For all the highs and lows or changes in flow in the 2013 season, Earthquakes central midfielder Sam Cronin was connected to it all.
Cronin was the link to the bashers up front and in back, the outside defenders and the wings. So it's understandable why Cronin was such a popular choice as the Earthquakes MVP for the first time.
"I was honored to be selected Team MVP from my teammates and coaches," said Cronin, in his fourth year with the club.
With typical humility, Cronin wondered if he deserved the honor as a defensive-minded player over the attackers who were "banging in goals" all season. He really hopes Chris Wondolowski can win it again next season after pumping in another 15, 20 goals. Consider Cronin's award a statement for the finer points of the game. Soccer is so much more than spectacular goals, daring saves and yellow cards. The Earthquakes truly appreciated their mighty middle man.
"He was fantastic in the center of the park," said goalkeeper Jon Busch, who was selected as the team's Defensive Player of the Year. "He does so much of the dirty work that goes unnoticed. We wouldn't have had the team success without his play. That's why he was our MVP."
Cronin, who finished with two goals and four assists, was the team's only player to start in all 34 MLS games. He scored a game-winner against the Colorado Rapids on June 15 and the game-tying strike in the 91st minute against the Montreal Impact on May 4.
"Sam was incredible this year," defender Steven Beitashour said. "He's such a workhorse, and really our engine that makes us go. He works so hard every single game and never takes a break. I feel like he never gets the recognition, so I'm glad to see he finally got the credit he deserved."
Defensive midfielders are defined more by their reliability, durability, ability to read and direct the flow, and positioning. They need to possess a can-do spirit for 90 minutes. It's more like chess than checkers for guys like Cronin.
He agonizes over what might have been this season.
"We're really proud of the effort we put in the last little bit," Cronin said. "Still, it's a black-and-white business. You either qualify for the playoffs or you don't. We failed to qualify. It's incredibly frustrating now, especially with how much effort we put into the second half of the season. To look back at the missed opportunities and the poor goals we've given up, there's been a lot of instances when we failed to meet the bar and meet the standard. Getting so close, it almost hurts a little bit more, to be honest with you."
Cronin agreed that the team advancing to the quarterfinals in the CONCACAF Champions League represented a silver lining.
"The playoffs are our first priority, but we're really excited to be in that tournament as well, and that was a big accomplishment," Cronin said.
Chris Leitch, director of the Earthquakes Youth Development Academy, is glad to have Cronin around to serve as a textbook example on how to play his position.
"Sam does everything well," said Leitch, the Quakes' Defensive Player of the Year in 2009. "There isn't one particular part of his game that jumps out at you that glaringly distinguishes him from his colleagues, other than the fact that he has no deficiencies. He can pass and dribble, he reads the game very well, and probably most impressive is his work ethic and range. He is always in the right place at the right times."
Leitch added that Cronin "plugs all the holes on defense and has a knack for knowing when to play simple and when to take calculated risks in setting up scoring chances. He is a very good pro, on and off the field, which speaks to his durability. He is a leader, both vocally and by example. You will be hard-pressed to find anyone that has a negative thing to say about Sam."
Like Wondolowski, Cronin is also hard on himself. He tends to dwell on the few things he did wrong in a match rather than the other 99 percent of his work.
"The way that I like to view the role that I play, it's kind of a link to every position, Cronin said. "I am almost one person away from almost every person on the field, outside backs, center backs, outside midfielders and forwards...I'm always one of the closest ones to all of those guys. I try to be in support of all those players whenever they need support. It's kind of a workman's position . It's a supporting role."
The Quakes showed just how much they appreciated Cronin's support at the team banquet.
- Richter Media