With the final whistle having been blown on Major League Soccer's regular season, it's time to name the outstanding performers from the 2007 campaign.
We asked a team of all-star soccer writers to vote on an MLS First XI and also choose the leading player, top young player and best coach of the season.
The voting panel for the First XI consisted of Martin Rogers (Yahoo! Sports), Grahame Jones (Los Angeles Times), Steven Goff (Washington Post), Greg Daurio (MLSnet.com), Scott French (MLS Magazine), Frank Dell'Apa (Boston Globe) and Michael Lewis (New York Daily News).
MAJOR LEAGUE SOCCER'S 2007 FIRST XI
Goalkeeper: Brad Guzan, Chivas USA. He conceded only 25 goals in 27 appearances and was one of the key figures in Chivas's surprising and impressive charge to the top of the Western Conference standings. Guzan's efforts have not escaped the attention of United States national team coach Bob Bradley, who sees him as a potential future No. 1 keeper. Guzan is a strong shot-stopper, but perhaps his most striking asset is his positioning and reading of the game.
Defender: Michael Parkhurst, New England Revolution. Parkhurst was MLS Rookie of the Year in 2005 but this was the season where he really burst through as one of the league's finest players. His strength and timing helped make the Revolution defense one of the meanest in MLS and earned him a national team call-up for the Gold Cup. The 23-year-old capped off the regular season with a sensational goal (the first of his MLS career) from within his own half against Toronto FC last weekend.
Defender: Wade Barrett, Houston Dynamo. Barrett's tough and uncompromising defending helped Houston lift the 2006 MLS Cup, and as captain, he is hoping for a similar result this time around. Barrett does not specialize in the spectacular, but he is a determined and solid operator who rarely makes mistakes. He was the only Dynamo player to take part in every regular season game and missed just 51 minutes of action.
Defender: Claudio Suarez, Chivas USA. If Suarez does decide to retire after the playoffs, then the Mexican legend will have gone out in style. At 38, he played in 25 of the team's 30 league games and was a beacon of experience on a club enjoying a breakout season. Suarez still has the physique of a much younger man and Chivas would surely love for him to stay on as its defensive rock.
Defender: Jimmy Conrad, Kansas City Wizards. The multi-talented Conrad is an accomplished print and radio journalist in his spare time, but his greatest contribution to MLS is as marshal of the Wizards' defense. He provides experience and poise to the K.C. backline and has become a regular call-up for the national team in the past two seasons. There have been rumors of some European interest in Conrad from German Bundesliga clubs, but he appears settled with the Wizards, who certainly need him.
Midfielder: Shalrie Joseph, New England Revolution. Joseph's performances in midfield make it easy to see why Scottish power Celtic made two separate attempts to pry him away from the Revs. The Grenada international is one of the best tacklers in MLS, is excellent in the air and is also capable of providing attacking runs, having set up four game-winning goals. Coach Steve Nicol sees Joseph as one of the cornerstones of his team and will be desperate to persuade his star that his future should lie in New England rather than Europe.
Midfielder: Guillermo Barros Schelotto, Columbus Crew. His efforts would have received far more acclaim if he was playing in a bigger market or if the Crew had made the MLS Cup playoffs. Some questioned how effective the former Boca Juniors winger would be at the age of 34, but he proved to be the shining light on a hard-working but ordinary team. Switching from one of South America's most successful clubs to life in Ohio does not appear to have dimmed the competitive spirit and sublime skill of Schelotto at all.
Midfielder: Ben Olsen, D.C. United. Olsen is fast approaching a decade of service in United colors, but this season has been one of his most effective, with seven goals and seven assists. The highlight of his season was a hat trick (the first of his career) against New York on June 10, but in truth there have been few poor performances from him. Consistency is the attribute which makes United such an MLS force and Olsen sums up that mentality better than anyone.
Midfielder: Cuauhtemoc Blanco, Chicago Fire. Blanco is sheer entertainment, whether he is screaming at referees, diving theatrically, pounding his fists on the turf or simply showing off some of the league's finest ball skills. Behind the on-field persona that sometimes has observers questioning his sanity lies a wonderful soccer brain. Blanco's vision and creativity are a joy to watch and although his legs are not getting any younger, he has justified his big salary in his first MLS season.
Forward: Juan Pablo Angel, New York Red Bulls. When Angel finds himself in a situation where he feels comfortable and appreciated, he is a prolific scorer and deadly finisher. His 19 goals do not tell the full story, though. He is also a leader on the emerging Red Bulls side and is helping the development of young teammate Jozy Altidore. Angel is in no mood to wind down his career in New York – he wants to be a winner and feels the Red Bulls have the potential to challenge for the MLS title.
Forward: Luciano Emilio, D.C. United. At age 28, Emilio is in perhaps the finest form of his career and D.C. United have reaped the benefits. With all the hype surrounding David Beckham and, to a lesser extent, Blanco, Emilio's arrival in North America went almost unnoticed. He quickly made an impression, starting the season strongly and maintaining momentum as United marched on towards the Supporters Shield with an MLS-best 55 points. In any league, high-quality finishers are worth their weight in gold and his 20 goals in 26 games earned him the Golden Boot award. Emilio could be the final piece in the puzzle as United bid to celebrate a MLS Cup victory in their home city on November 18.
Substitutes (players also receiving votes): Goalkeeper Matt Reis (New England), defender Frankie Hejduk (Columbus), defender Jonathan Bornstein (Chivas USA), midfielder Sacha Kljestan (Chivas USA), midfielder Landon Donovan (Los Angeles Galaxy), forward Maykel Galindo (Chivas USA), forward Taylor Twellman (New England).
MLS PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Luciano Emilio, D.C. United. Honorable mentions go to Juan Pablo Angel of the Red Bulls and Shalrie Joseph of the Revolution.
MLS YOUNG PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Jozy Altidore, New York Red Bulls. Altidore has settled into the Red Bulls' lineup so effortlessly that it is easy to forget that he is still only 17. He has poise and control, and he is learning from playing alongside Angel. European clubs are starting to take serious interest. However, Altidore seems happy to stay in MLS and develop for a few more years. The league will certainly fight hard to keep hold of him.
Honorable mention: Sacha Kljestan (Chivas USA).
MLS COACH OF THE YEAR
Preki, Chivas USA. Preki took over from Bob Bradley and quickly forged one of the toughest and most organized units in the league. Few opposing coaches were able to effectively combat his astute tactics, with Chivas adopting a style that made them hard to break down and capable of launching devastating attacks. To finish top of the Western Conference just three years into their existence was a mighty effort, and the coach deserves huge credit for overseeing such a stunning accomplishment.
Honorable mentions: Tom Soehn (D.C. United), Steve Nicol (New England Revolution).