It was an excellent year in some categories and a lousy one in others for the annual Canadian soccer award nominations.
I also enjoy posting my choices, because accountability is a I posted my awards on this blog back in 2012 and, this year, when I made a decision that seems set to be more controversial than usual, it seems like a doubly good thing to do.
Men’s Player of the Year
Last year I called it “one of the more underwhelming years for Men’s Player of the Year I can remember.” Oh, to enjoy those days again. 2013 is impressive for a degree of futility on the men’s side of the ball that I hope shall never be repeated. Internationally we were duds, and on the club side none of our players achieved anything first-class. The fact that we’re scraping the barrel, I think, is what will lead to mini-controversy.
I got in an argument on Twitter with Daniel Squizzato about my exclusion of Will Johnson. Johnson, as you know, is the Portland Timbers midfielder who is an established MLS standout and was named to the league Best XI this year. This was enough for Squizzato, no doubt among others, to vote Johnson in first place. In one of the least competent seasons for the men’s national team on record, an MLS performance is apparently good enough for some. I disagree.
For the sake of argument let’s ignore the fact that the MLS Best XI is hilariously terrible and I wouldn’t rely on them to count to eleven, let alone tell me which are superior players. Johnson is, fairly uncontroversially, the second-best midfielder on the decent Timbers team behind Diego Valeri. So why didn’t I vote for him?
Will Johnson’s performances for Canada this year were terrible and few and far between. He is at the top of any list of “players who disappointed for their country” this season, knocking out usual incumbent Dwayne De Rosario. A Canadian award winner, even in a truly dreadful year such as this one, ought to demonstrate some ability for Canada. Johnson did not. In fact he mostly didn’t play, getting only 51 minutes in the Gold Cup due to injury. He skipped friendlies most of the year despite being healthy enough to play a career-high 2,520 league minutes. When present, in 231 minutes of total national team action this season, he was ineffective. His defense was marginal. He directed two shots and got one on target. He took a yellow card against Martinique. That was his impact.
It was a more-than-usually awful season for Canada, but Johnson was more-than-usually culpable for it by staying home and playing badly when he was around. Think of all the minutes we gave to the likes of Kyle Bekker because Johnson preferred club to country. You might be able to argue he was justified in that preference, but we’re not voting for Canadian Who Managed His Career Most Shrewdly, we’re voting for the Canadian bloody national bloody player of the year for the Canadian Bloody Soccer Association. Perhaps if this were Johnson’s first year as an international question mark I’d forgive him, but it isn’t so I won’t.
Secondly, his performances in MLS weren’t good enough to compensate. If Johnson were the second-best midfielder on Bayern Munich we could talk. But if a player was garbage for Canada but made the League One Best XI, would he get consideration as the Canadian men’s player of the year? I hardly think it likely, and that’s not far below the level of your average MLS game.
Had Johnson answered the call for Canada and played well I’d not have hesitated to rank him highly. I’ve put MLS players on my ballot in the past, did so this year, and will in the future. But his club record isn’t good enough to erase his international play, and when it comes to national awards playing for Canada is where you ought to earn your spurs. Otherwise we should just all vote for Jonathan de Guzman. As it is, Johnson is in my top five and I flirted hard with putting him in third, but he just didn’t make it.
So, among those who actually did something for Canada, who wins? Atiba Hutchinson, consensus Best Canadian Men’s Player Alive, had a weird season: he moved to Besiktas from the Eredivisie and has had a typical Atiba Hutchinson “playing every position on the planet and doing well enough to stick around” season. He, too, skipped the Gold Cup, but played well in our early friendlies and had better excuses for most of the games he missed. He also plays club soccer at a noticeably higher level. Don’t be fooled, I don’t actually like this vote: it comes down to “nobody really deserves the dignity of a first-place ballot but Hutch is the best player and had a quality season.” I was this close to going with Asmir Begovic as a protest. “Scored as many goals this year as the Canadian men.” I sympathize with an argument Steve Sandor made, that Hutchinson is hard to support given that he signed with a club guilty of match-fixing, but there are no good choices this year. I vote for Hutch under queasy protest.
Beyond that, I’m taking Teibert (great MLS season, answered every call for the national team, was Canada’s most dangerous player against Martinique then wound up in the hospital and looked useful in other friendlies) and Marcus Haber (Canada’s most dangerous attacker in the Gold Cup, small bag so far in League One, and scorer of the MNT’s only goal this year). You’ll notice I am placing a heavy emphasis on delivering results internationally. This is as it should be. Missing the cut is Johnson (on the fringe in spite of it all), David Edgar (hard to vote for a depth centre back/defensive midfielder, even in the Championship, and his national performances were mixed), and Jonathan Osorio (not a bad shout, but I wasn’t sufficiently impressed by his Jordan Harvey-style five goals on eight shots).
