After Sunday's game against the Portland Timbers, the Vancouver Whitecaps named their team award winners for the 2012 season (excuse me, the " 2012 Team Awards - presented by BMO Bank of Montreal" just like every other soccer thing in this country). The Whitecaps team awards are chosen by the club and, in my mind, are never out to lunch: I may disagree with them, and usually do, but always consider their choices respectable.
This doesn't mean I don't correct them, of course.
"Defender of the Year" is an award the Whitecaps handed out in 2010 and have stopped doing in MLS, possibly because Don Garber's soccer mafia is determined to keep down defenders who by their very nature have to stop David Beckham and Thierry Henry from appearing on highlight reels, or alternatively because they thought the award was stupid.
Well, I think defenders deserve more love (says the man who named one his Player of the Year two seasons running) so I keep the award going. In this case it goes to the Whitecaps' official Player of the Year, Lee Young-pyo. Lee edged out Alain Rochat because of Rochat's run in midfield; after all, if the team's two best defenders are almost neck and neck, surely the edge should go to the one who spent most time in defense. I am fully of the opinion that Rochat has had the better all-round season.
Lee has been weaker in the second half than the first (more on that later) but he was still the best of the Whitecaps' everyday defensive players. Jay DeMerit has been fine, but not much more. Martin Bonjour can't get off the bench these days, and while Andy O'Brien is off to a good start he has too few minutes (and might still be behind Lee if he had a full season).
Blue and White Award/Whitecaps Foundation Humanitarian Award/general community service gong
2010 Eighty Six Forever winner: Mouloud Akloul
2011 Eighty Six Forever winner: Jeb Brovsky
They Say: Omar Salgado
But I Say: Joe Cannon
This is always a difficult award to judge from outside. After all, it's the Whitecaps public relations staff who'd know better than anyone, getting requests for player appearances, sending the players out, and hearing through the grapevine how they did. As well as fielding requests regarding what players do on their own initiative, such as Jeb Brovsky's bushel full of independent charity work last season.
Salgado follows in the footsteps established by Mouloud Akloul in 2010: a nice, willing-to-help player who had plenty of time on his hands due to a serious injury. The Whitecaps press release credits him as "a regular contributor to Whitecaps FC’s various community initiatives during the 2012 season." By all accounts Salgado earned the hell out of this award during what must have been a frustrating season.
My giving the nod to Cannon isn't a reflection on Salgado, but merely my acknowledging that there's quite a bit which goes into community service. Cannon isn't merely active with charity, happy to make a donation or lend his time when he can. He also engages the community, doing more than any player this side of Jay DeMerit to get the Whitecaps' name out there. By all accounts he is warm and genuine, in spite of having on-field frustrations of his own. He's a true gentleman that Vancouver is privileged to have just as a resident, never mind a goalkeeper.
The Most Promising Player award doesn't seem to have a real definition. I am not quite as high on Mattocks as everyone else: he seems to draw a disproportionate amount of "but he could have changed the game!" hype for the amount of actual game-changing he does. But there's no doubt he's the best of the Whitecaps rookie players this season, as Bryce Alderson and Greg Klazura have played no minutes while Caleb Clarke has gotten fifteen (good ones, but still).
Yet if you're asking me to pick which young Whitecap I think will have the best career, well, I think Gershon Koffie nudged ahead of 2011 champ Russell Teibert with Alderson hanging around strong. Yet nobody is asking that (or Koffie would have won). I was tempted to be a smart-aleck and give it to a Residency player like Sam Adekugbe or Brody Huitema. But as the award is constructed, Mattocks is the only choice.
During the first two-thirds of the season Davidson would have won this award and it wouldn't have been close. In fact, he was so obviously the Whitecaps' unsung hero that he was on the verge of being sung and therefore ineligible. The instant the Vancouver Southsiders, in a friendly match against the Edmonton Supporters Group, lined one of its players up to "play Davidson" I knew he'd made it.
But can you give an unsung hero award to a player who has been totally frozen out down the stretch? Who has zero minutes in the last five matches, having been benched in favour of moving Alain Rochat out of position? At that stage Davidson is unsung even by his coach, and I'm not sure that counts. During last week's Reserves match against the Los Angeles Galaxy, Davidson played centre back just to give him something useful to do; that's your unsung hero?
Jordan Harvey has been playing, all year, in a variety of roles and positions. An impact sub at left midfield, a starter at left back, somebody brought on to kill a lead or, increasingly, to go 90 minutes while Rochat moved forward. He hasn't been exceptional but he's generally been fairly good in whatever position. His awful play last year convinced Whitecaps fans he was a waste of skin, but for Vancouver he's usually been the steady, useful defender Philadelphia Union fans were so aggrieved at losing.
A useful utility player who gets minutes when they count the most and doesn't always get his due. That sounds like an unsung hero to me.
When the Whitecaps made Lee their player of the year it was, I think, a recognition of the first half of the season. "That's very good," you may say, "the Whitecaps played well in the beginning of the season." Well, they weren't actually that good, and Lee's slipping form has been one of the major reasons why. I still wouldn't dream of benching him or calling him anything but a bargain, but he hasn't made a useful cross in what seems like months and he seems to be a bit more dazzled by flashy wingers corkscrewing him into the ground than before. Whether he's old, tired, or just frustrated, he's not quite the same player as when he made us all say "oh, that's what a good right back looks like."
Alain Rochat has not slipped. Instead, he's moved into a new position and promptly become indispensable. As a left back, he was probably the team's best, most consistent player. When an attack came at him you just didn't have to worry. When he had to turn the ball back up the field, well, you weren't going to get Gareth Bale but you could be pretty certain it wouldn't be a cheap throw-in conceded or a quick, sloppy turnover. He just did the job, constantly, game in, game out, virtually without fail.
Then, in midfield, more of the same. Poor Davidson, what chance does he have against a guy who runs back with poise, has an excellent eye for positioning, cuts out passes with aplomb, and then delivers unambitious but accurate ones of his own to try and turn things around? Rochat is the MVP, again, and the Whitecaps' best player, again. No doubt.
 — "Vancouver Whitecaps FC announce 2012 Team Awards - presented by BMO Bank of Montreal." WhitecapsFC.com, October 21, 2012. Accessed October 22, 2012. http://www.whitecapsfc.com/news/2012/10/vancouver-whitecaps-fc-announce-2012-team-awards-presented-bmo-bank-montreal.