Sporting Kansas City announced the team's annual award winners on Wednesday prior to their regular season finale against the Philadelphia Union at LIVESTRONG Sporting Park. The following awards were voted on by Sporting Kansas City players, coaches and media members:
- 2012 Most Valuable Players: Jimmy Nielsen and Graham Zusi
- 2012 Offensive Player of the Year: Kei Kamara
- 2012 Defensive Player of the Year: Matt Besler
- 2012 Humanitarian of the Year: Kei Kamara
- 2012 Bob Gansler Award (Most Outstanding Academy Player): Paul Dean
Please note: The Sporting Kansas City 2012 Budweiser Golden Boot will be awarded to the team's top goal scorer following the completion of the 2012 MLS regular season.
Nielsen, the team's 2012 co-MVP, has played every minute in net for Sporting Kansas City this season, setting new club records for minutes played (2,970) and games started (33). He leads MLS with 15 shutouts and 17 victories, one shy of all-time MLS records for a goalkeeper in both categories. Nielsen started the 2012 MLS All-Star Game and his 0.79 goals against average is on pace to be the best in club history.
Zusi shares team MVP honors with Nielsen and leads Major League Soccer with a career-high 15 assists, third most in club history for a single season, and a team-record five game-winning assists, most in MLS. Including his five goals in 2012, Zusi has scored or assisted on 20 of the team's 40 goals in the regular season. The team is 12-1-3 when Zusi records a goal or assist in 2012. Zusi also leads MLS with 147 corner kicks, most in team history and third most all-time among MLS players. A 2012 MLS All-Star, Zusi has also made six appearances for the U.S. Men's National Team in 2012.
Besler was voted the team's Defensive Player of the Year and leads a Sporting Kansas City defense that has allowed 26 goals in 33 MLS matches, the fewest goals conceded in MLS this season. The Overland Park, Kan. native has anchored a backline that has limited opponents to the fewest shots and shots on goal of all 19 teams this season. He's the highest-ranked defender in the MLS Castrol Index and has also contributed two game-winning assists this season. With Besler in the starting lineup in 2012, Sporting KC is 16-5-8 with a 0.71 goals against average overall, while going 8-2-4 with a 0.68 goals against average against playoff teams.
Kamara was recognized as the team's Offensive Player of the Year and Humanitarian of the Year. He leads Sporting KC with a career-high 11 goals and six assists in 2012 and is poised to also collect the 2012 Budweiser Golden Boot as the team's top scorer. An MLS All-Star this season, his 132 shots are most in MLS and third most in League history. He also ranks second in MLS with 49 shots on goal this year.
Off the field, Kamara established the HeartShapedHands Foundation in 2012 and his support of Schools for Salone has provided scholarships for students in his native Sierra Leone, where the Kei Kamara Home and School for War Orphans was built in Freetown. Kamara was a finalist for the Courage in Sports Award and was also featured in a documentary-length film about his life story and desire to make a difference since immigrating to the United States as a youth.
Dean received the 2012 Bob Gansler Award, annually bestowed upon the most outstanding Sporting KC Academy player of the year. A defender and team captain for the Sporting KC Academy under-18's, Dean played in all 24 games for the under-16 squad during the 2011-12 season. The Overland Park, Kan. native attends Blue Valley North High School and has started every match in the 2012-13 U.S. Soccer Development Academy, helping the first place under-18's squad go 5-0-0 thus far in the Central Conference's Frontier Division.
Video highlights for Sporting Kansas City's 2012 award winners can be seen here.