Sporting Kansas City's annual Pitch Black awards--a swanky Saturday night gala that the club puts on towards the end of the season to honor its outstanding contributors for the year--is just one week away from being held right on the pitch of Children's Mercy Park. With fan voting having just on Friday night, a quartet of The Blue Testament's writers discussed their reasons for their votes in the categories of Most Valuable Player, Offensive Player of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year, Newcomer of the Year, and Goal of the Year.
Most Valuable Player
Thad Bell, TBT manager (TB): Roger Espinoza, runner-up Jacob Peterson. Espinoza has been the most consistent player on the team and SKC is not as good when he is not on the field. It would be easy to pick Benny as the MVP or runner-up, but this is just about the only place to reward Peterson for his contributions this year.
Chad Smith, TBT staff writer (CS): Dom Dwyer. Dom has been fantastic this year. Sure, he's not likely to score the 22 goals he scored in 2014, but he already has 15 goals and he is basically the only attacking option. Despite being isolated a lot, he's suceeded. Sure, Jacob Peterson has had a career year, but with no Krizstian Nemeth to take the pressure off Dwyer, he had a lot to overcome and he did well. The argument could be made for Benny Feilhaber, and he has still played well, but he has only scored once from the run of play.
Jough Donakowski, TBT staff writer (JD): Benny Feilhaber, it is hard to imagine our offense without him at this point.
Eric Atcheson, TBT contributing author (EA): Gotta agree with Thad on this one--it has to be Roger. Perhaps the best way to encapsulate his evolution as a player over in England is to look at his playmaking. He set an MLS career high in assists in 2015, and has already repeated that feat in 2016. While Soni Mustivar brings a great many qualities to the table, he does not quite have the vision and passing of his predecessor, Uri Rosell, and so Roger has stepped up to take on substantial portions of link-up play and playmaking alongside Benny Feilhaber, on top of the usual motoring around and defensive disruption that have been Roger's calling cards for many years. Both Dom and Benny merit consideration, but I think Roger deserves the honor this year.
Offensive Player of the Year
TB: Dom Dwyer, runner-up Benny Feilhaber. The scoring leader or the assist guy? This time I will go with the goalscorer.
CS: Dom Dwyer. See MVP vote.
JD: Benny Feilhaber. 12 assists and six goals? Hard to argue with that.
EA: It's a three-quarters vote for Dwyer, then. 15 goals + 3 assists is a pretty solid return on 28 starts (thus far) in league play, and both are improvements on Dom's 2015 numbers. Honorable mention to Benny, whose 6 goals and 12 assists are a solid stat line, but Dom's line represents an improvement, while Benny's represents a slight regression.
Defensive Player of the Year
TB: Saad Abdul-Salaam, runner-up Jimmy Medranda. Inconcsistency at center back rules the CB's out for my vote. With Myers hurt a lot, SAS has become better and better on defense and added a nice threat going forward. He is also second on the team with six assists. Medranda has been a beast on defense and enjoyable going forward, but SAS has been more consistent.
CS: Jimmy Medranda has been a member of Sporting KC since 2013, but 2016 has really been his breakout year. He has been a consistent starter at left back when it really looked like Seth Sinovic or Amadou Dia would play that role this season. While he only has one goal (which was really a screw up by Josh Saunders) and two assists, he has been shockingly good at playing defense since he's spent the rest of his time with SKC on the wing or in the midfield -- besides two games last season). Medranda is also among the league leaders in interceptions, tackles won and crosses from open play. On top of all that, the super secretive Audi Player Index has him as the 2nd best left back in MLS behind DeMarcus Beasley, who has played quite a bit fewer games (http://www.mlssoccer.com/post/2016/08/18/audi-player-index-whos-best-left-back-mls). All that said, Saad Abdul-Salaam has also done quite well on the right hand side and he'd be a worthy winner as well with the revolving door at center back next to these guys.
JD: Roger Espinoza. Steady engine in the midfield, he has been a consistent piece of a defense that has seen a lot of shake-up. And, hey, he leads the team in yellow cards and red cards too. So he has got that going for him. Which is nice.
EA: Back when Chad and I were both with Reporting KC, I tabbed Saad Abdul-Salaam (and Amadou Dia, who has since been traded) as my candidate for breakout player of the year. His six assists are positively Myers-esque, so it is little wonder that he has supplanted Myers as the first-choice right back (Chance's string of injuries hasn't helped his cause, either, and I wouldn't be surprised to see him in another team's colors come March). I think Chad makes a compelling case for Jimmy Medranda, especially since Jimmy really was converted into a fullback and had to learn to defensive aspects of his new gig on the job, but my vote belongs to SAS.
Newcomer of the Year
TB: Brad Davis, runner-up Nuno Andre Coelho. Nuno may have had the biggest impact early on, but has faded down the stretch with injuries. Davis has also had his run of injury issues and has not scored/assisted nearly as much as hoped but does look dangerous every time he steps on the field. Would really like to vote for Justin Mapp with his 6 appearances, 43 minutes, and 1 shot but that would be a little mean.
CS: Nuno Andre Coelho This is tough. It really comes down to Rubio and Coelho for me. Rubio simply hasn't had enough time on the pitch or enough of an impact. I'd REALLY like to see him on the pitch with Dwyer more, but that's another topic. Coelho, while injured a lot lately, played great at the beginning of the year. For March and April I had him as my personal player of the month. Despite all the injuries, he still has 21 appearances and a goal and assist out of the back. If he played as good as he did the first two months and sustained that all year (without injuries), he could have been the MVP. That simply didn't happen, but at least he is on the field more than Justin Mapp. .
JD: Nuno Andre Coelho. Vermes seems to have a knack for finding good center backs, and when healthy, Nuno looks excellent no matter who he's partnered with. With a year of MLS experience under his belt I think he can be stellar in 2017.
EA: My soft spot for Nuno is blatant--Chad and Jough basically explain why, and I've all but proclaimed my mancrush for Nuno on Twitter--but due to the disappointment (or lack of contribution) of pretty much every newcomer this season, I'm lodging a protest vote for Jeferson, whose 2011 half-season here as a Designated Player remains the most memorable run of dominance by a Kansas City player since Miklos Molnar's single torrid season here in 2000. Also, SBNation's new template really needs a sarcasm font. Long live Jeferson!
Goal of the Year
TB: Jacob Peterson, July 24; runner-up Roger Espinoza, September 9. Really like this goal by Peterson to the far post, and it kicked off a good streak of scoring at home for Jake. Roger's goal impressed because he stole the ball and then launched a blazing shot into the corner.
CS: Roger Espinoza, Spetember 9. I struggle to remember specific goals. Because this was so recent, it sticks out in my head. Espinoza previously would shoot way too much and never make goals. He has a single goal in 2015 and 2016. This year, about half way through the year, he seemed to be making an effort to pass in the final third more. That said, sometimes he should pull the trigger and boy did he for my Goal of the Year. Jacob Peterson gets an honorable mention for his golazo against the Sounders.
JD: I love goals. They're all goal of the year in my book.
EA: Roger Espinoza, September 9. It gets my vote as well, because it is (a) a bona fide goalazo, and (b) completely self-generated, as Roger stole the ball himself and turned it into a goal with an absolutely surgical cannon blast of a shot. If I were to pick a runner-up, it'd be one of JP's entries...I wouldn't have really considered him for MVP or offensive player of the year--that feels a bit like grading him on a curve--but a nod for GOTY would be a nice recognition of his torrid form in terms of both quality goals and asinine book reports.
What do you think? Agree with our picks? Disagree? Tell us why in the comments.