MLS released their end of season awards short lists yesterday. The Crew's playoff dreams a long distant memory, this is the only Black and Gold related event going on in the league. While the team had an up and down season, there were several standout performances that merited consideration. Andy Gruenebaum had an outstanding year in goal and Federico Higuain and Jairo Arrieta made tremendous impacts with their arrivals. Ultimatly, Higuain made the short list for Newcomer of the Year.
Higuain is certainly deserving of recognition. He scored five goals and seven assists in 13 games with the team. The offense was revived with his outstanding performances as the withdrawn striker. He elevated the players around him as Arrieta, Eddie Gaven, and Milovan Mirosevic settled into a strong offensive unit. It was the kind of impact that a Designated Player is supposed to bring.
Higuain will face off against some top competition. Defender Victor Bernardez and Seattle goalkeeper Michael Gspurning make up the rest of the short list. Bernardez played in 24 games in central defense. His performances earned him on the short list of the MLS Defender of the Year. Gspurning appeared in 21 games for the Sounders. He played well enough to be one of the three nominees for goalkeeper of the year.
Higuain wasn't the only Crew player that merited consideration for Newcomer of the Year. Arrieta appeared in 18 games for Columbus and lead the team with 9 goals and added 4 assists. His goal total was 14th best in the league, despite arriving at midseason.
The bigger snub is the league overlooking Andy Gruenebaum's outstanding campaign. The finalists were Gspurning, Sporting Kansas City's Jimmy Nielsen, and Dan Kennedy of Chivas USA. All had fine campaigns, but Kennedy's numbers were far worse than Gruenebaum's. His goals against average was a pedestrian 1.69 and he only save 65 percent of his shots. Gruenebaum posted a 1.26 GAA and save percentage of 75%. He also made a league high 124 saves.
All three have deflected any discussion of personal awards in every interview while refocusing on the team. It's a statement to their priorities. Gruenebaum was clear that he'd give any of his awards back to get a shot in the playoffs. Just about every player wants a Cup rather than some award; without a chance at the Cup, it does give fans a little to cheer about at the start of a long offseason.