This year I give my answers long after the CSA released the awards’ results. Bad form. I realize that I am literally Owen Hargreaves as far as you are concerned, loyal reader: I can only fall on my knees and beg forgiveness.
Women’s Player of the Year
Christine Sinclair won. Spoiler alert.
Last year, I said Sinclair didn’t deserve to win but was probably going to on reputation. She had a decent year, though, and snuck into my top three. This year even that level of reward is unavailable to us. For her club, Sinclair was the third-leading scorer on the Portland Thorns behind Jessica McDonald and Allie Long, and finished ahead of Alex Morgan only on the basis of more minutes. Sincy appeared to have appalling shooting percentage luck but the repeatability of shooting percentage in women’s soccer isn’t known. For country, Sinclair scored once, all year, in the team’s final friendly against Sweden.
We mustn’t oversell this. Even without scoring Sinclair was a useful player for John Herdman, deserved more goals than she got, and contributed off the ball. She’s still a clear starter, and what’s more I expect a minor resurgence in 2015. Sinclair, in short, is no Abby Wambach. But we’re looking at what she did, not what she could have done, and the numbers were not player of the year quality. Had anybody but Christine Sinclair posted them she’d never be in consideration. Sinclair will probably be the Canadian player of the decade, but that doesn’t make her player of the year.
The CSA press release said the women’s vote was “very close”. I suspect the informed ballots were split between Sophie Schmidt, Desiree Scott, Diana Matheson, and Erin McLeod, allowing Sinclair to sneak up the middle thanks to those who vote on habit. Some blame dastardly media guys who don’t follow the women’s team, but CanWNT had a home-heavy schedule this season well-covered by the press. We all know a few coaches who are dazzled by Sinclair’s iconic status and would vote for her leadership, her toughness, and her legend even if she scored three own goals and threw Diana Matheson into the crowd like a lawn dart.
Speaking of Canada’s favourite microeconomist, Matheson was certainly one of the strong contenders this year and I suspect enjoyed plenty of support. To an extent she was a reputation choice as well; I don’t feel she was quite as good in 2014 as in 2013 and wasn’t the straw that stirred the drink. But it was still an excellent year, worthy of being on everyone’s ballot. She was also the best attacking player on her NWSL team, the Washington Spirit, leading with six assists and running second with eight goals while playing the second-most minutes. Some people don’t seem to rate club play in the women’s player of the year; I discount it heavily myself. But it’s a good way to gain perspective and break a tie. Matheson’s tremendous 2014 for her club, her second straight really excellent NWSL season, pushes her up the podium.
Desiree Scott had a few monumental games, such as her hometown show in Winnipeg against the United States and the second Japan match in Vancouver, but was also disconcertingly anonymous at times: still, a good Scott is very good indeed and she did it against tough opposition. Scott probably lost some votes because she was the only serious nominee playing club soccer outside North America, turning out with Notts County in England, and was therefore almost completely off the radar except when actually playing for Canada (find her stat line, I defy you). Erin McLeod had another good year and remains among the world’s best goalkeepers, but voting for a goalie is difficult to do especially when she didn’t really steal us any games, or none we could see on television. Fellow Albertan keeper Steph Labbé had a year that was in my books “a slightly worse McLeod.”
This leaves my first-place choice, Sophie Schmidt. I’ve enjoyed Schmidt’s play for a while now but she tailed off some in 2012 and even more in 2013. 2014 saw her back with a vengeance. She more than doubled her career tally with seven goals for her country this year, top of the pops, including all three of our goals at home, one against the best team in the world (Germany), and two against the reigning World Cup champions (Japan). Schmidt’s great weakness, her predilection for the turnover, has greatly improved, and I would say she was a more integral part of running the attack than Matheson. Sure, her NWSL performance declined, but such was her quality for Canada that I frankly don’t care. It was nice to be able to put Schmidt’s name next to the one on my ballot. It felt like the fulfillment of long-overdue promise. 1. Sophie Schmidt 2. Diana Matheson 3. Desiree Scott
Men’s Player of the Year
Long-time fans of Canadian men’s soccer will be familiar with voting for Atiba Hutchinson because he is the best player. In this respect, I’m too happy to defer to tradition.
