This morning, Major League Soccer announced the finalists for each of the 2017 awards. The only Vancouver Whitecaps player to make the final cut was central defender, and captain, Kendall Waston.
While there was an outside chance that Carl Robinson could be a finalist for Coach of the Year, and Jake Nerwinski as Rookie of the Year, it is unsurprising that neither made the cut.
The three Coach of the Year finalists are Gerardo ‘Tata’ Martino (Atlanta United), Veljiko Paunovic (Chicago Fire), and Greg Vanney (Toronto FC). Sure, you could make an argument for Robinson over Paunovic, given the up and down season the Fire had, but if I were to replace Paunovic, I would have probably done it with Patrick Vieira (NYCFC).
As for Rookie of the Year, the finalists are Abu Danladi (Minnesota United FC), Jack Eilliot (Philadelphia Union), and Julian Gressel (Atlanta United). Again, you could make an argument for Nerwinski given how he improved as the season progressed, and has been the best Whitecaps player in multiple matches this season; however, it is hard to argue with the three finalists. We knew that it was going to be a tough road. I suspect Nerwinski finished 5th in the voting.
Back to Kendall Waston. This is the second time in three years that he has been up for Defender of the Year. In 2015, he lost out to Lauren Ciman of the Monteral Impact. This season, he has tough competition, facing Justin Morrow (Toronto FC) and Ike Opara (Sporting Kansas City).
Some might make an argument that Morrow should not be up for this award as he is not a ‘true’ defender. I see that argument, but if that is how MLS sees him, then that is how the voters have to vote for him. He has had a remarkable season. He finished tied for 36th in the LEAGUE in scoring, with eight goals, but only managed one assist. Usually it is the assists category where the outside backs tend to do better. We will see if the debate over whether Morrow is a defender and the lack of assists hurts him in the vote.
Opara would be a name that is always in the conversation for Defender of the Year if it were not for his inability to stay healthy. Prior to this season, Opara had only managed to start a maximum of 16 games in any of his seven season, and play 1,542 minutes. This season, he was able to stay healthy, starting 30 matches for 2,700 minutes; almost twice his previous high. Opara chipped in three goals this season and led SKC to one of the best defensive records.
As much as I would like to tout Waston for this award, he will be in tough against the offensive Morrow and the leader of the best defensive team this season. This is because the best thing Waston does (clearances) is not recognized as much as the contributions of the other two finalists (offensive and team defense). Waston started 25 matches this season, for 2,250 minutes, and chipped in four goals (tied for fourth in team scoring). He also led MLS in clearances (7.4) and blocks (1.0). While it may be a surprise if Waston wins the award, I don’t think it would be a big surprise. All three defenders have different advantages that make them the choice for Defender of the Year. We will see November 9th if Waston can pull it out!