We kick of the 2014 edition of the Benny Awards as we always do, with the Richie Award. It is named named defensive midfielder Richie Williams, whose contributions were often overshadowed by names such as Marco Etcheverry, Raul Diaz Arce, and Jaime Moreno, but who was an important part of those early teams. Past winners of the award include Jared Jeffrey, Chris Korb, Julius James, Bryan Namoff, and Clyde Simms.
1. Taylor Kemp: For all of last season and the first half of this season, Kemp was an afterthought. He got some time in defense and in midfield for the 2013 team, but he was a rookie and that season can't tell you much about anyone. This season, he began the year behind Cristian Fernandez and Chris Korb, and his first start in August was a disaster. After that game, however, he proved his offensive prowess and improved defensively throughout the balance of the season. Not much is expected from late first round picks in MLS, but Kemp has gone from afterthought to the protected list.
2. Nick DeLeon: I'm sure this one will be divisive. One the one hand, DeLeon has not been able to recreate the magic of his rookie season, when he was an electric goalscoring and assist threat from the wing. This season, however, he turned into a glue player that allowed United's 4-4-2 to operate smoothly, patching over any defensive holes in the midfield while still scoring two goals and a career high five assists.
3. Sean Franklin: Despite getting a trip to the All Star game and starting throughout the season, Franklin's defensive work was overshadowed by the offensive promise that comes when he is on your team. However (and as you'll see later in the week), his defense is right up there with Bobby Boswell for most important on the team this year, with Boswell able to leave him on an island and trust him to get the job done.
4. Jeff Parke: The bookends to his first season with D.C. United were rough, being unable to play over half the season after being acquired for the allocation order pick that fans were keen for United to use. But between those two events, he started alongside Bobby Boswell and was a key to United starting the season well. Steve Birnbaum may have been ready to start on day one, but the fact that he didn't have to helped speed his development.
5. Andrew Dykstra: Another player whose season was cut short due to injury. He came off of last season with the Richmond Kickers and passed Joe Willis for the second goalkeeping spot. Then, Bill Hamid got injured and Dykstra came in to help United to their first two wins of the season, shutting out the New England Revolution and the New York Red Bulls. He looks to be the unquestioned number two for next year, and if/when Bill Hamid is sold, he could be challenging to take that position over permanently.