Oh, Hutch. He only played for Canada four times this year but that’s not bad in a season with no Gold Cups or World Cup qualifiers, and in those four games he scored a spot kick to fetch a surprising point against Bulgaria. A decent show, though not a brilliant one and he missed his best chance to make his mark in the Colombia friendly. So let’s be frank: those of us who voted for Hutchinson are doing it on the strength of his club play.
I don’t watch a lot of the Turkish league, where Hutchinson plays with giants Besiktas. (Shock! Horror!) But after a 2012-13 being played all over the park to try and find a niche, Hutch has apparently settled in. More than that. In a Champions League match against Arsenal, Hutchinson ran the show in a losing cause and drew specific praise from no less than Arsène Wenger. His stock has never been higher, and he’s been linked with the move to the English Premier League that he’s reportedly dreamed of for much of his career. He’s been healthy, effective, picked up a couple assists, been the Hutch we all know he can be on a consistent basis. Last year I voted for Hutchinson and had to hold my breath slightly. This year no qualms apply.
So who are “the rest”? On strong Canadian performances, Milan Borjan belongs on any list. I said above that it’s hard to vote for a goalkeeper unless he steals the show, well, Borjan’s done that, a couple times. I love Lars Hirschfeld but he’s rather in eclipse these days. Yes, Milan spent a lot of the club season on Canadian favourites Unattached FC, but he’s making a solid return to the domestic game: in September Borjan signed with Bulgarian side Ludogorets Razgrad as an emergency goalkeeper when they needed someone, anyone to stand between the sticks for a Champions League qualifier against Liverpool. At Anfield Borjan played very well indeed until he gave away a late penalty. It was good enough, apparently: the emergency goalkeeper has stuck around, been a regular in the eighteen, and made a couple good league appearances. It’s so strange to see a Canadian get a lucky break and take advantage of it that I can’t help but vote for him.
David Edgar, my third-place vote, hasn’t done quite so well for club: he was a regular early this season after signing with Championship squad Birmingham, scored the easiest goal off a corner you will ever see against Ipswich, but has been on the outs since the relegation-threatened Blues sacked manager Lee Clark. He has, however, not been forgotten, seeing minutes here and there under new boss Gary Rowett. And for country he was clearly the best defender on the team night in night out. Yes, Edgar’s inconsistent even within a match, seems to trip over his own feet sometimes or get caught too high up the pitch with forwards getting in behind him. He’s not perfect. But he’s big, strong, confident on the ball, and our best heir to Kevin McKenna. 2014 was a nice year for him.
Who else could you have gone for? None of the MLS contingent was really in it this year: Jonathan Osorio regressed to the mean like a motherfucker, Will Johnson was hurt and didn’t make a single cap, Dwayne De Rosario was old, Russell Teibert was the second-best defensive midfielder on his team, Doneil Henry is still a “could be” rather than an “is”, Issey Nakajima-Farran is Issey Nakajima-Farran and you don’t get points just for participating. Iain Hume would have been a fun choice: he was just named Player of the Year in the first season of the Indian league. How awesome is it that Humey is becoming the Carlos Valderrama of a nascent league in a country of a billion people? Extremely awesome. But many of his exploits came after the ballots were counted. Tosaint Ricketts is still Canada’s most consistently-scoring international striker and had a decent season in the Turkish second division, but “most consistently-scoring” in no way implies actual consistency and it’s the Turkish second division. Julian de Guzman actually played pretty well for Canada but that’s almost all the soccer he got. I’m pretty happy with the obvious choices. 1. Atiba Hutchinson 2. Milan Borjan 3. David Edgar
And the Rest Here on Lord Bob’s Island
The following awards are ones I am not eligible to vote for, but on which I have an opinion anyhow.
