Eric Hassli obviously wasn't Vancouver's best player this past season, and probably not even its most exciting, but he still deserves recognition.
Shall I state the obvious? The 2011 Vancouver Whitecaps season wasn't exactly award-worthy.
There was an excellent opening-day win against Toronto FC, one of the two teams in Major League Soccer as terrible as we were. There was a credible draw in Seattle, a lucky two-leg win over the Montreal Impact in the Voyageurs Cup, and a late-season two-game winning streak that included beating an unfairly depleted Real Salt Lake team denied their original game day at Empire Field by our crappy friendly against Fat Yaya Toure and Manchester City.
However, tradition obliges us to grace this bunch of losers with their due awards all the same: to recognize those who rose from the depths of awfulness to reach the relative peaks of averageness. Back in October the Whitecaps gave out their team awards and I responded in kind, naming Alain Rochat the team's MVP and defensive player of the year. Rochat, as well as most of the other winners, had good seasons in a losing cause and deserved recognition.
Eighty Six Forever has its own award traditions as well. Awards that don't necessarily recognize the best players of the season, but certainly the most memorable. The players who deserved better than they got, or the players who emblazoned their names onto YouTube in letters of fire. The players who, for better or worse, made the Vancouver Whitecaps a more exciting team to watch and to follow. I am, of course, referring to the Second Annual Official Eighty Six Forever Unofficial Vancouver Whitecaps Awards.
For historically-minded readers, the 2010 awards are here. After the jump, the winners of the most prestigious awards of any SB Nation-affiliated Vancouver Whitecaps blog.
The "My Boy" Award
awarded to the Vancouver Whitecap who gets the most gushing praise from me entirely disproportionate to his actual contribution for the team
2010 winner: Randy Edwini-Bonsu
Oh, please. It's Russell Teibert. Why even pretend? I nicknamed the kid "Canadian Soccer Jesus" for chrissakes.
The only grey area is that the rules for this award state I must like the kid more than the Whitecaps do. Well, by all accounts the Whitecaps are fairly high on Teibert; he holds a Generation Adidas contract, he was almost an everyday player under Teitur Thordarson, and so far Martin Rennie has had nice things to say about him. He just finished second in Canadian U-20 Player of the Year voting. Teibert's a player with a positive, growing reputation in the Canadian soccer world, whereas Randy Edwini-Bonsu, last year's winner, was kept on the bench by Teitur Thordarson despite seeming to be so much more capable than the likes of Cody Arnoux and Jonathan McDonald.
My defense is that, after Thordarson was fired, Teibert was slightly exiled by Tom Soehn: he used Russell sparingly compared to Thordarson's relying on him in the starting eleven. Part of that was forced due to injury, but injuries don't explain thinking Shea Salinas was a more desirable winger than Teibert, or that embarrassing left back experiment.
No, Canadian Soccer Jesus is the only just winner of the most prestigious award in fake blogdom.
Runner-up: Repeating his second-place finish from last year, Terry Dunfield is once again my second-place boy. This is a slight cheat, given that Dunfield was traded to Toronto FC mid-season, but while he was here I felt like I was one of Dunfield's very few defenders. He was attacked for his unambitious passing, his relative lack of athleticism, his missing a penalty for the first time in soccer history. I saw somebody who was defensively reliable, who was as consistent a marker of enemy midfielders as we had, and whose departure immediately impacted our midfield play for the worse. He wasn't overwhelmingly good but he deserved better than he got; it's a pity he was traded to a team which didn't really need him thanks to having a very-slightly-richer-man's Dunfield in Julian de Guzman.
The Indian Summer Award
awarded to the Vancouver Whitecap who had the most inexplicably marvelous season
2010 winner: Martin Nash
The Indian Summer Award references famous cricketer W.G. Grace's 1895 English season when, at age 47, Grace defied all expectations to record one of the finest seasons in the sport's history at an age when he should have been winding down and after several underwhelming years. The point isn't that Grace was a bad player; indeed, before 1895 he was already acknowledged as the greatest cricketer ever to live. The point is that he was a player from whom nothing was expected and who wound up delivering miracles.
In 2010, aging midfielder Martin Nash won the award in fine fashion: his 2008 season had been average, his 2009 season had been poor, and his 2010 season saw him win league all-star honours while providing the most reliable offensive threat on the Whitecaps. Well, the 2011 Whitecaps didn't have many players beat expectations. This is a difficult award to hand out when the whole team did so much worse than we thought they would.
The best winner I can come up with is a man who came into training camp on a trial without much regard and after a dismal year in a quality league, had an average pre-season, won a contract all the same, and went from a bench player to the team's leading scorer. It's easy to forget now, but when Camilo Sanvezzo was signed many people didn't see much more than an impact substitute. When his six-figure salary was released mid-season I even predicted a move to the Montreal Impact in the expansion draft. But by the end of the year his value had become obvious and the argument was whether he deserved even more money.
