Every MLS fan knows the names of Dwayne De Rosario and Chris Pontius. They're legitimate superstars. Bill Hamid, Andy Najar, and Perry Kitchen are well on their way too.
None of those players are nominated for this award. This award is for the other guys.
The Richie Award is named after Richie Williams, the central defensive midfielder on those early championship-winning D.C. United teams. Williams' name wasn't as big as many of the other players on that team, but in many ways, he was just as important.
The Richie goes to the most underrated player on United's roster. Past winners include Julius James, Bryan Namoff, and Clyde Simms. Here are this year's nominees.
1. We went into this season thinking that left back was the biggest hole on the roster, and that United would need a new MLS quality starter. That was before we figured out that Daniel Woolard is that exact player. Early in the season, Woolard was the only consistent player on the United back line, and we were even more impressed when he moved centrally in a few moments of need and proved to be just as capable as the injured players he was replacing. Woolard was great in his 20 D.C. starts this season, tallying a goal and two assists, but his season was unfortunately cut short by a concussion.
2. Who replaced Woolard? Another outside back that wasn't rated among our biggest assets heading into the season. Chris Korb emerged as a reliable and quick defender who can play either side of the field. Korb had three assists in 22 starts and showed us an unexpectedly strong crossing ability, while also handling marking responsibilities on some of the most talented strikers in the league.
3. Marcelo Saragosa came to United without much fanfare, but proved to be a key player nonetheless. He entered the starting lineup when De Rosario left it and helped the team transition into a more conservative style that limited the opponents' good scoring chances. It's probably not a coincidence that United didn't lost another match the rest of the year. Saragosa only scored one goal this season in 12 starts, but it was an important one. With a blast from outside the box, he scored the tying goal against the Columbus Crew in the match that clinched a playoff spot for United.
4. Of course we couldn't discuss underrated players without naming the most polarizing of them all. Lionard Pajoy provides the requisite pressure and work rate that Ben Olsen rates very highly, but is often underrated by fans. Because Pajoy is a forward that contributed only three goals on the season, he is often overlooked and disrespected. Still though, no one can deny the improvement in United's results since the acquisition of Pajoy.