It is hard to believe, but after Saturday’s game at San Jose, Sporting Kansas City has already arrived at the midpoint of the 34-game MLS regular season (although, it should be noted, Sporting KC arrived at this point much quicker than many other teams—about half the teams in the Western Conference have games in hand on them).
Having made it to the halfway point of the 2017 campaign, a trio of The Blue Testament authors took a few minutes this past weekend to discuss what their votes would be for a series of mid-season superlative awards: best goal, best assist, best game, best defender, and, of course, club MVP.
Your TBT trio:
TBT site manager Thad Bell
TBT editor Chad Smith
TBT contributor Eric Atcheson (when do you think my colleagues will get wise to the fact that my doing these roundtable-style pieces basically invites them to write my articles for me?)
Thad Bell (TB): My favorite goal of the first half of the season so far was the Gerso goal versus Montreal on June 10th. The great vision by Ilie, the positioning by Gerso and the touch across his body to place it inside the far post to take the lead was quality all around.
Chad Smith (CS): Benny Feilhaber versus San Jose on March 18th. You always remember your first! There are been some pretty nice goals in 2017 but we waited so long for the first one that it just stands out to me more. It looked like a cross, then it went in the net. Beautiful stuff!
Eric Atcheson (EA): I’ll second Chad and vote for Benny’s goal. Yes, it came during an absolutely horrid stretch of form for Quakes keeper David Bingham, but there was just nothing Bingham could do about a firework of a goal like that one. That goal was 100% Benny.
TB: My favorite assist is Ilie on my favorite goal—that Gerso goal versus Montreal on June 10th. Great vision to pick out Gerso and perfect placement to give him a chance to shoot it.
CS: Benny Feilhaber and Jimmy Medranda to Dom Dwyer on April 15th. The build up that led to this goal was picture perfect. It's what SKC have lacked at times this year. Quick movements into dangerous areas. Feilhaber plays a perfect pass to Medranda who hits it first touch across the box where Dwyer finishes it with his head. Extra sweet since it was on the road against Portland.
EA: That assist from Ilie for Gerso’s goal against Montreal really was something else. A moon shot literally halfway down the field that was inch-perfect, that’s a sort of pass that would elicit oooh’s and aaah’s even in one of the big European leagues, and it perfectly illustrates Ilie’s giftedness as a regista—a deep-lying playmaker.
TB: The game of the first half is tough to decide. The recent 4-0 drubbing of the Loons is fresh on the mind but I think the best is the “Gershow game.” A natural hat trick for Gerso and a 3-0 score on the Seattle Sounders was just about perfect.
CS: April 15th versus the Portland Timbers. Sporting KC have struggled on the road not just in 2017 but also last season. So to go on the road and get all three points against the Timbers (who were top of the table at the time) is quite the achievement.
EA: I think I have to agree with Thad on this one, too. A hat trick in under fifteen minutes is a remarkable feat in any game, but especially so against a team that prides itself on success as much as Seattle does. It was a great game for more than just Gerso, though—Tim Melia put on an absolute clinic in the first half, and SKC’s midfielders and wingers had some excellent passing plays throughout. And considering it meant puncturing that bubble of Cascadian soccer arrogance just a bit (hey, I live in Washington state, so I’m the one who has to put up with the Timbers and Sounders fans!), it was a sweet victory to savor.
TB: Defender of the year so far has to be Ike Opara. Consistently the best defender on the pitch.
CS: Ike Opara. In the interest of spreading the love, I'll give this one to Ike (though it could be argued this is Ilie's award). Opara is having a career resurgence. He's almost played as many minutes in 2017 as he did in 2016 and the season is only half over. The games he's missed because of rest haven't gone that well, so it shows how important he is next to Besler. He scored in the US Open Cup game and he also had that ridiculous curving ball against Minnesota during the regular season too (imagine how many goals he'd have if he only had to play Minnesota United all the time).
45+2' Ike Opara scores from way out!!!! Of all the shots of the half stunning that this is the one that goes in. #SKCvMIN pic.twitter.com/T0swlfy7n3— Chad Smith (@PlayFor90) June 3, 2017
EA: It’s a unanimous sweep for Ike, then. While my MVP vote (in fact—all our MVP votes...wait, spoiler alert!) is going to a defensive player, as far as the best of SKC’s back line goes, it is Ike, and then the field. Graham Zusi has more than met expectations as a newly-minted right back, and Matt Besler and Seth Sinovic have mostly been solid, if unspectacular, stalwarts on the left side of defense, but Ike has been the one to really anchor a back line that at long last seems as stingy as its 2012-2013 incarnations.
Most Valuable Player
TB: MVP is tough. Ike has been great at centerback, Melia has been stellar in goal but both of them have been helped by Ilie being such an influence in front of the back line. My vote will go to Ilie for the moment but I do keep swaying back and forth between him and Gerso.
CS: Ilie Sanchez. When you look at the numbers Ilie isn't a guy that's going to show up a lot on the stat sheet. He has just a single assist on the year but he's a huge reason this team is killing it in 2017. No offense to Soni Mustivar, but Ilie is what SKC need in a holding midfielder. He is a shield in front of the backline and he has the ability to get the ball forward and place the offense on the front foot. Oh, and that assist he did have was a freaking amazing pass to Gerso (as you can see by the assist votes above).
EA: I guess I’ll be the odd one out, then. Feel free to say I’m as biased as a bribed FIFA official, but as a goalkeeper, fellow keepers often deserve more recognition than they get, and Tim Melia has gotten really very little recognition for the sort of Herculean demigod-esque season he is putting together. He is, as of this writing, only fourth in All Star voting and was snubbed on Bruce Arena’s Gold Cup roster for Sean Johnson and Joe Bendik, both of whom are having good seasons, but not great seasons like Timmy. No disrespect to Ilie whatsoever, who has more than lived up to the “Uri Rosell 2.0” billing that preceded his arrival, but Melia has been worth at least a couple of wins on the standings so far this season. At least.