Sporting Kansas City placed a club-record four players on the MLS Best XI, which commissioner Don Garber announced Monday during a conference call with media members.
By TOD PALMER
The Kansas City Star
The Best XI recognizes the top 11 players in the 19-team league during a given season.
Sporting KC, which won the Eastern Conference regular-season title for the second straight season and started 2012 with a seven-game win streak, landed three of four defensive spots along with midfielder Graham Zusi.
Goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen and centerbacks Matt Besler and Aurelien Collin also were chosen to the Best XI after helping Sporting KC to a league-low 27 goals allowed in 34 games, including 15 shutouts.
“It’s nice to see those guys get recognized for the consistent play and hard work throughout the season,” Sporting KC manager Peter Vermes said when reached abroad Monday by phone. “Obviously, it says a lot about the team, because four guys don’t get picked unless the team has a really good season.”
Nielsen played every minute for Sporting KC, setting new club records and matching the MLS records by starting 23 games and logging 3,060 minutes.
Led by Nielsen, who also became the club’s captain prior to the season, Sporting KC’s defense boasted the lowest goals-against average (0.79) and allowed the fewest shots (328) and shots on goal (102).
Besler, a former all-star and the 2012 MLS Defender of the Year, and Collin, a 2012 MLS All-Star, were the highest-ranked defenders on the MLS Castrol Index, checking in at No. 25 and 31, respectively.
Zusi – a finalist for MLS MVP, which will be announced Thursday – led the league with 15 assists, including a club-record five game-winning assists.
An emerging star with the U.S. men’s national team as well, Zusi also scored five goals and delivered the game-winning assist in a 1-0 win against Houston in the second leg of the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Sporting KC’s four selections was one shy of the MLS record. The now-defunct Miami Fusion had five Best XI selections in 2001.
The then-Wizards had three selections in 1997 – defender Richard Gough and midfielders Mark Chung and Preki – which was the previous club record for a season.
Supporters’ Shield winners, the San Jose Earthquakes, had two selections – forward Chris Wondolowski, who tied the single-season record for goals with 27, and defender Victor Bernardez.
The LA Galaxy, host the Houston Dynamo in the 2012 MLS Cup at 3:30 p.m. Saturday in a rematch of last season’s final, also had two Best XI picks – midfielder Landon Donovan and Scottish star Robbie Keane.
Seattle Sounders midfielder Osvaldo Alonso, D.C. United midfielder Chris Pontius and New York Red Bulls forward Thierry Henry rounded out the 2012 MLS Best XI.