Saturday, October 21, 2006

MLS Goal of the Year Contest. If you think there is a paucity of skill and excitement in the MLS, go take a look at the candidates for Goal of the Year. It'll take you about a half hour to watch all the candidate goals, but it's fun stuff. It's not easy to pick a winner, but you have until October 25th to vote in the first round of voting.

I'm not sure how one decides which is the best goal. Is it the most difficult shot? The most audacious attempt? The most spectacular or flashiest play? The most out of the ordinary? Does timing have anything to do with it, or is it strictly judged divorced from any context?

I've broken it down into a few categories and tried to rank them, more or less (I think 19 of the 33 candidate goals merit serious mention:

I've already written that Brian Ching's bicycle kick, to beat D.C. in week 27, was the "goal of the year." But, there was another bicycle by Andy Herron, in week 14, that was just as impressive. Christian Gomez had a goal, in week 11, that combined a bit of dribbling skill and a lovely long-range shot that was struck with real pace.

Clint Dempsey had a spectacular dribbling run through the defense, followed by a well-placed shot, in week 28. But Jeff Cunningham had a pretty incredible display of dribbling followed by a strong, well-placed blast in week 16. Carlos Ruiz also had a nifty bit of misdirection in week 8.

This season had some of the longest shots you'll ever see, chipping the ball over goalies caught straying too far from the goal. The best of these efforts had to be Dwayne De Rosario's shot from the midfield stripe in week 23.

On a second tier, I would place some some nice strikes from distance, including: 16 year-old Jozmer Altidore's strike in his first MLS game in week 25, 17 year-old Freddy Adu's free kick in week 24, Brian Carroll's blast in week 16, Carey Talley's shot in week 18, Facundo Erpen's long-ranger in week 4, probable Rookie-of-the-Year Jonathan Bornstein's effort in week 18, and Jerrod LaVenture's cheeky volley in week 17.

Steve Ralston had a nice move to get open and score in week 15, but Edson Buddle's run along the back line through the defense, in week 15, was better, and could be ranked along with Dempsey and Cunningham's efforts noted above.

Finally, there was just a beautiful, sharp shot -- classic striker's goal -- by Ante Razov in week 11, hit with such force that the goalie had no chance to save it, even though it passed right over his head. Alecko Eskandarian, in week 7, also had a very impressive one touch volley from an angle that beat the goalie as it ricocheted off the left poat into the goal.

There were some nice headers among the nominees, but nothing spectacular enough to merit consideration for Goal of the Year.

If you think bicycle shots are unbeatable, you could pick either Ching's or Herron's goal. If you love power, Razov's goal might be your pick, but Altidore's effort was pretty good, too. If flashy dribbling is your thing, you could pick either Dempsey's or Cunningham's goals, with Buddle's play a close third. If you go for the unusual and audacious, it would be hard to beat De Rosario's midfield chip (De Rosario has won the award the last two years) -- but LaVenture's impressive volley is all the more impressive because it had to be perfectly placed to beat a goalie who was in prety good position. If free kicks are your thing, Freddy Adu's shot, in week 24, was probably the best, though there was a good effort by Chris Klein in week 3 (technically not a free kick since the ball was pushed towards him). The most powerful shot of the year was Razov's smash.

My vote goes to Christian Gomez' flashy bit of skill and derring-do from week 11, to go along with his likely M.V.P. award.

If soccer's your thing, go check out the goals and vote. Maybe you'll agree with my choice, or you'll want to vote for another candidate goal -- perhaps even one othe other goals that I didn't mention (I think I did a pretty good job of separating the wheat from the chaff, but this stuff is subjective). I'd be interested in everybody's opinion, so I hope you leave comments here.

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