Turf and Boards is proud to present the second annual Boards Awards in recognition of excellence in the Major Arena Soccer League. The 2018-19 Boards Awards will include Rookie of the Year, Coach of the Year, Defender of the Year, Goalkeeper of the Year and, finally, Most Valuable Player. Rather than picking one definitive winner in each category, our panel of Matt Huber (aka Merlin, Soccer and The City), Greg “Ponto” Suttie (Suttie on Soccer) and Turf and Boards publisher Sydney Nusinov will each weigh in with their own choices for each award. Plus we want to hear from you in our poll.

Matt Huber, Soccer and The City

It’s now time for me to give my vote for MASL Defender Of The Year. Last year, there was quite a bit of controversy over this award, as Robert Acosta from St. Louis took the honor, even after a 3-19 season from the Ambush. I have a sneaking suspicion that the criterion for this year’s award will have changed. To win Defender Of The Year, you not only have to be a force defensively, but also contribute offensively as well. With that being said, my three finalists are Darren Toby (Utica City), Genoni Martinez (Rio Grande Valley), and Cesar Cerda (San Diego).

Third place would go to Cesar Cerda from the San Diego Sockers. San Diego led the league with 92 goals allowed this season, and he was a key part of that. From an offensive perspective, he scored seven goals and assisted on eight others during the regular season. The reason I have him third is due to his lack of blocks (13 during the regular season).

My second place vote would go to Genoni Martinez of the Rio Grande Valley Barracudas. First of all, he already has my vote for Coach Of The Year, and I’m here to spread the MASL love. But Martinez does deserve some recognition for his contributions as a player, not just a coach. Leading his Barracudas to a playoff berth, he was very helpful on both sides of the ball. Offensively, he scored seven goals and assisted on another 20, which would definitely put him at the top of the table when it comes to defensemen. Speaking of defense, Martinez was 5th in the MASL in blocked shots at 33.

In my eyes, the Defender Of The Year, is Darren Toby, of Utica City FC. For those of you reading this and are thinking, “Oh well, this is a homer pick,” it’s not completely that. I’ve had the opportunity to watch Darren for the last seven years both in Syracuse and now Utica, and he hasn’t gotten any recognition for his efforts. One of the main reasons for Utica City FC’s regular season success is Toby. From a defensive perspective, he was 4th in the MASL in blocked shots with 37 during the regular season. Offensively, Darren stepped up his game this season, increasing his point total by 10. He amassed eight goals, three of those being on the power play, and assisted on 10 others.

Sydney Nusinov, Turf and Boards Publisher

Last year’s Defender of the Year fiasco was two-fold. The voters selected St. Louis Ambush defender Robert Acosta almost solely based on his league leading block total, which is already a shoddy premise since St. Louis had the sixth worst defense in the league to go with their 3-19 record. But it’s also very likely that Acosta didn’t even lead the league in blocks because the league’s scorekeepers are notoriously bad at tracking shots, blocks, and saves.

If you can’t rely on blocks it makes it very difficult to measure a defender’s worth (besides some players will tell you that the best defenders don’t even allow many shots that even need to be blocked). Arena soccer, and even the NHL, have often rewarded defensive players for their offensive contributions, which seems counter-intuitive.

This year, the three top defensive teams are in the Conference Finals and Monterrey is not far behind at sixth. You could look at San Diego, Milwaukee, Baltimore or the Flash, or Rio Grande Valley, who were tied with Baltimore for the third fewest goals allowed, and have a hard time getting a consensus on who is the best defender on each of those teams.

But I have to narrow it down to three, and without any internal discussion I can enjoy the confirmation bias of knowing Matt Huber, Greg Suttie and I picked the same three.

Cesar Cerda got his start at the age of 20 with Saltillo Rancho Seco, and now in his sixth indoor season, third with the Sockers, he has established himself as one of the top defenders in the league. Cerda was still humble enough to loan his #9 jersey number to soccer royal Landon Donovan and, though he missed five games this year, the Sockers were 19-0 with Cerda in the lineup.

Darren Toby has been one of arena soccer’s best kept secrets. For seven years Toby toiled in relative obscurity, never cracking an all-league team until last year’s All-MASL 3rd Team selection. But it was a real eye-opener for me when he was named Syracuse Silver Knights team MVP in 2016. Toby is one of the smoothest operators in the MASL, quietly shutting down opposing forwards and calmly distributing the ball and setting up his own team’s offense. It’s kind of a crime it has taken this long, but Toby is finally getting his due at age 37.

What can you say about Martinez? He’s a seven-time defender of the year and even at age 44 he helped lower the Barracudas defensive numbers from 10.09 goals against per game to 4.29. Martinez logged major minutes and played every game, despite the added responsibility of coaching the team. His offensive contributions increased as the season went on, with 20 of this 27 points coming in the last 13 games of the season. While it’s hard to give the award to a 44-year old, the more than five goal per game defensive improvement is too incredible to ignore, so my Boards Award goes to El Jefe de Jefes, Genoni Martinez.

Greg Suttie, Suttie on Soccer

Which player is the MASL 2018-19 Defender of the Year? My first thought would be whoever was the top defender on your favorite team. If I were to go with that, in my opinion, I would have to choose between Cesar Cerda or Raymundo Contreras. But before I even get started on that debate I am compelled to look elsewhere, and that search opens up a wider discussion beyond the Sockers top defenders. That is a tough call because San Diego had the top defense in terms of goals allowed. Usually, I lean heavily on blocked shots when I consider ranking defenders, and I am considering that stat here, too. That takes me to Rio Grande Valley’s Emmanuel Aguirre and Genoni Martinez, the Flash’s Carlos Pichardo and Utica City FC’s Darren Toby. But with all things never being entirely equal it became quickly evident that Genoni Martinez was a much larger force on the field than just in front of the goal blocking shots. His production on the other side of the field with seven goals and 20 assists along with 33 blocked shots makes him my choice for Defender of the Year.