What a shit sandwich. 1. Atiba Hutchinson 2. Russell Teibert 3. Marcus Haber.
Women’s Player of the Year
Firstly, anybody who votes for Will Johnson as men’s player of the year on the grounds that he was MLS Best XI is morally obliged to vote for Christine Sinclair as women’s player of the year as she is a nominee for the Women’s Ballon d’Or. Make sure you rub that in their faces.
The reason this is relevant is because 2013 is the first year in a long time where a reasonable observer might not vote for Christine Sinclair. At The Equalizer, Duane Rollins left Sinclair off his ballot entirely. Squizzato had Sinclair second, behind Matheson, as did The Equalizer writer and Canadian women’s soccer guru Harjeet Johal. These are all respected, regular observers of the women’s national team, and Matheson is a quality player in her prime who was, unquestionably, the steadiest player in the somewhat dicey Canadian midfield. Meanwhile, with only three goals in 2013 Sinclair bagged less than her usual haul, though hurt by a suspension that caused her to miss the first two months. In years past, anybody who put Sinclair second or lower on their ballot was engaging in an act of the most heinous contrarianism and should have had their ballot torn up as a public service. In 2012 Sinclair was the unanimous Voyageurs Player of the Year, a record that may never be equaled. This year, Matheson is an excellent shout, but we have to make sure not to overreact. Even if Matheson was very good, and Sinclair less good than usual, we don’t want to run the risk of overlooking a still-very-good Sinclair season for the sake of voting in somebody new.
Sinclair’s year wasn’t at all bad; stronger than Marta in 2012, for a kickoff, and she was second in the Ballon d’Or. Sinclair remained the leading scorer for her country and in fewer games: Matheson scored once. I think that club performances should count for even less in the women’s bracket, but they’re not totally irrelevant. Sinclair scored eight goals in twenty matches with the NWSL’s Portland Thorns, good enough to tie for fourth in maybe the world’s best women’s soccer league. Then again, one of the people she tied with was Matheson, whose eight came as a midfielder and in one fewer game. They were only one goal ahead of Sophie Schmidt, whose national team performances weren’t great this year but whose club form was sterling.
And then there’s Erin McLeod. Over the course of 2012 she gradually took the starting goalkeeper’s job away from Karina LeBlanc, and in 2013 McLeod played some riotously good soccer. Her play on April 4 against France was diabolical and she conceded no weak goals. She was let down on the club end: a .696 save percentage was the lowest among the seven NWSL goalkeepers to play at least 1,000 minutes, while LeBlanc to name one posted a .807. Both Matheson and Sinclair had decent club seasons: McLeod would be the ultimate “country over club” choice. I approve of that as a philosophy, and yet her national team performances still probably don’t lift her above her rivals.
I think those three are clear of the pack. Schmidt will get votes based on her NWSL play, but I don’t think her national team performances were up to her usual standard (and I say this as a massive fan, one who owns a Sophie Schmidt kit; you see how fair I am). Kaylyn Kyle had Canada’s most memorable goal of the year against France, was quite an important player for the Seattle Reign, and actually played a few more-than-decent national team games despite my writing an article unfairly using her name as an epithet in the title, but while she was consistently steady she wasn’t often enough excellent.
In the end my ballot goes 1. Diana Matheson 2. Christine Sinclair 3. Erin McLeod.
Awards I’m Not Eligible to Vote For
As always, I like to stretch my wings beyond the formal Things the CSA Pretends I Know About and weigh in on the youth nominees on offer.
Last year, I voted for Doneil Henry as men’s U-20 player of the year and this year, having had a better season, he’s still eligible. This is gonna be easy. Henry’s picked up a fistful of senior international caps and has looked iffy, but as good as you could expect from a 20-year-old centre back who’s learned defending at Toronto FC and isn’t Franz Beckenbauer. I think he’s the best choice; moreover, I don’t think he has any serious rivals. The other semi-regular senior national player nominated is Samuel Piette, whose club career has not gotten too far and who, at the international level, has been steadily overwhelmed. You can pick ’em from the rest: Keven Aleman sees some reserve time and got senior national team minutes of the lowest calibre, Caleb Clarke also made his senior debut, barely got his feet wet, and failed to crack the MLS lineup. Michael Petrasso is the most interesting of the rest, scoring on his professional debut with Oldham Athletic and maintaining a top reputation with the Queens Park Rangers youth setup. As for Sam Adekugbe, of the Whitecaps, I’m a great fan of his but, ultimately, giving him this award would be rewarding him because I’ve seen him and not the others play at the U-18 club level. I’m going with 1. Doneil Henry 2. Samuel Piette 3. Michael Petrasso.
