Sporting Kansas City defender Matt Besler and goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen are in contention to be named the top players at their position in Major League Soccer for the second straight year. MLS revealed the finalists today for all of the league's 2013 awards, based on voting by players, clubs and media members.
Besler, 26, is one of three finalists for MLS Defender of the Year along with Omar Gonzalez (LA Galaxy) and Jose Goncalves (New England Revolution) with the winner to be announced by MLS on Nov. 26. Following a 2012 season in which he garnered MLS Defender of the Year and MLS Best XI recognition, the Overland Park, Kan. native earned his second MLS All-Star selection in 2013 and was named the team's defensive player of the year for a third straight season.
He anchored a Sporting KC team that led the league in goals allowed (30), fewest shots conceded (301), fewest shots on goal conceded (100), duels won (2032), aerials won (708), headed clearances (680), interceptions (794) and fewest corners conceded (134). Among MLS defenders with 2,000 regular season minutes played, Besler finished in the top three in the following statistical categories:
- Most passes (50.35) and successful passes (40.39) per 90 minutes played
- Fewest shots on goal conceded (23)
- Second most aerials (5.13) and aerials won (3.22) per 90 minutes played
- Third most touches (72.35) and duels won (5.91) per 90 minutes played
- Third most chances created from set play (12)
He debuted with the U.S. Men's National Team in January for the first of 12 international appearances in 2013, including six FIFA World Cup qualifiers and all three knockout round games en route to the 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup championship. The U.S. was 8-1-2 on the year with Besler in the starting lineup.
"It's an honor and it's always nice to be recognized as a finalist," Besler said. "It's all about the team. Our team's stats defensively are at the top of the league again this year and that's what I take pride in the most."
Nielsen, 36, is among the top three candidates for MLS Goalkeeper of the Year along with Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake) and Donovan Ricketts (Portland Timbers) with the winner to be announced by MLS on Dec. 4. A two-time MLS All-Star, Nielsen is the reigning MLS Goalkeeper of the Year and also received Best XI honors last season. In 2013, he led all goalkeepers with 17 wins in 2013 and his 0.88 goals against average in the regular season was best among goalkeepers with a minimum of 1,000 minutes played.
His 13 shutouts were second most in MLS this year, highlighted by the league's longest shutout streak of the season at 546 minutes. Both marks are fifth best in MLS all-time. He lowered his career goals against average to 0.99, best in MLS history among goalkeepers with 1,000 minutes played, and played every minute during the 2013 campaign. His streak of 90 consecutive complete regular season games played ranks second longest in the MLS record book.
"It's a big honor to be nominated for Goalkeeper of the Year," Nielsen said. "It has been a different season for me personally. As the team continues to get better, I'm not facing as many shots. You have to prepare yourself with a different mentality."