The United States Men’s National Team enjoyed a very solid campaign in 2012, finishing the year with a record of 9-2-3.
Although the team gave fans a scare in World Cup qualifying, they eventually finished top of their group and had signature friendly results with a win in Italy, a win in Mexico and a tie in Russia.
Here are the end of the year award candidates and winners.
Player of the Year Candidate No. 1: Clint Dempsey
The case for Clint Dempsey is a compelling one.
Dempsey had eight starts for the Nats in 2012 and one substitute appearance.
In those games, he scored an impressive six goals and most of them were vital to the United States' World Cup qualifying campaign.
In the first World Cup qualifier of the year, Dempsey scored the game-winner against Antigua and Barbuda on a penalty.
Four days later, Dempsey helped the U.S. pick up a vital away point in Guatemala with two neat touches to beat two Guatemalan defenders before scoring.
In the second game against Guatemala, which was the last game of CONCACAF semifinal qualifying with advancement not assured, Dempsey was huge for the USMNT. He assisted on the first goal and then scored two of his own as the U.S. won 3-1 and advanced to the hexagonal.
In the February friendly against Italy, Dempsey was fantastic, providing the hold-up play and the game-winning goal in the historic win in Genoa.
However, as good as Dempsey was for most of the year, he did have his struggles. After a frustrating summer transfer window, Dempsey was shut out of training at Fulham in August and his performances with the USMNT suffered.
In the early September Jamaica games, Dempsey was both understandably and notably out of form.
In the October match against Antigua and Barbuda, Dempsey, still settling in at Tottenham, grew increasingly frustrated during the game, yelling at his teammates and getting into a scrap with an Antiguan player that resulted in the now famous “Deuce face.”
Dempsey was also not a part of the U.S. squads that historically beat Mexico at the Estadio Azteca or the squad that tied Russia away in November.
Player of the Year Candidate No. 2: Michael Bradley
The case for Michael Bradley for USMNT Player of the Year is also compelling.
Bradley had nine starts in 2012 and was a difference-maker in nearly every game he played.
Against Italy, Bradley’s possession out of the team's defensive third under heavy pressure, as well as his tackling, was key to the big win.
Against Scotland, Bradley scored the game-winning-goal on an absolutely brilliant half-volley from 30 yards out.
Bradley also assisted Landon Donovan in the Scotland game on a very nice passing combination between the two players.
Against Brazil, Bradley’s passing was world class and Bradley stood out as one of the few U.S. players capable of playing at the same level as the Brazilians despite the 4-1 loss.
In the second World Cup qualifier against Antigua and Barbuda, Bradley ran the midfield, dropping deep to get the ball and creating the few spurts of combination play the U.S. enjoyed on the night.
Against Guatemala, four days later, Bradley was again big for the U.S., setting up the third U.S. goal which sealed the team’s advancement to the hexagonal. On the play, Bradley got behind the Guatemalan defense and beat the goalkeeper with a neat chip that may have been headed into the net even if Clint Dempsey had not finished it off.
Then, against Russia in November, with the U.S. trailing the game with 15 minutes to go, Bradley brilliantly fired in a full volley to put the U.S. level.
The only hits against Bradley are that he was not a part of the squad that beat Mexico at Estadio Azteca (the game was also not on an official FIFA international date) and that Bradley missed the Jamaica World Cup qualifiers due to injury.
Player of the Year Candidate No. 3: Tim Howard
As good as Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley were in 2012, there is also a serious case to be made for Tim Howard, who made 12 starts for the USMNT in 2012.
Against Italy, Howard was very strong and a big part of the USMNT's first win on Italian soil.
Howard stood on his head against Mexico in the team's first ever win at Estadio Azteca against Mexico in August.
And, against Russia, Howard was again huge for the USMNT, repeatedly keeping the game within reach which allowed the U.S. to find a late equalizer.
Perhaps most surprising is that in 2012, Tim Howard has had eight different center-back combinations in front of him for the USMNT.
There was little consistency in the team defensively and Howard was forced to be the glue that held things together.
The one knock against Howard is that, while he was huge for the U.S. in its results in big friendlies, he looked rather pedestrian in many of the World Cup qualifiers.
And the Winner is…
Michael Bradley. While all three candidates had excellent years with the national team, Bradley had the most consistent quality and the best performances spread across the big friendlies and the World Cup qualifiers.
Comeback Player of the Year: Eddie Johnson
With World Cup qualification in doubt heading into the final two games of the CONCACAF semifinal round, Jurgen Klinsmann controversially called up Seattle Sounders striker Eddie Johnson and San Jose Earthquakes striker Alan Gordon while leaving strikers Jozy Altidore and Terrence Boyd out.
Johnson, who was enjoying a strong season in MLS, had not scored a goal for the USMNT since June of 2008.
In the first match of the two do-or-die October qualifiers, the U.S. was even at one goal apiece with Antigua and Barbuda in the 90th minute and looking very much out of World Cup qualifying.
Just then, Eddie Johnson got on the end of an Alan Gordon service and Johnson put the ball away on a beautiful header—his second headed goal of the game—bringing home all three points for the United States.
Four days later, Johnson got the start again, and once again repaid Jurgen Klinsmann’s faith, assisting on the game-winning goal against Guatemala in the win that sealed the team's advancement to the next round of qualifying.
Newcomer of the Year
Just like Player of the Year, there are plenty of good candidates for this award.
Geoff Cameron earned his first start with the national team this year in the annual January camp and then parlayed that opportunity into 10 starts for the national team in 2012 and a move to the English Premier League.
Graham Zusi was in a similar position coming into the national team picture in the January camp and, after putting in solid shifts in the January friendlies, became an integral part of the squad late in the year with World Cup qualification on the line.
Zusi topped off his 2012 national team campaign with a great assist to Eddie Johnson in the second Antigua game.
Another great candidate this year would be Fabian Johnson, who did technically debut for the side in 2011. Johnson made eight starts for the Nats this season and picked up a nice assist in the Brazil game and created the play that led to the goal against Italy.
But the player who made the biggest impact this season has to be Cameron. While he was a bit of a surprise to the squad early in the year (and certainly still has room to grow), he provided vital depth when the U.S. needed it most. In a year in which Klinsmann's center-back options reached a crisis point, Cameron put in some excellent shifts, most notably against Mexico at the Estadio Azteca.
The next challenge for Cameron will be whether or not he can become the leader of the back line as Carlos Bocanegra moves into the twilight of his career.
Defender of the Year
There are two good candidates for this award, Steve Cherundolo and Carlos Bocanegra.
Cherundolo, despite being 33 years old, still had an outstanding 2012 campaign with the USMNT. He finished the year with nine starts and was part of the win in Italy and had Player of the Game performances in the September 11 game against Jamaica and in the Guatemala game in October which sealed advancement into the hexagonal.
However, the Defender of the Year honor has to go to Carlos Bocanegra. Bocanegra made 10 starts for the national team this year and was part of the historic win in Italy.
Bocanegra also scored two big goals for the U.S. in 2012, the opener in the World Cup qualifying campaign and the tying goal in the second match against Guatemala which got the game back on track.
More so, Bocanegra’s leadership was severely missing when he wasn’t at the heart of the U.S. defense. The U.S. lost to Jamaica on September 7 with Bocanegra out of the lineup and struggled to stay organized against Antigua and Barbuda when Bocanegra played out on the left.
He may be 33 years old and nearing the end of his career, but the U.S. is still better off with Captain America marshaling the defense.
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