There’s a similar story with the women’s U-20 player. This is a difficult season to evaluate the women’s U-20s, as they had no tournaments this year, but a few made a fair dent in the senior team. We have the established central defender who has no serious rivals for the award; indeed, the biggest difference between Henry and Kadeisha Buchanan is that Buchanan looks much better and deserves starts. So that’s easy. The rest are strong players, just not on Buchanan’s level: her college teammate, midfielder Ashley Lawrence, made her senior debut at the Yongchuan Cup and picked up nickels and dimes in substitute appearances without blowing anyone away. Nichelle Prince is the only one of the lot with a senior international goal, against South Korea in the Yongchuan Cup, as well as a few goals in unofficial U-20 camps over the course of the season and a fifth-place finish in Big Ten scoring. Goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan managed a clean sheet against Norway and has a decent reputation. And, with every CSA nominee coming from Ontario, one risks forgetting that Summer Clarke led the Pacific Coast Soccer League in goals and tied for tenth in the NCAA’s Southeastern Conference, leading her school. Clarke didn’t play for Canada at any level this past year; that, possibly, is ruling her out. Equally, it’s possible Clarke isn’t getting attention because she is playing PCSL rather than USL W-League. Prince, Lawrence, Sheridan, Buchanan, and Rebecca Quinn all turned out for the Toronto Lady Lynx this season; Kinley McNicoll played for the Ottawa Fury. If only Vancouver could somehow get a USL W-League team! 1. Kadeisha Buchanan 2. Nichelle Prince 3. Summer Clarke (write-in).
I am always reluctant to vote for the women’s U-17 player of the year as I lack knowledge of that level. However, this time around we’re coming off a good CONCACAF women’s U-17 tournament and have already seen one of these players on the senior national team. Once again central Canada leads the way in nominees. Rachel Jones, the sole British Columbian, joined the Whitecaps Girls Elite in September 2012, scoring once for the Whitecaps in the PCSL against Fraser Valley. (Another Rachel Jones plays for VIU and in the PCSL Reserve Division with the Mid-Isle Highlanders; they’re different people.) Sarah Kinzner out of Calgary is also nominated, playing midfield and scoring once in the U-17 tournament. Sura Yekka looks unreasonably good for a 1997-born fullback playing senior internationals, but the real interesting player is Jessie Fleming. Fleming is getting massive hype, captained the U-17s very astutely, and recently received her first senior call-up for the Torneio Internacional Cidade de Sao Paolo. I like both Yekka and Fleming a lot, and my order essentially reflects the importance of a central midfielder over a fullback. My third-place vote, forward Marie-Mychèle Métivier, comes on the basis of 3M’s fine, astute, and well-rounded forward play in the CONCACAF event. 1. Jessie Fleming 2. Sura Yekka 3. Marie-Mychèle Métivier.
At least there’s a stronger western connection for the men’s U-17 player nominations. Three of the seven nominees are Whitecaps Residency players; two others are alumni. Hanson Boakai will get votes through sheer visibility: being a flashy attacker and a member of the FC Edmonton first team squad is the sort of thing that gets notice, but he played very few minutes in the NASL and achieved little when he was on. Jordan Hamilton got plenty of glory for his goals in the U-17 World Cup, but frankly I wasn’t that impressed with him: I thought he was in fortuitous positions but generated too few chances to sustainably drive offense, sort of Atiba Harris style. That said, he still did well, just not as well as goal totals make him look. Of the Whitecaps contingent the Marcos Bustos and Carducci are clearly the best, in whichever order you prefer: Carducci, in particular, was absolutely heroic in the U-17 World Cup and was Canada’s man of the tournament. Bustos had a less remarkable tournament but has been sublimely dominant at the USSDA level. The non-nomination of Kianz Froese puzzles me slightly. Froese was at the Canadian senior national team training camp in Spain back at the beginning of the year, though he was not formally part of the roster. He may not have done enough to ease ahead of Hamilton anyway: injuries were a real problem in 2013. It’s a good group, this, and gives me a lot to think about. They had a respectable World Cup for good reason. 1. Marco Carducci 2. Marco Bustos 3. Jordan Hamilton.
 — Canadian Soccer Association. “Nominees announced for 2013 Canada Soccer player awards.” CanadaSoccer.com, December 2, 2013. Accessed December 5, 2013. http://canadasoccer.com/nominees-announced-for-2013-canada-soccer-player-awards-p155611.
 — Massey, Benjamin. “My Canadian Soccer Association Awards Ballot.” Maple Leaf Forever!, November 29, 2012. Accessed December 5, 2013. http://www.maple-leaf-forever.com/2012/11/29/my-canadian-soccer-association-awards-ballot/.
