There weren't many surprises, but there were certainly a few snubs when Major League Soccer announced the finalists for its season-ending awards on Thursday. While some of the selections are no-brainers, such as Guillermo Barros Schelotto for MVP and Sigi Schmid for coach of the year, some of the awards are much tougher to predict and select.
The Chicago Fire and Columbus Crew led the way with the most candidates, while the defending champion Houston Dynamo actually managed only one finalist for the league's six top awards, with several Houston players among the most glaring snubs on the awards list.
Here is a closer look at the finalists for the top MLS awards, along with those who deserved to be candidates but failed to make the cut:
Most Valuable Player: Cuauhtemoc Blanco, Chicago Fire; Landon Donovan, Los Angeles Galaxy; Guillermo Barros Schelotto, Columbus Crew
The favorite -- Schelotto. The best player on the best team in the league, Schelotto's uncanny vision and passing touch, combined with dangerous free kicks and at times an eye for the goal. His 19 assists were four more than any other player in the league. Landon Donovan will get his share of votes after posting 20 goals and nine assists, but despite his gaudy stats, the Galaxy still missed the playoffs.
The questionable candidate -- Blanco was a strong MVP candidate in the first half of the season, but like the Fire, his play was up and down throughout the second half of the season.
The snubbed -- Real Salt Lake playmaker Javier Morales compiled six goals and 15 assists in helping RSL clinch its first playoff berth in team history. Houston striker Brian Ching recorded career highs in goals (15) and assists (5). Perhaps no player was as important to his team as Juan Pablo Angel, who posted 14 goals and 3 assists to carry the Red Bulls into the playoffs.
Defender of the Year: Jimmy Conrad, Kansas City Wizards; Chad Marshall, Columbus Crew; Bakary Soumare, Chicago Fire
The favorite -- Marshall. An absolute rock in the back, Marshall can't match Conrad's six goals, and his defense didn't boast the low goals-allowed total that Soumare's defense did, but Marshall was downright dominant all year.
The questionable candidate -- All three finalists are deserving and expected picks.
The snubbed -- Houston center back Bobby Boswell led the league's stingiest defense; Chicago left back Gonzalo Segares was regarded as the league's best fullback; and reigning defender of the year Michael Parkhurst had another strong year.
Goalkeeper of the Year: Jon Busch, Chicago Fire; Will Hesmer, Columbus Crew; Matt Reis, New England Revolution
The favorite -- Busch started all 30 games, recording a league-high 10 shutouts and a 1.10 goals-against average, second-best in MLS. As strong as the Fire's back line was, Busch made plenty of top-shelf saves.
The questionable candidate -- Reis was the runaway choice in the first half of the season, but his form fell considerably in the second half along with New England's.
The snubbed -- San Jose didn't make the playoffs but Joe Cannon carried San Jose for most of the year, posting nine shutouts and a league-best 122 saves. Pat Onstad led MLS in goals-against average (1.03) but falls victim to the perception that Houston's defense makes his job easy.
Rookie of the Year: Geoff Cameron, Houston Dynamo; Kheli Dube, New England Revolution; Sean Franklin, Los Angeles Galaxy
The favorite -- Franklin. How does a defender on the league's worst team even get considered for an award, let alone be the favorite? Franklin impressed all season as the lone bright spot on the Galaxy's awful back line. Voters who can't look past the Galaxy's defensive ineptitude will likely select Dube, easily the best attacking rookie this year.
The questionable candidate -- Cameron was a revelation for the Dynamo, but his contributions in competitions like SuperLiga and CONCACAF Champions Cup raised his profile. The reality is he played just 921 minutes in MLS play, posting one goal and two assists.
The snubbed -- Chivas USA forward Justin Braun posted four goals and two assists and absolutely deserved to be a finalist.
Coach of the Year: Dominic Kinnear, Houston Dynamo; Sigi Schmid, Columbus Crew; Frank Yallop, San Jose Earthquakes
The favorite -- Schmid. Taking a team from missing the playoffs to the Supporters Shield makes Schmid the runaway choice for this award.
The questionable candidate -- Yallop should be commended for helping turn San Jose into an improved team late in the year, but the Earthquakes still finished with the league's worst record, so he shouldn't have been chosen ahead of several other deserving candidates.
The snubbed -- Preki won the award last year but still merited a nomination this year after guiding the Goats to second place in the West despite a myriad of key injuries. Real Salt Lake head coach Jason Kreis also deserves consideration.
Newcomer of the Year: Darren Huckerby, San Jose Earthquakes; Claudio Lopez, Kansas City Wizards; Andre Rocha, FC Dallas
The favorite -- Huckerby became a cult figure in San Jose by helping spark the Earthquakes' second-half revival. Six goals and four assists in 14 games isn't bad at all.
The questionable candidate -- Lopez is an interesting choice, but his form in the season's final month pushed him into the finalists category. The reality is there just weren't that many impact newcomers in MLS this year.
The snubbed -- He may not have received much consideration because he doesn't play a glamorous position, but Real Salt Lake defender Jamison Olave was a very strong anchor in the RSL central defense and a key contributor to the team's playoff push.
Ives Galarcep covers MLS for ESPNsoccernet. He also writes a blog, Soccer By Ives. He can be reached at Ivespn79@aol.com.