• Chris Wondolowski's 27 goals in 34 games wins him award
• Striker's San Jose coach Frank Yallop wins Coach of Year
It's perhaps the most predictable result of the season, but Chris Wondolowski was unveiled as the Most Valuable Player in MLS in 2012. His record-equalling 27 goals helped his team San Jose Earthquakes to the Supporters Shield, and earned him the overwhelming player, club and media vote for the award. He beat out New York Red Bulls Thierry Henry and Sporting Kansas City's Graham Zusi, with well over 90% of the vote.
Wondolowski has been an extraordinary poacher of goals this season - as he put it himself at the award ceremony at the Home Depot Center, before a montage of his 27 goals in 34 games was shown on a screen behind him, we would see a lot of "one touch goals - I'm not beating ten guys, I'm not shooting into the upper 90. Six yards and in - I can get that."
He's very modest about what's been a masterclass in predatory finishing all year. Wondolowski may joke that the way to score a goal is to "have great team mates to give you an open net..." but his unerring ability to find pockets of space in the box is remarkable. During this season's All Star game against Chelsea, Wondolowski lost John Terry to score the opener for the All Star team. As the pair left the field, a clearly stunned Terry was heard to say, "your movement is incredible." Many an MLS defender can ruefully confirm this.
Earlier this week I spoke to Wondolowski's coach Frank Yallop, who was awarded coach of the year in the same round of voting - by an equally impressive margin to the vote that delivered Wondolowski his landslide. I pointed out that the record Wondolowski equalled this year had been set by Roy Lassiter in the first year of MLS in 1996 - when the league was a very different animal.
"I totally agree. It's a very difficult league to score goals in - it's a very difficult league to do anything in. There are some very good players and for Chris to get 27 goals in a tightened up league like this...and fully deserve it, you know? It wasn't like he got lucky. He's been three years in a row as a Golden Boot or right next to it. And I think he's an extraordinary character the way he goes about his business. He's not the quickest or the most gifted player, but wow what a finisher. His gift is his finishing. He's if not one of the best I've seen, pretty close to it."
Wondolowski was sure to credit his record to the efforts of his team mates and Yallop, who seems to have made a specialty of building player's confidence to do what they do best and not worry about the rest. When I spoke to Yallop again after the ceremony he recalled signing the player in 2009 after little more than a couple of decent reserve performances for his then club Houston and a hunch that there was something there.
At the time, and hard to believe as it seems now, Wondolowski was an almost permanent reserve at Houston, but regards that period under Dominic Kinnear and then assistant John Spencer as one of the most important developmental periods in his professional life. His mindset reminds me a little of Ole Gunnar Solksjaer - Alex Ferguson used to claim that his effectiveness as a substitute was closely linked to his ability to read and interpret the game before entering it. I ask Wondolowski about the benefits of watching as well as playing so much soccer during that time at Houston, given his predatory role.
"To be truthfully honest, I think that's what kept me in the league for a couple of years when I was in Houston. I was able to play multiple positions. I was able to kind of study the game and read the game in different ways. Not just as a forward or an outside mid or center mid, I could kind of understand the game and see how the game would develop and I've always taken pride in watching games and studying them, and I know Coach Kinnear's a huge believer in that, and I know I bought into it from him."
Of course Coach Kinnear will be back at the Home Depot Center with his Houston Dynamo side in MLS Cup on Saturday, while Wondolowski's incredible goalscoring form did not extend into the playoffs, with his team eliminated by LA Galaxy: "that still stings - it'll take a while to process." For now he's resting up and preparing to negotiate a new contract. As Frank Yallop says: "Whatever they pay him - he's worth it."
Yallop was on the podium with Wondolowski for Thursday afternoon's awards ceremony. His own achievement in winning coach of the year has been to develop a truly resilient side that can also score from multiple positions and that possesses an under-credited defense built round the formidable Bernardez. That attack though, is an opposition's nightmare. If Wondolowski doesn't sweep a loose ball home, Gordon or Lenhart get a head to it, or Chavez or Dawkins find the net from range. That's before we've even mentioned the Roberto Carlos free kicks of Bernardez, and the meme of the year: "Goonies never say die," after the team's repeated epic comebacks.
There may have been some measure of satisfying symmetry for Yallop - as he spoke to a small group of reporters in a function room upstairs at the Home Depot Center, down in the stadium's TV studio, camera crews from round the world were breaking down their equipment after David Beckham's final packed press conference for the Galaxy before his farewell. Yallop was the coach when Beckham arrived at the Galaxy, but was gone soon after, prior to the misconceived Ruud Gullit experiment. You could forgive the affable Yallop if he felt a certain grim satisfaction in returning as a table-topping coach at the moment of Beckham's departure, but he was gracious about the player's contribution. As the cameras clicked elsewhere, he and his star striker enjoyed a rare moment to reflect before next year's campaign: "Just a little further next year, eh?"
MVP: Chris Wondolowski (San Jose)
Best Coach: Frank Yallop (San Jose)
Best Goalkeeper: Jimmy Nielsen (Sporting KC)
Save of the season: Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)
Best defender: Matt Besler (Sporting KC)
Best newcomer: Federico Higuain (Columbus Crew)
Rookie of the year: Austin Berry (Chicago Fire)
Comeback of the year: Eddie Johnson (Seattle Sounders)
Humanitarian of the year: Chris Seitz (FC Dallas)