The women’s U-20 player of the year is Kadeisha Buchanan, because she’s the best. Janine Beckie deserved votes too, with a terrific U-20 Women’s World Cup (having joined the good girls from the American program) and a terrific season at Texas Tech, scoring seventeen goals; like Buchanan, Beckie was an NSCAA All-American. Nichelle Prince also had a good tournament, as did Emma Fletcher. Fletcher also boasted a good year at Louisiana State (alongside self-exiled Canadian should-be-star Summer Clarke), while after a fine freshman campaign Prince’s 2014 at Ohio State was cut short by injury. I didn’t rate Ashley Lawrence quite so highly but she certainly gets plenty of respect from more knowledgeable observers than I. Jessie Fleming, despite being a U-17, was nominated in this category… and to be honest, I’m having a hard time keeping her out of the top three; her U-20 tournament wasn’t the best but you could see the difference when she was injured, and she’s had some strong games on the senior team. The Canadians didn’t do everything we wanted at the U-20 Women’s World Cup, but a solid number of players looked very good indeed. Promising. 1. Kadeisha Buchanan 2. Janine Beckie 3. Jessie Fleming.
The men’s U-20 player of the year is Michael Petrasso, for the same reason as Buchanan. Petrasso spent most of the year ping-ponging around the English Leagues One and Two on loan and bagging a few goals along the way. While not a dominant player, he’s been getting results against grown men and that’s U-20 Player of the Year stuff for sure. I admit I’m not as persuaded by the opposition as some of you. Hanson Boakai, of FC Edmonton, played high-quality professional soccer and was one of the MVPs of the Voyageurs Cup yet wasn’t even nominated (!!!). Young centre back Luca Gasparotto is doing a thing or two on loan in the lower Scottish leagues but hasn’t cracked Rangers yet, Manuel Aparicio played a fair bit in USL Pro but if you see a lot there I don’t, Jordan Hamilton had quite a good USL Pro run but washed out of the Portuguese second division on loan (he, too, went un-nominated), and the rest are your usual youth players or amateurs. There’s a lot of optimism about the 2015 U-20 team which will try to qualify for the World Cup. And obviously there’s talent but I’m not feeling the love to the same extent. 1. Michael Petrasso 2. Hanson Boakai (write-in) 3. Manuel Aparicio.
I don’t frankly have much to say about the U-17 player of the year nominees: in years without a major tournament this age group is all-but-impenetrable to us outsiders. (That may be why they don’t let me vote on it.) The women played a decent but annoyingly short U-17 Women’s World Cup back in March: there were few real standouts. It’s frankly hard to imagine anyone being better than Jessie Fleming, who I keep writing good things about. I worry that she’ll fall victim to over-hype, as Kara Lang did before her; there are so many things that can go wrong at that age group. Simmrin Dhaliwal didn’t play full-time in the World Cup but is a nominee and gets good reviews in the Whitecaps system, and the increasingly-respected Sarah Kinzner I thought did very well, particularly in that knuckle-gnawing loss to Venezeula.
As to the men’s nominees, I have seen precisely one kid on the list: Vancouver’s Matthew Baldisimo. He is quite a good, versatile player, and I am always faintly surprised to see he’s still a U-17. I wouldn’t say he has any outstanding individual talents which makes me say “he’s playing professional soccer” but Baldisimo does a lot of things quite well. Does that mean I’d back him against a bunch of players I’ve never seen? (One of them’s at Fulham, that sounds pretty good!) Jean-Yves Tabla wound up taking the honour; I have barely heard of him but Sean Fleming’s blurb in the press release sounded complimentary. No informed opinion is possible; this paragraph was a waste of your time. (To tell the truth, I’m not sure how Canadian coaches outside those who actually scout and coach the U-17 team can make an informed call either. Someone in Montreal might know Tabla and think he’s the bee’s knees, but what’s he going to know about the Fulham kid? I guess these awards have to be decided somehow but the history of the U-20 and U-17 player of the year awards more often suggests “a large region rallying around the best player they’re familiar with” than “a true national supertalent”.)
