MLS Awards finalists: Keane, Gruenebaum notable omissions

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Two clear omissions stood out as finalists for Major League Soccer honors dropped today. Columbus goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaum was not among the threesome of finalists for Goalkeeper of the Year, and Robbie Keane was jilted as a Most Valuable Player candidate.

Neither was some stunning screamer of an omission; let’s call them “misdemeanor” level indiscretions rather than “felony” level. (The finalists are the top three vote getters in a weighted combination of media, player and management balloting.)

The finalists for Goalkeeper of the Year are:

  • Michael Gspurning, Seattle Sounders
  • Dan Kennedy, Chivas USA
  • Jimmy Nielsen, Sporting Kansas City

As for Gruenebaum (pictured), he was simply outstanding in a full year of replacement duty for injured No. 1 William Hesmer. He certainly passed the eye test all year, but one big chunk of statistical evidence also exists to provide a supporting case: Gruenebaum was first in MLS in saves (124).

Columbus wasn’t very good, save for a brightly let stretch at the end of summer. Otherwise, Gruenebaum was more responsible than anyone around Crew Stadium for keeping Columbus in playoff contention until the last couple of weeks. He was voted team MVP and Defender of the Year, as well.

In my book, Dan Kennedy probably should come off the finalist list. I hate to say it, because he had so little defensive support at the end. But those numbers – egad! It would take a lot of research to prove, but I be his goals-against average (1.69) is the highest in 17 MLS seasons for a Goalkeeper of the Year finalist.

(MORE: ProSoccerTalk’s Goalkeeper of the Year conversation)

Not that it really matters, because Chris Wondolowski will be the runaway winner when this puppy is handed out, but the finalists for MVP are:

  • Thierry Henry, New York Red Bulls
  • Chris Wondolowski, San Jose Earthquakes
  • Graham Zusi, Sporting Kansas City

Keane’s case is a little more difficult to make since he started so slowly, out of the gate like New Hampshire molasses, just like the rest of his team.

But what a finish! The Galaxy’s Irish international was probably Major League Soccer’s top striker over the last two months. Thanks to that sizzling close, Keane finished fourth in league goals (16) and tied for ninth in assists (9).

Zusi had a fabulous season. But he contributed directly to 20 goals, five short of Keane. And as I’ve said before, I would call Roger Espinoza’s contributions in Sporting Kansas City’s midfield even more important to the Eastern champs this year than Zusi’s.

(MORE: ProSoccerTalk’s Most Valuable Player conversation)

Henry, Aguero discuss playing up top under Pep

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One great striker got another one to open up on an up-and-down year at Manchester City.

Thierry Henry — one of the greatest of all-time, it must be said — sat down with Sergio Aguero ahead of Thursday’s Manchester Derby at the Etihad Stadium, and asked the Argentine about Pep Guardiola, Gabriel Jesus, and more.

[ PL PREVIEW: Manchester Derby ]

At times, it’s a fascinating discussion on playing lone striker. Even apart from the obligatory questions regarding Jesus’ arrival at City, Henry and Aguero speak their craft in a manner you don’t see too often.

That’s helped by the fact that Henry played for Guardiola at Barcelona, and can relate to the positional demands of Man City’s boss. Consider this exchange, from Sky Sports:

HENRY: When I was at Arsenal, I played up front and if I wanted to drift out to the left, I could. But when I got to Barca, I had to stay out wide and press. Sometimes doing that can be hard.

AGUERO: The thing I’ve found the hardest has been getting into my head the fact that I have to press the centre-back and the goalkeeper in matches. That’s what Pep asks me to do. It may not be a big deal, but in terms of processing it, the two of us speak a lot. He knows what I’m like.

I’ve been gradually learning and adapting to that style of pressing over the last few months. The first thing he taught me was how to press and how to do it well. Obviously there are times when I might drift out of position or I might press in an area where I’m not supposed to be, which might make it hard for the wingers or midfielders.

In the game itself, I may not realise because I’m so immersed and you can’t stop yourself. I’ve learnt a lot from him in terms of zones. He asks me to play as a No 9 and to stay in that position. I often drift out wide during matches and he looks at me and says, “If there’s a player out wide who wants to cross it in, who’s in there? Nobody.”

HENRY: I know all about that, believe you me.

I love this, because it shows how difficult it is for an elite striker to adapt his mentality. Both Henry and Aguero found world-celebrated success by playing in a certain fashion, and Guardiola understood that and still demanded a change. Earlier this season, the manager somewhat famously spoke of improving Aguero.

Aguero has been linked with Real Madrid given the tumult at City.

PHOTO: Liverpool unveils 125th anniversary kit for next season

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Liverpool rolled out its 125th anniversary kit, featuring a special crest to celebrate the occasion.

The Liver bird has 1892 on one side and 2017 on the other, with “125 YEARS” spelled out underneath the club’s emblem.

[ PL PREVIEW: Manchester Derby ]

The red shirt with a gold crest has a white V-neck and white at the ends of the sleeves. The goalkeeper kit is green.

The jersey will be available on May 19, and was announced last month.

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Jara’s goal lifts Pachuca to CONCACAF Champions League crown

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Hirving Lozano’s dipping shot rebounded into the path of Franco Jara, who scored the goal that won Pachuca its fifth CONCACAF Championship early Thursday morning.

The Argentine’s goal was the only one of the win over UANL Tigres, and gave Pachuca its first continental title since 2009-10. USMNT veteran Omar Gonzalez played for the winners, while Jose Torres started for Tigres.

[ PL PREVIEW: Manchester Derby ]

Major League Soccer teams were eliminated in the semifinals, with FC Dallas falling to Pachuca and Vancouver Whitecaps losing to Tigres.

Beginning with the 2017-18 tournament, qualified MLS and Liga MX teams will not enter the tournament until the Round of 16. The entire tournament will be held in the same calendar year.

USMNT: Brooks out with hip strain; World Cup qualifiers loom

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John Brooks is out of Hertha Berlin’s lineup “for the time being” after scans revealed a hip strain suffered in this weekend’s win over Wolfsburg.

That’s all Hertha has said, and that makes it hard to imagine whether American fans should be a little concerned or very concerned ahead of the USMNT’s World Cup qualifiers against Mexico, and Trinidad and Tobago in early June.

Brooks was unavailable for two weeks with an adductor strain in September, missing a month before returning to the starting lineup.

The U.S. center back pool isn’t teeming after Brooks and Geoff Cameron. Matt Besler, Tim Ream, Omar Gonzalez, and Walker Zimmerman were called up for the last World Cup qualifiers, and Gonzalez struggled but is a Bruce Arena favorite from their time in L.A.