When I was a kid, everyone on the soccer team got a trophy and an award at the end of the season. For those of you who decry the “every kid gets a trophy” culture, don’t worry: I developed crippling self-esteem issues anyway. My coaches had to make some ridiculous reaches to give each kid an award. There was, of course, “best goal-scorer” and “best defender,” but the end of the bench received awards like “cleanest uniform,” “best attitude,” and “best usage of ‘who’ versus ‘whom’ ”. I don’t remember whom received that last award, but man: what a burn!
In that spirit, I’m handing out awards to each D.C. United player for the 2012 season. I’ll start with the defense and try to get to the strikers before every last one of them are booted off the roster. Remember kids: As long as you do your best, you’re always a winner, or at least an Eastern Conference runner-up!
GK – Bill Hamid: The “Not Heath Shuler” award. It’s tough being a prospect: If you’re not achieving or moving toward greatness, people get very disappointed. Even if you spend a decade as a professional — which is a million times more difficult than anything most of us will achieve — you still get labeled a disappointment and spend all your time hanging out with Bobby Convey and Eddie Gaven. Hamid is still improving. He’s good now and the prospect shine is still on him.
GK – Joe Willis: The “Pepsi Will Be Fine” award. Willis is a good goalkeeper. When Hamid got red-carded in the playoffs, I didn’t panic, I didn’t lose faith. Sometimes when you order a Coke at a restaurant, they say “will Pepsi be all right?” and unless you’re a jerk you say, “Sure, Pepsi will be fine.” Joe Willis is Pepsi. Pepsi will be fine.
GK – Andrew Dykstra. The “Price Is Right” award. I only care about one thing when it comes to a third goalkeeper: Does he make the league minimum? Check. Great year, Andrew!
D – Dejan Jakovic. The “I’m a Believer” award. In 2012, I became a believer in two things: Ben Affleck as a serious filmmaker and Dejan Jakovic as a quality defender. Both took a step forward by reducing their mistakes. Jakovic got caught in possession less often and made fewer sketchy back passes. Affleck didn’t make “Gigli” or “Pearl Harbor”.
D – Brandon McDonald. The “Worth Every Penny” award. After United acquired McDonald from San Jose in exchange for a cooler full of orange wedges in 2011, he established himself as an important part of the team’s defense. He was rewarded with a substantial raise, and – counter to seemingly every sports contract of the last ten years – proved to be worth the money. He’s an above-average MLS defender and a team leader.
D – Daniel Woolard. The “Potential Claimant in the Bryan Namoff Lawsuit” award. The focus should really be on Woolard’s soccer — which was good, even better than last year — but I’m mostly just worried about his brain. A concussion is obviously a serious thing, and for soccer reasons and for life reasons you hope that Woolard will recover. Maybe during his first few games next season, the Barra Brava and Screaming Eagles can stay respectfully silent so as not to induce a headache.
D – Chris Korb. The “Friend of Daniel Woolard’s Brain” award. If Korb had been bad, we would have all been pretty annoyed that Woolard’s brain was taking its sweet time to heal. But Korb wasn’t bad; in fact, he provided the extra attacking element United needed when Saragosa replaced De Rosario in midfield. A quality, low-cost fullback who can play on either side is a valuable thing to have; Korb is as responsible as anyone for United’s late-season push to the playoffs.
D – Emiliano Dudar. The “Waiting for an Injury” award. Usually, a center back gets injured. Usually, it’s Dejan Jakovic. Last season, United was giving substantial center-back minutes to Ethan White, Perry Kitchen, Marc Burch and pretty much anyone over 6 feet tall who could fog up a mirror. This season, Dudar looked fine when he played, but Jakovic and McDonald stayed mostly healthy. This offseason, United will likely try its “take less money and stay with us or you’ll have to move your family to a different continent” gambit with Dudar.
D – Ethan White. The “Don’t Worry: He’s Still Alive” award. I trust Goff more than I trust North Korean state media (high praise!), so when I hear reports that Ethan White is doing fine in spite of an extended spell away from the public eye, I don’t suspect that he is on his deathbed a-la Kim Jong Il. I think he probably was in Richmond being loaned out to the Kickers (White, not Kim Jong Il). Which is fine with me: he was an interesting prospect last year, but he needed more time to ripen.
D – Robbie Russell. The “Veteran Leadership” award. I found Russell’s on-field contributions a bit underwhelming, but Coach Ben Olsen and the front office rarely mentioned his name without also mentioning “veteran leadership.” Ah, veteran leadership: that intangible quality that is even less tangible to fans because we are not in the clubhouse, where we might be able to tange such things. But, okay, fine: He provides leadership. Then why was Josh Wolff also on the roster?
D – Michael Chabala. The “ ‘Stopgap Solution’ ” award. Devastating use of quotes in that award title. In reality, I shouldn’t complain; he filled the role he was supposed to fill. My main memory of Mike Chabala is that I was at the grocery store when I learned of his acquisition and his last name prompted me to buy a loaf of ciabatta bread.