Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Handicapper's Guide: Defender of the Year

This category could see a fair amount of vote spread, so even if I think there should be a clear favorite, nobody making nay bets around here.

I'm also quite annoyed at the nomination process, which has seen Kim Kee-hee, Tim Parker and Milton Valenzuela ignored here. Minnesota United, Orlando City and San Jose each have two players up for this award, while Seattle has but one. That's just weird.

The leader: I've written many times this year, here and at MLSS, about the incredible job Aaron Long does defending on the run while the Red Bulls press and bring fullbacks high. Even if the attacker bearing down on him is faster, his smarts and body positioning usually win the confrontation.

The main finalist contenders: Some may think, oh sure the old boring vets, but it says here that Chad Marshall has had one of his top seasons. He has fewer defensive stops per game than he used to, but that's because his preventative work means fewer fires to douse. The same goes Michael Parkhurst, keep things calm at the back for Atlanta United. He's also underrated at getting the ball to their engine room positively.

In another year perhaps: Red Bulls man Kemar Lawrence is the best wide back in the league this year bya noticeable margin. His left-side raids are key to opening space for Kaku to operate. Columbus right back Harrison Afful is a shade off Lawrence on performance, but is arguably more important to his team.

Fading from view: Up until June, Jonathan Mensah of Columbus was a popular finalist pick, but he has been culpable on some important leaks during their two swoons that followed.

Should get more love: Walker Zimmerman has had all sorts of players around him on the LAFC back line (and often no true defensive midfelder at the gate), and yet their defense is among the best at handling counter and set piece situations. Larrys Mabiala has also dealt with tons of back line shuffle (including three keepers) to help Portland tighten things up after a rough start to the season. Like Marshall and Zimmerman, he's even pitched in with some big goals. Sporting KC's Graham Zusi still moves the team into attack and is more defensive active than ever.

- Greg Seltzer

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