Turf and Boards is proud to present the third annual Boards Awards in recognition of excellence in the Major Arena Soccer League. The 2019-20 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 esteemed panel of Craig Elsten, Art Kramer, Nathan Dunn, 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.

Sydney Nusinov (Turf and Boards Publisher)

Like every category this year except MVP, the Coach of the Year award is unlikely to generate a consensus pick. We’re only supposed to be picking three finalists and a winner, but again I want to use the honorable mention to recognize Jimmy Nordberg, who I had on the very hot seat earlier this year, and Luis Jaime Borrego of the Monterrey Flash. Nordberg’s Ontario Fury overcame a 2-7 start to move into position to make the playoffs before the season abruptly ended. Those final three Fury games could have made a big difference in how their season would have been perceived. Borrego is probably the odds on favorite to win. MASL voters seem to like the coach with the best record lately and the 20-2 Flash were top of the charts, which was pretty much as everyone expected.

Edgar “Chebo” Martinez took over a Turlock Express team that underwent a cosmetic facelift in the offseason. The roster was mostly the same players who went 3-21 last year. Because of visa issues, eight players (mostly new) didn’t suit up at all while the Express improved to 8-12. The biggest improvements were on defense, where the Express allowed 3.36 fewer goals per game and their goal differential climbed from -114 to -16, but despite a good start and a strong finish, Turlock went 1-10 in the middle of the season.

Pat Healey has performed miracles, turning the 6-16 team he inherited into a 13-8 team on the cusp of a playoff spot. The Harrisburg Heat, who are already one of the toughest home teams in the league, should be a real force next year. Healey would have had a better chance at the award if the Heat had been able to slip into the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, but we’ll never know.

My Coach of the Year vote goes to Clay Roberts, the other coach on my hot seat when the season started. With an infusion of free agent talent and trade acquisitions Roberts showed he can win with the right players and showed great facility in blending individual stars from all over the league into an 18-3 team, a 12-win improvement over last year even without the three cancelled games.

Art Kramer (Longtime player, coach, and broadcaster)

In my humble opinion Coach of the Year should be awarded to the coach who has done the most outstanding job of coaching the talent he’s been afforded. Legendary baseball manager Sparky Anderson once said, “Great managers have great players and win games, bad managers have bad players and lose games”. While having great players is a key component to the success of any coach or manager, even Sparky acknowledged it wasn’t quite that simple adding, “Success isn’t something that just happens – success is learned, success is practiced and then it is shared.”

In making a selection for each award my esteemed fellow panel members and I are asked to list several candidates for each award prior to selecting one. I will acknowledge many coaches did an outstanding job this season in leading their respective teams, however, I felt this year’s MASL Coach of the Year choice was simple, a one horse race of Secretariat like proportion, with Clay Roberts of the Florida Tropics a runaway winner, and here’s why.              

We all know the Tropics did an incredible job overhauling the majority of their roster prior to the season, acquiring some impressive talent for Clay to work with. It was pretty much a given Clay and his staff would be leading an improved squad. With that said, I’m not sure many would have predicted the magnitude of the Tropics successful turnaround in such short order. Consider the fact that just one season ago, the Tropics finished last in the South Central Division with a record of 6-18 and a -47 goal differential.  The team was abysmal on the road, going 1-11. Under Clay’s guidance, this newly formed Tropics roster finished with an overall record of 18-3, including an 9-2 road record. The Tropics also amassed an incredible 134 point goal differential turnaround, and their power play and penalty killing units ranked among the league’s best. Their impressive record included wins at Milwaukee, at Baltimore, and at home against Baltimore and San Diego. 

My congratulations to Clay Roberts and his entire coaching staff on an outstanding job this season. 

Craig Elsten (San Diego Sockers Chief Marketing Officer and Play-by-Play)

Honorable Mention
Ryan Hall, Utica–Despite a three-game slide at the end of the season, UCFC showed remarkable resiliency in weathering multiple roster changes, including the trade of Slavisa Ubiparipovic before season’s start. Hall seamlessly refocused the offense through Cristhian Segura and Moises Gonzalez, adding a Mexican flair to the Adirondack. UCFC finished with the MASL’s top penalty kill (70.4%).

