By definition, the Nelly Award goes to the player who is new to the team this year and has made the most significant positive impact. The award's namesake Ryan Nelsen emerged as a star defender in the MLS shortly after joining the team, and served as United's captain during the 2004 championship run. The United backline has never been the same since Nelsen's departure to Blackburn.
Going into the season, you'd have to think the frontrunner for this award would be Marcelo Gallardo, but he has not necessarily made as significant an impact on the club as many had hoped. When healthy, Gallardo is often the team's catalyst in the attack. Although he's still adjusting to the MLS style of play, Gallardo was brought to the team to give them a shot in international competitions. The level of success though has varied.
Though no other acquisitions have made quite the splash that Gallardo's did, another new contributor for United this year has been Gonzalo Martinez. Martinez is a versatile back, playing mostly on the left, but also sometimes in the center or on the right. Though his passing occasionally lacks consistency, Martinez is our fastest defender and has had the heart to play through a couple minor injuries.
There's another defender with the same name who we should mention, and that's Gonzalo Peralta. During the limited amount of time he's been healthy this year, Peralta has displayed skill, height, and leadership traits that the team sorely misses when he is absent. However, Peralta can also be prone to injuries, and mistakes (see Real Salt Lake, road match). Not entirely unlike our last Argentine defender.
Making a late entry into the competition is our newly acquired goalkeeper Louis Crayton. With 3 shutouts in 5 league appearances (as opposed to Wells' 1 shutout in 17 appearances), Crayton has clearly established himself as the immediate starter. This Liberian international is quickly becoming one of the top goalies in the league.
Feel free to argue in favor of your choice in the comments section.