 — Squizzato, Daniel. “Canadian players of the year unveiled next week. My votes were #CanMNT: Johnson, Hutchinson, Bernier; #CanWNT: Matheson, Sinclair, McLeod.” Via Twitter, December 5, 2013. Accessed December 5, 2013. https://twitter.com/DanielSquizzato/status/408656632155877376.
 — Sandor, Steven. “@Lord_Bob I can’t even put Atiba on the ballot. The fact that he plays for a team banned from Europe for match fixing is a problem for me.” Via Twitter, December 5, 2013. Accessed December 6, 2013. https://twitter.com/the11ca/status/408762457000132608.
 — “FIFA Ballon d’Or and World Women’s Player of the Year.” FIFA. Accessed December 5, 2013. http://www.fifa.com/ballondor/playeroftheyear/women.html.
 — Rollins, Duane. “The View from the North: Matheson clear choice for Canada’s best in 2013.” The Equalizer, December 4, 2013. Accessed December 5, 2013. http://equalizersoccer.com/2013/12/04/diana-matheson-canada-player-of-year-vote/.
 — Squizzato, ibid.
 — Johal, Harjeet. “My votes for 2013 Canada Soccer Players of the Year: 1: Diana Matheson, 2: Christine Sinclair, 3: Sophie Schmidt. #CanWNT” Via Twitter, December 4, 2013. Accessed December 5, 2013. https://twitter.com/HarJournalist/status/408373797784268800.
 — Canadian Soccer Association. “Christine Sinclair.” CanadaSoccer.com. Accessed December 5, 2013. http://www.canadasoccer.com/?t=roster&pid=2971#fixtures (select “Fixtures” if not already selected).
 — “Voyageurs 2012 International Female Player of the Year.” The Voyageurs, last updated January 2, 2013. Accessed December 5, 2013. http://www.cansoc.org/showthread.php?45806-Voyageurs-2012-International-Female-Player-of-the-Year/page3. There were 20 voters; Sinclair received 20 first-place votes for a total of 100 points. Second place was Desiree Scott, with 41 points.
 — Canadian Soccer Association. “Diana Matheson.” CanadaSoccer.com. Accessed December 5, 2013. http://www.canadasoccer.com/?t=roster&pid=2027#fixtures (select “Fixtures” if not already selected). The complete list of multiple goal scorers this year for the senior Canadian women’s team were Sinclair (nine games, three goals) and Adriana Leon (12 games, two goals). Singles to Nichelle Prince, Sophie Schmidt, Diana Matheson, Jonelle Filigno, and Brittany Timko.
 — “Player Stats.” National Women’s Soccer League. Accessed December 5, 2013. http://www.nwslsoccer.com/Stats/index_E.html; select “Leaderboards”. Since I don’t know how easy NWSL stats will necessarily be to find looking back, here are the leaders: Holiday 18GP.12G; Wambach and Leroux 19.11; Lloyd 15.8; Ocampo 16.8; Morgan 18.8; Matheson 19.8; Sinclair 20.8; Schmidt 19.7.
 — NWSL, ibid. Note that the NWSL does not directly track save percentage so I compiled these out of the stats list.
 — “2013 Big Ten Conference Women’s Soccer Overall Statistics.” BigTen.org. Accessed December 5, 2013. http://www.bigten.org/sports/w-soccer/stats/2013-2014/confldrs.html.
 — Pacific Coast Soccer League. “STANDINGS – Premier Women – 2010-2013.” PCSL.org. Accessed December 5, 2013. http://www.pcsl.org/standings/standings-archive/standings-women-premier-2010-2019.htm.
 — “2013 Southeastern Conference – Overall Statistics – Conference Soccer Statistics.” SEC Digital Network. Accessed December 5, 2013. http://www.secdigitalnetwork.com/Portals/3/SEC%20Website/soccer/2013%20Stats/confldrs.htm.
 — Vancouver Whitecaps FC. “Rachel Jones.” WhitecapsFC.com. Accessed December 5, 2013. http://www.whitecapsfc.com/youth/eliteteams/girlselite/roster/rachel-jones.
 — Pacific Coast Soccer League. “Schedule 2013 – Premier Women.” PCSL.org. Accessed December 5, 2013. http://www.pcsl.org/schedules/schedule-premier-women.htm.
 — Canadian Soccer Association. “Canada WNT names roster for Brazil tournament.” CanadaSoccer.com, December 5, 2013. Accessed December 6, 2013. http://www.canadasoccer.com/canada-wnt-names-roster-for-brazil-tournament-p155624.