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SBI MLS Most Improved Best XI

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The 2012 MLS season saw several players emerge from relative obscurity to take on important roles on top teams, and some others serve as rare bright spots for disappointing squads.

While some players made the jump from good to very good, like Chris Pontius and Graham Zusi, it was the players who made the jump from benchwarmer to standout that draw the most acclaim on the 2012 SBI MLS Most Improved Best XI.

San Jose’s Alan Gordon leads the way after being named SBI MLS Most Improved Player of the Year. He is joined by a pair of Earthquakes teammates who, along with Gordon, played key roles in San Jose’s dramatic turnaround.

Here is the SBI MLS Most Improved Best XI:

SBI MLS Most Improved Best XI

GK- Andy Gruenebaum, Columbus Crew

D- Justin Morrow, San Jose Earthquakes

D- Stephen McCarthy, New England Revolution

D- Amobi Okugo, Philadelphia Union

D- David Horst, Portland Timbers

M- Dax McCarty, New York Red Bulls

M- Gershon Koffie, Vancouver Whitecaps

M- Rafael Baca, San Jose Earthquakes

F- Alan Gordon, San Jose Earthquakes

F-Jack McInerney, Philadelphia Union

F- Will Bruin, Houston Dynamo


What do you think of our selections? Who do you think should have made the list that didn’t? Who are you happy to see on the list?

Share your thoughts below.


  1. Kwame Watson-Siriboe? Went from an after thought in Chicago to an occasional starter for the 2nd place team in the West. Really saves RSL’s season with the injuries they had.

  2. @hmm.

    I think you’ve got McCarthy mixed up with someone else.

    High pecentage of completed passes out of the back, after a rough transition he managed the back and kept shape very, very well (clearly out performing a highly anticipated foreign signing for starting XI time). Certainly deserved this recognition of “most improved”.

  3. I mean McCarthy might have changed positions and adjusted to it but that doesn’t mean we should ignore that his fouls, poor touches, and positioning led dangerous situation after dangerous situation for the revs. just because the entire revs defense is sub par doesn’t make this guy anyone we should celebrate

  4. It’s easier to improve from bench to good than it is from good to very good. I’d rather have seen you give players like Pontius and Zusi the nod over players who made the easier leap.

  5. Glad to see Dax McCarty here. I will renew my call to give him a tryout for the USMNT. While he played as a defensive mid this year, he has shown real passing/play making ability in the past.

  6. i don’t know if he would have been notable enough to make the best 11 list, but jason hernandez from the quakes improved greatly upon a previous season that was riddled with mistakes. he saved the earthquakes and allowed morrow to move to his natural LB position

  7. Houston Dynamo RB Kofi Sarkodie has earned some acknowledgement for breaking into the first team and playing quite well. He was a bit slow developing.

  8. No shout out to David Ferriera? It sure is an improvement to return from injuries on an inexperienced team, post those numbers, and influence games like he did.

    I guess hes always one of the best players on the pitch anytime he plays, so no improvement there…

  9. Jack McInerney certainly improved this season and I see why one would choose him for this group, but going from horrible to mediocre-at-best isn’t a cause for celebration. His goals total wasn’t shabby but the chances he missed and inability to help really build play should have resulted in someone a bit more deserving being named to this XI.

    • That’s why he’s not on the SBI MLS Best XI, though. He wouldn’t make that list. This is just judging improvement. Was there improvement in his play? I would say so.

      • Correct, he did improve. But he wasn’t one of the most improved players in the league or one of the most improved forwards. Maybe Steven Lenhart would be more appropriate or Patrick Nyarko or remove the third forward for a midfielder.

    • The second half of the season he was very good. Yes he missed a big chance in the finale vs. RBNY but for the most part he closed out the season on a very strong note. For a player his age, to go from barely used sub to the focal point of the attack, and to actually score goals regularly, was a major improvement.

      • Yes… but was he the focal point because Hoppenot was the designated super sub and JackMac was simply the best of of a bunch of lousy options? Personally, I’m going to remember his misses more than his hits. That might be me being a victim of my own frustration with Philly this year, but a better striker would have done twice as much with what he had been set up with.

        Yes he made progress, but his lack of finishing just sticks in my craw.

  10. Does Dax MacCarty really qualify as a “most improved” player? I mean, he had some really good seasons with Dallas. Like just as good as the year he’s just had with the red bulls.

    • I would say I agree because he has definitely improved but the sample size of his body of work was cut short due to injuries. As a NYRB fan, I will say I was definitely impressed by his play, though, and I’m glad we re-signed him.

  11. How about Jalil Anibaba, went from basically being a nonfactor on the Fire, to being a pivotal part of the team. Same with Sean Johnson, dramtically improved both his decision making ability, and ability to make huge saves in big games.

    • don’t really know sbi’s selection process, but johnson was already a good keeper (although, of course, he’s improved). again, not sure, but i think you had to have a disappointing season last year to make this list.

      • Disappointing season or not have played much or made a major leap in quality. Johnson improved, but you can’t really compare it to what Gruenebaum did, going from bench warmer to one of the best seasons in the league.

    • Cooper seems like a no-brainer going from 8 goals to 18 goals, but watching him play regularly I don’t think it’s a stretch to say he benefited tremendously from excellent service which led to many of his goals being tap-ins and PKs. The three forwards on this list didn’t have as high a baseline to start with (Bruin had 5 goals last year) and all three just impressed me more with their improvement. Cooper definitely improved, and I don’t think it would have been a mistake to have him on the team, but I just chose to go with the three forwards I listed for the significant improvements they showed in their game.

  12. I’d liked to have seen David Estrada on this list — he took a big step forward in 2012. But it’d be hard to pick him over one of the other forwards. If there were a second XI list, he’d be the first name I’d put on it.

    • Cooper would be. Estrada started the year amazingly, but then got injured. Didn’t think to do a second team, not sure if he would have made it. Would have to check.

  13. “While some players made the jump from good to very good, like Chris Pontius and Graham Zusi, it was the players who made the jump from benchwarmer to standout that draw the most acclaim on the 2012 SBI MLS Most Improved Best XI.”

    EJ made the jump from “not having a team” to top goal scorer on a playoff team… missing something.


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