Major League Soccer's seven-month regular season provided more than enough opportunity to assess the best performances and coaching jobs, determine the finest rookies and improbable standouts and assemble an all-league squad.
So with the playoffs set to begin today, here's a quick look back at those who excelled in 1999:
* MVP: The league has helped develop dozens of young American players, but in each of the first three seasons the MVP award went to a foreign-born player--Carlos Valderrama in '96, Preki Radosavljevic in '97 and Marco Etcheverry in '98.
That should change this year with the selection of Dallas forward Jason Kreis, an Omaha native who played at Duke. Kreis was tied for the lead in goals scored (18), led the league in points (51) and played all but 65 of 2,880 minutes. He was involved in 33 of the Burn's 51 goals, helped Dallas finish with five straight wins for its best regular season record ever and capped the year with the go-ahead goal in the 82nd minute against Tampa Bay last weekend.
D.C. United's Etcheverry receives strong consideration for being the best player on the league's most dominant team, but he missed several games and had some average performances at the end of the season.
* Best Coach: Thomas Rongen maintained United's winning tradition and did a superb job building depth and rotating reserves into the lineup when several starters were missing. Dallas's Dave Dir, the only remaining coach with his original team since the league began, got good results from an otherwise average team.
But the award should go to Sigi Schmid, the former UCLA coach who took over a chaotic situation in Los Angeles when Octavio Zambrano was fired a month into the season and won the Western Conference regular season title.
* Best Goalkeeper: Young Americans dominate this position, and the best was Kevin Hartman of Los Angeles. Also high on the list are Dallas's Matt Jordan, Chicago's Zach Thornton, Tampa Bay's Scott Garlick and United's Tom Presthus.
In a crucial situation, no one is better than Kansas City's Tony Meola, but he missed most of the year with a knee injury. New England's Walter Zenga was excellent during the first half of the season, but he and the club slipped later on, resulting in his dismissal as player-coach.
* Best Defender: Mauricio Wright of San Jose will get a lot of consideration, and although he was superb going forward and joining the attack, his defensive skills didn't stand out. The top all-around candidate is United's Jeff Agoos, who had an excellent year in MLS and also started throughout the summer for the U.S. national team.
* Top Rookie: Miami's Jay Heaps, San Jose's Jamie Clark and Richard Mulrooney, Dallas's Sergei Daniv and Kansas City's Chris Brown filled supporting roles and logged major minutes. Heaps may end up winning the award from the league, but the most impressive first-year player was Chicago forward Dema Kovalenko, from Ukraine and Indiana University. He played in only 11 games, with one start, but had three goals and displayed superb ball-control and instincts on the attack.
* Most Improved Player: From journeyman to scoring threat, United forward A.J. Wood made quite an impression in his fourth season. The former Georgetown Prep and University of Virginia star finished with eight goals and six assists in 24 appearances to finish fourth in points on a team loaded with higher-profile stars.
* All-League Team: Goalkeeper: Hartman; Defenders: Agoos, Wright and Lubos Kubik of Chicago; Midfielders: Etcheverry, Chris Armas of Chicago, Mauricio Cienfuegos of Los Angeles and Steve Ralston of Tampa Bay; Forwards: Kreis, United's Jaime Moreno and San Jose's Ronald Cerritos.