Runner-up: similar to Camilo, Gershon Koffie didn't come into the season with many expectations. This was mainly down to his youth and lack of professional pedigree; there wasn't much doubt about his skill given that he had a good 2010 USSF D2 run. However, he wound up becoming one of Vancouver's few automatic starters throughout the course of the year and a rare pleasant surprise.
The Cardiac Surgeon's Order of Merit
awarded to the Vancouver Whitecap most responsible for me screaming "aaaaah!" in both delight and horror
2010 winner: Philippe Davies
No player better captured the "oh my god he's terrible... OH MY GOD HE'S BRILLIANT!" nature of the Cardiac Surgeon's Order of Merit than Nizar Khalfan. I used to joke there were secretly twins: Good Khalfan and Bad Khalfan, and not even Tom Soehn could tell which was which. Good Khalfan was magnificent: banging in goals late at BC Place, single-handedly spurring Vancouver's comeback against Sporting Kansas City, loping up and down the wing threading accurate passes and heavy shots until the slower MLS fullbacks simply threw up their hands and tried to foul him into submission. Bad Khalfan, who we sadly saw more often, never fought for the ball, usually messed up possession when he got it, and looked like Salinas on quaaludes.
Khalfan has now been cast off, as many of these players will. He was frustrating so much more often than he was fantastic that I can't really blame Martin Rennie for letting him go... but when he was fantastic he was so fantastic. I loved Khalfan and I hated him. He is the perfect winner of this award.
Runner-up: miles behind the winner, but Shea Salinas is the next-closest contender. Salinas was 95% garbage to 5% gold: not the ideal ratio. The gold won Salinas some fans and there's no denying he had his moments. However, the consistent inconsistency just wasn't there.
The Golden Bench
awarded to the Vancouver Whitecap who deserved more playing time than he got
2010 winner: Simon Thomas
Easy way to win this award: play zero first team minutes in 2011. Philippe Davies is a promising player and it'll take much more than Tom Soehn's idiocy to convince me otherwise. He moves the ball adeptly and plays for a team which needed exactly that all season. He did very well in a responsible field-general role with the Vancouver Whitecaps Residency's USL PDL side. Even his cameo in the Manchester City friendly was promising. However, Davies didn't do more than ride the pine for a few weeks in spite of the late-season #BigPhilMustPlay campaign.
Third-string goalkeeper Brian Sylvestre didn't play any 2011 MLS minutes either, of course. But the difference is that the Whitecaps were so obviously calling out for a player with Davies's skill. Sylvestre hadn't even played USL PDL before 2011 whereas Davies had proven himself in the second division. Sylvestre battled injury; Davies had a few knocks and a minor bug but was mostly healthy. And, bluntly, Sylvestre is an American whereas Davies is a Canadian on a team that had all-but-abandoned Canadian players after Dunfield was traded and Kevin Harmse was released.
The good news is that, while the Whitecaps currently have one more than the league-minimum three Canadians under contract, Phil Davies remains on the books. He seems to be in Martin Rennie's provisional plans for 2012, and let's hope the Scotsman gives Big Phil his long-deserved chance.
Runner-up: he wasn't in Davies's situation, what with a serious pre-season injury, but I think Michael Nanchoff deserved more of a look than he got. Nanchoff had a very good college career and showed some good stuff at the USL PDL level as well as in his 137 Major League Soccer minutes. He's a competent left winger on a team that suffered for left wing play as soon as Russell Teibert went down; it's a mystery why he didn't at least get an opportunity.
The Facebook Award
awarded to the Vancouver Whitecap responsible for the greatest moment of sheer, undeniable drama
2010 winner: Mouloud Akloul
The award is for the most dramatic moment, not the most dramatic game. Were it the latter then Nizar Khalfan would win easily, with his soul-stealing appearance against Kansas City (hell, if that stoppage-time shot he thwacked off the crossbar had gone in he would have lived forever). As it is, there can be only one winner.
An ideal candidate would be a dramatic goal against a blood rival, preferably a goal of such incredible quality that even the Americans noticed it. Ideally that goal would be responsible for getting the Whitecaps a precious road point and oh hell you figured out where I'm going with this long ago. Congratulations, Eric Hassli.
Runner-up: You know what? Screw it. Terry Dunfield's first MLS goal wasn't exactly a beauty and the Whitecaps had very few other moments of delight and drama, so let's go back to that Kansas City game I've evoked, like, three times in this article already and Camilo's making-me-grin-like-a-slow-child-with-a-lollypop equalizer in stoppage time. If you don't love this video you are defective.