The 2012 Bennies continue with an award for the best newcomer. The Nelly Award goes to the greatest non-rookie player on the D.C. United roster. This means that the player must either be new to the league or acquired via a trade or some other mechanism that isn't the Superdraft or homegrown signing.
The Nelly has had its share of ups and downs in the past few years. Past winners have included Dejan Jakovic (yay!) and Louis Crayton (boo!). The last time we held voting for this award, Branko Boskovic just narrowly edged Danny Allsopp in an incredibly short-sighted contest.
Will this year's winner be more yay than boo? Will we look back on this year's winner as a Jakovic or a Crayton?
1. He played 26 matches for United this season, and finished with more goals than all but one other player on the team. So why isn't Maicon Santos a sure winner of this award? It could have something to do with the fact that he isn't even on the team anymore. Or it could have something to do with Santos scoring all seven of his goals before the end of May. But he was a vital member of United. Santos inspired one of the greatest attacking performances of the year against FC Dallas back in April, scored an important game-winning goal off the bench against the New England Revolution, and then even when he wasn't scoring anymore, he hit one of the prettiest assists I've ever seen in MLS for the lone goal on the road against the Philadelphia Union.
2. Those three special moments that I just mentioned? Those were supposed to be Hamdi Salihi's moments, among others. The Albanian Bomber came to MLS with lots of potential to be a prolific scorer, and he finished the season with just one goal fewer than Santos. But his goals came mostly in either lopsided wins or losses. His only game-winning goal was a rebound of a muffed save against Toronto FC, a play that defined Salihi's reputation as an excellent poacher, but little else. But his six goals came in over 500 minutes less than Santos' seven goals, giving Salihi one of the best scoring averages in the league. Would that pace have continued with more time on the field? We may never know.
3. To complete our triumvirate of imperfect forwards, we also nominate Lionard Pajoy for the Nelly. The Colombian veteran entered MLS by way of the Philadelphia Union, and then arrived in D.C. in a trade towards the end of the season. Unlike the other players named here, Pajoy was on the field for every match of United's undefeated streak to close out the season. So even though he has half the goals of Salihi, Pajoy's stats also include the best winning percentage, for whatever that's worth.
4. He came to D.C. with a resume that included a Swiss Defender of the Year award, and now Emiliano Dudar will attempt to add an even more prestigious award to his trophy case. At one point this season, we expected Dudar to emerge as one of the top defenders in MLS, impressing us with his combination of size, anticipation, distribution. Unfortunately for Dudar though, an injury forced him to miss time while United's other two center backs flourished. Dudar was on the outside looking in on a starting job that was occupied by a pair of defenders who were playing the best soccer of their careers. He finished the season with only 11 appearances.