Why the Honda Player of the Year Award Is a Popularity Contest
The Honda Player of the Year award is given annually to the best player of the U.S. Men's National Team and is voted on by national writers. In the 20 year history of the award, nine recipients had played their soccer abroad. Five of those nine were awarded in the years before the introduction of Major League Soccer.
In this age, the general idea is that the best young American players use the MLS as a springboard to secure a transfer to a European league. How can it be then that only four players outside the MLS have received the award since 1996?
Landon Donovan won the award this year for a record sixth time. Donovan recorded five goals for the U.S. team this season, but surely Tim Howard's performances in goal made him more deserving. Howard recorded 17 clean sheets in 38 starts for Everton in 2008/09, shutout Spain in the Confederations Cup semifinal, and kept the U.S. in the final match of the same tournament against Brazil.
A season where Howard established himself amongst the top handful of keepers in the world must be more valuable than the five goals Donovan scored.
Oguchi Onyewu played so well for the U.S. in the Confederations Cup and in World Cup Qualifying that he secured a move to AC Milan. He becomes the only American to be playing for a major club.
Clint Dempsey scored only one fewer goal than Donovan in the year but was awarded the bronze boot at the Confederations Cup for being third leading scorer.
Clint Dempsey won the award when he broke onto the scene by scoring the only goal of the 2006 World Cup for the U.S. It was also his last season with the New England Revolution. Since his transfer for Fulham, Dempsey has become a noticeably stronger player both for club and country. The closest he's come to the award since was a third place selection in 2008.
Why were Howard, Onyewu and Dempsey overlooked? Because they don't play in the MLS. The award is chosen by writers in this country. How many writers in this country are covering games overseas? How many of those writers make their livings covering the MLS? And who has been the best player in the MLS for the past handful of years? Landon Donovan.
It's time that the voters of this award look past the MLS and look past Donovan's scoring record. It's time that this award was taken seriously by the people who vote for it. It's a shame that such an important player in U.S. history like Brian McBride has never won the award. And it's a shame that some of the steadiest players in today's team like Onyewu and Howard don't seem to be getting the same looks that Donovan is getting.
What will really be telling is if Donovan stops winning awards if he leaves for Europe after this season as is rumored.
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