Today’s reveal of Major League Soccer’s postseason awards finalists gives us some insight into how media, players and coaches saw the season, with each triad of ‘nominees’ of resulting from voting that concluded earlier this money. If a player’s in the final three, we know a decent numbers of voters thought that he was among the top two candidates for the award. Each ballot only had room for a first and second choice.
So when we see Omar Gonzalez as one of the Defender of the Year nominees, you know a lot of people not only had him among the top two but probably at the top of their ballots. Yet as opposed to 2011, when the latest LA Galaxy Designated Player won the award, this was not the best season for the U.S. international. He wasn’t bad by any means, but a dip in form around the time his new contract was announced was so noticeable Bruce Arena was left trumpeting his defender’s rebound by season’s end. This was not a Defender of the Year season from Omar, which makes you wonder how much reputation trumps performance when it comes to these ballots.
To a lesser extent, Matt Besler probably benefitted from the same effect. Last year’s best defender has also broken through for the U.S. Men’s National Team, future raising his profile. But he only played 23 games for Sporting Kansas City this year, and while he very well might be the best defender in Major League Soccer, he probably didn’t have the best season. It’s hard to made a strong case that 23 games of Besler is worth more than 29 from Aurélien Collin, 29 from Jámison Olave, or 34 from Jose Goncalves (who, in fairness, we the third nominee for the award). Being the best player seems to be the most important quality; not whether that player had the best season.
But amongst the finalists list released by MLS today, those type of curiosities are the exceptions. In fact, most won’t consider them curiosities at all. It’s only when you start digging that questions arise regarding Gonzalez and Besler, and the truth is most voters may not put in that kind of time. When a ballot has two slots for Defender of the Year, players, coach, and media might have reflex responses – responses that lead to Besler getting a nod despite missing almost one-third of the season.
Marco Di Vaio’s case is a bit different. In contention for the Golden Boot until the season’s last day, the Montréal Impact’s candidacy was much discussed throughout the year. As the only real goal scoring option in Marco Schällibaum’s attack, Di Vaio’s importance to the Impact is undeniable. Yet it is curious how much more attention he received than Camilo Sanvezzo, another attack-only guy on a borderline playoff team (Vancouver) whose candidacy’s almost entirely dependent on his goal totals. Sanvezzo finished with 22. Di Vaio finished with 20. Goals per 90 minutes: Sanvezzo 0.82; Di Vaio 0.66. If Sanvezzo had Di Vaio’s history in Serie A – his name recognition – would we be talking about his candidacy instead of Di Vaio’s?
They’re minor qualms, and until we see the final voting, we don’t know how close each player came to winning the award. Jose Goncalves may run away with Defender of the Year, rendering second and third meaningless. And maybe Di Vaio finishes closer to the unlisted Sanvezzo than he does Mike Magee or Robbie Keane. This may all be needless nitpicking.
Still, you can never underestimate the role reputation plays in these types of votes. Whenever there are doubts, it’s natural for voters to default to players with whom they’re most acquainted. Sometimes that manifests in voting for your teammate, player, or the guy you cover on a day-to-day basis. Other times, it means going with the names you hear most.