Monday, November 26, 2012

Four Sporting Kansas City players voted to MLS Best XI

Sporting Kansas City had four players named to Major League Soccer's Best XI on Monday in recognition of their outstanding performances throughout the 2012 MLS season.

Goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen, defenders Matt Besler and Aurelien Collin, and midfielder Graham Zusi were voted to the annual end-of-season team by media members, players and club management.

The team's four selections are the most in club history and ties for the most in League history. The group joins a list (shown below) of eight previous Kansas City players to have been part of an MLS Best XI since the League's inception in 1996.

Nielsen, a finalist for MLS Allstate Goalkeeper of the Year and MLS Save of the Year, played every minute in net for Sporting KC this season, setting new club records for minutes played (3,060) and games started (34). He started the 2012 MLS All-Star Game and led MLS with 15 shutouts, second most in MLS history, and 18 victories, matching the MLS record in the non-shootout era. His 0.79 goals against average became the best in club history, breaking Tony Meola's record set in 2000.

"I think it's a huge indicator of how great of a season we had. In the regular season we were extremely consistent, won our conference and did very well as a team and after the season it pays off with these awards," Nielsen said. "It's a big honor and I could have easily picked a few more players from Sporting KC who deserve to be in the Best XI."

"Jimmy's leadership as our captain, durability and work habit daily in training are the reasons why he performs so consistently and was rewarded with this honor," Sporting KC Manager Peter Vermes said. "He had another tremendous season for Sporting Kansas City and is very deserving of his recognition."

Besler and Collin anchored a Sporting Kansas City defense that allowed 27 goals in 34 MLS matches to lead all MLS teams with the fewest goals conceded. The tandem in central defense held opponents to the fewest shots (328) and shots on goal (102) of all 19 teams during the regular season. Besler (No. 25 overall) and Collin (No. 31 overall) are the two highest-ranked defenders in this year's MLS Castrol Index.

Besler, an Overland Park, Kan. native and Blue Valley West alum, was named the MLS Defender of the Year last week and started 30 of his 31 appearances in 2012. The 25-year-old was named the team's Defensive Player of the Year for the second straight season and also contributed two game-winning assists. Sporting Kansas City went 17-5-8 with a 0.72 goals against average with Besler in the starting lineup.

"To have four guys out of the Best XI is an honor for the organization and for our team," Besler said. "It shows that the media and other players around the league and everyone who voted thinks that we had a great year and thinks that we are a very good team. It's something to build off of for next year."

"Besler is a very steady player, which you need at his position," Vermes said. "Even though some might think he was a bit under-the-radar, he is consistent, a solid defender, very technical and possesses an excellent soccer brain. His top notch work ethic and determination has seen him get better every year."

Collin, a 2012 MLS All-Star, started 28 of his 29 appearances in 2012 and contributed three goals and one assist. The Frenchman finished third in MLS Defender of the Year voting. Sporting Kansas City went 15-6-7 with a 0.83 goals against average with Collin in the starting lineup.

"It feels great to be named to the Best XI and it's a great honor to be named alongside Besler, Zusi and Nielsen," Collin said. "I owe it all to the fans, coaches and the staff. It's a representation of the whole team and the way we played this season. We had a great connection on the field and I am so proud to play for Sporting Kansas City."

"When we brought Collin in we knew he was tailor-made for MLS," Vermes said. "He has improved each year, is an extremely competitive 1v1 defender and he always leaves it all out on the field."

Zusi, a finalist for MLS Most Valuable Player to be announced on Thursday, led Major League Soccer during the regular season with a career-high 15 assists, third most in club history, and a team-record five game-winning assists, most in MLS. Including his five regular season goals and game-winning assist in the 2012 MLS Cup Playoffs, Zusi scored or assisted on 21 of the team's 43 goals in MLS competition. Sporting KC was 13-1-3 in MLS competition (including playoffs) in 2012 when Zusi recorded a goal or an assist. Zusi also made six appearances for the U.S. Men's National Team in 2012.

"With the success of our team this season, it is great to see Sporting Kansas City players recognized in the Best XI. You really could make a strong argument for all of our guys. We play so well as a team and showed a commitment and consistency for the entire year," Zusi said. "Even though any one of us would trade in personal accolades for the MLS Cup, it is a special feeling to be acknowledged by your mentors and peers."

"Graham's consistency over the last two years is what interested us in him when we drafted him," Vermes said. "He has only skimmed the surface of his potential. He had an excellent season, but it is just a glimpse. Of all his great attributes, by far the best is that he is a team player in every way."

2012 MLS Best XI
GK Jimmy Nielsen (Sporting Kansas City)
DEF Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City)
DEF Aurelien Collin (Sporting Kansas City)
DEF Victor Bernardez (San Jose Earthquakes)
MF Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)
MF Landon Donovan (LA Galaxy)
MF Osvaldo Alonso (Seattle Sounders)
MF Chris Pontius (D.C. United)
FW Thierry Henry (New York Red Bulls)
FW Chris Wondolowski (San jose Earthquakes)
FW Robbie Keane (LA Galaxy)

Sporting Kansas City Award Winners

MLS Most Valuable Player
Preki (2003, 1997)
Tony Meola (2000)

MLS Scoring Champion
Preki (2003, 1997)

MLS Defender of the Year
Matt Besler (2012)
Jimmy Conrad (2005)
Peter Vermes (2000)

MLS Goalkeeper of the Year
Tony Meola (2000)

MLS Coach of the Year
Bob Gansler (2000)

MLS Rookie of the Year
C.J. Sapong (2011)

MLS Comeback Player of the Year
Eddie Johnson (2007)
Chris Klein (2005, 2002)
Tony Meola (2000)

MLS Fair Play Award
Mark Chung (2002)

MLS W.O.R.K.S. Humanitarian of the Year
Jimmy Conrad (2009)

Jimmy Nielsen (2012)
Matt Besler (2012)
Aurelien Collin (2012)
Graham Zusi (2012)
Jimmy Conrad (2004, 2005, 2006, 2008)
Jose Burciaga, Jr. (2006)
Kerry Zavagnin (2004)
Preki (1996, 1997, 2001, 2003)
Tony Meola (2000)
Peter Vermes (2000)
Richard Gough (1997)
Mark Chung (1997)