he pushed forward into the attack.

The midfield consisted of four players: Diego Valeri of Portland, Graham Zusi of Sporting Kansas City, Tim Cahill of the New York Red Bulls and Will Johnson of Portland. Valeri was a lock for this spot with 10 goals and 13 assists in 31 appearances. Cahill is also deserving of a spot on here with his 11 goals, including some very clutch late winners to help elevate the Red Bulls to the Supporters’ Shield.

The spot occupied by Johnson is deserved, but also could have gone to his teammate Darlington Nagbe. The two had similar statistics with Johnson appearing in six fewer matches than Nagbe, but I feel like the negative effect on the Timbers would be greater without Johnson in the midfield as opposed to Nagbe.

Zusi, in my opinion, should not be on this list. He played great for the National Team and was good for Sporting this season, but he did not have as good of a season as Diego Fagundez of New England Revolution overall. Fagundez led all midfielders in scoring with 13 goals, but was also the engine that powered the New England attack. His stellar play led the Revs to the postseason and at only 18, his future is very bright. He will have a spot on this Best XI list someday.

As for the forwards, there were four deserving players and only three open spots. Those three spots were occupied by Mike Magee of the Chicago Fire, Marco Di Vaio of the Montreal Impact and Robbie Keane of Los Angeles. The other player who could have made this list and did on some ballots would have been Camilo of the Vancouver Whitecaps. Any combination of these four would be just fine.

Overall, I think the voters did a fairly good job with the team.

Matthew Evans is a soccer writer for, “Like” him on Facebook, Follow him on Twitter, or add him to your network on Google

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