 — Canadian Soccer Association. “Stalwarts Hutchinson, Sinclair selected 2014 BMO Canadian Players of the Year.” CanadaSoccer.com, December 18, 2014. Accessed December 24, 2014. http://www.canadasoccer.com/stalwarts-hutchinson-sinclair-selected-2014-bmo-canadian-players-of-the-year-p157311.
 — Massey, Benjamin. “My 2013 Canadian Soccer Association Awards Ballot.” Maple Leaf Forever!, December 6, 2013. Accessed December 24, 2014. http://www.maple-leaf-forever.com/2013/12/06/my-2013-canadian-soccer-association-awards-ballot/.
 — National Women’s Soccer League. “2014 Player Statistics – PTFC.” NWSLSoccer.com. Accessed December 24, 2014. http://www.nwslsoccer.com/Stats/index_E.html#nwsl-P-tab-26580-2014. Since the link will probably rot, the team’s top scorers were: 1. McDonald (1310 min, 11G 1A 48SD 26SoG) 2. Long (1809 min, 9G 3A 44SD 21SoG) 3. Sinclair (1987 min, 7G 1A 77SD 40SoG) 4. Morgan (1135 min, 6G 4A 56SD 36SoG) 5. Veronica Boquete (1335 min, 4G 6A 31SD 12SoG).
 — Shawhan, Mark. “Commentary: USWNT must drop Abby Wambach now, before it’s too late.” SoccerWire, December 23, 2014. Accessed December 24, 2014. http://www.soccerwire.com/news/global/commentary-uswnt-must-drop-abby-wambach-now-before-its-too-late/.
 — National Women’s Soccer League. “2014 Player Statistics – WAS.” NWSLSOccer.com. Accessed December 24, 2014. http://www.nwslsoccer.com/Stats/index_E.html#nwsl-P-tab-26582-2014.
 — Canadian Soccer Association. “Sophie Schmidt.” CanadaSoccer.com. Accessed December 24, 2014. http://www.canadasoccer.com/?t=roster&pid=2871#fixtures.
 — Canadian Soccer Association. “Atiba Hutchinson.” CanadaSoccer.com. Accessed December 24, 2014. http://www.canadasoccer.com/?t=2014_roster&pid=1550#fixtures.
 — Davidson, Neil. “Canadian Atiba Hutchinson turns heads as he climbs the ladder in world soccer.” Vancouver Sun via the Canadian Press, September 6, 2014. Accessed November 24, 2014. http://www.vancouversun.com/sports/Canadian+Atiba+Hutchinson+turns+heads+climbs+ladder+world+soccer/10181068/story.html.
 — Squizzato, Daniel. “Canadian Exports: Milan Borjan makes Ludogorets Razgrad debut in Champions League at Liverpool.” MLSSoccer.com, September 16, 2014. Accessed December 24, 2014. http://www.mlssoccer.com/news/article/2014/09/16/canadian-exports-milan-borjan-makes-ludogorets-razgrad-debut-champions-leagu.
 — “Canadian international striker Iain Hume named MVP of India soccer league.” Prince George Citizen via the Canadian Press, December 23, 2014. Accessed December 24, 2014. http://www.princegeorgecitizen.com/sports/soccer/canadian-international-striker-iain-hume-named-mvp-of-india-soccer-league-1.1694831.
 — “Janine Beckie.” TexasTech.com. Accessed December 24, 2014. http://www.texastech.com/sports/w-soccer/mtt/janine_beckie_808375.html.
 — “Four Named NSCAA All-America.” Big12Sports.com, December 5, 2014. Accessed December 24, 2014. http://www.big12sports.com/ViewArticle.dbml?SPSID=106124&SPID=13136&DB_LANG=C&ATCLID=209801091&DB_OEM_ID=10410.
 — Canadian Soccer Association. “Tabla, Fleming named 2014 Canadian U-17 Players of the Year.” CanadaSoccer.com, December 16, 2014. Accessed December 26, 2014. http://www.canadasoccer.com/tabla-fleming-named-2014-canadian-u-17-players-of-the-year-p157305.