Edgar “Chebo” Martinez, Turlock–Changing a culture is no small task, and in the MASL’s smallest market, Chebo made an immediate impact, raising the fitness and professionalism of the Express, and remaking the roster around talented youth. The Express won in San Diego for the first time in franchise history, and after finishing -114 in goal differential, Turlock played twelve close games (1-2 goal games), going 6-6. 

Finalists
Jimmy Nordberg, Ontario–Imagine being given a roster with Jermaine Jones, Franck Tayou, Justin Stinson and Chris Toth, and seeing a 2-7 start, with Jones unwilling to practice and the team ready to implode. Nordberg circled the wagons and sent JJ packing, then turned over the keys to Tayou and watched the team roar to a 10-2 finish. The Fury were the classic “team nobody wanted to face in the playoffs”. 

Luis Jaime Borrego, Monterrey–The Flash finished in a familiar place atop the standings, but achieved their place with a newfound balance and pace that has to be attributed to the technical direction of Borrego. Back after an assistant coaching stint with the WMF World Cup champion Mexico team in October, Borrego’s disciplined system relentlessly created chances, feeding the stat lines of stars like Brayan Aguilar and Jorge Rios. Borrego also deserves credit for managing a difficult situation rotating two talented goalies in Diego Reynoso and Berna Valdovinos. Monterrey had to be the Ron Newman Cup favorite.

*Winner* Clay Roberts, Florida–Combining a returning corps of players who play together outdoors and indoors, and then somehow mixing in a basket full of free agents from hither and yon, the Florida Tropics became a team with championship potential on both sides of the floor from Matchday One onward. Sure, Roberts had one of the best rosters in the MASL, but there were still plenty of questions to be answered. The biggest was defense, and Roberts got some high scoring players not known for their work in the defensive third to clamp down and play together. The Tropics finished 9-2 on the road, +87 in goal differential, and top-3 in both power play and penalty kill. Florida would be justified in feeling hardest done by the MASL shutdown; hopefully an internet coaching award serves as a cold salve. 

Nathan Dunn (Turf and Boards, The Blue Testament)

The 2019-20 MASL season involved some really impressive coaching. With such an exciting regular season coming to an unfortunate ending for all 17 teams, there were three coaches that stood above the rest.

I will also give special recognition to Orlando SeaWolves head coach Tom Traxler, as well as the league’s owners who stepped in to keep the team alive for the remainder of the season. While Traxler wasn’t able to lead the SeaWolves to success on the field, he sure did get a lot of respect throughout the league for taking over a SeaWolves team without a coach and without an owner after their previous owner abandoned the franchise. This was very much needed and it would not have looked good if the SeaWolves joined the Canada MetroStars in their abrupt yet predictable dissolution. 

The three candidates are Pat Healey of the Harrisburg Heat, Clay Roberts of the Florida Tropics, and Luis Jaime Borrego of the Monterrey Flash. Pat Healey led the Harrisburg Heat to a winning season in just his second year in charge. In 2018, Healey took over a team coming off a 6-16 season and brought their record to a more respectable 11-13. This season, the former five-time champion with the Baltimore Blast as a player led the Harrisburg Heat to a fifth place finish in the East with a record of 13-8. Tropics head coach Clay Roberts has led his side to unprecedented success with a Eastern Conference banner and an 18-3 record. In Roberts’s fourth year in charge, he picked up as many wins as the Tropics did in his first two years combined. Unfortunately for Roberts, he may not get the chance to keep the turnaround going with the playoffs in jeopardy. Second year Monterrey Flash head coach Luis Jaime Borrego built from his success in 2018-19, achieving a Western Conference title with an MASL best record of 20-2. While Borrego inherited a successful team, this was his first season without the star-studded Tayou brothers in the squad.

My pick for this season’s Coach of the Year goes to Clay Roberts of the Florida Tropics. Transforming what was before a below average MASL side to now one of the teams to beat with the help of great recruitment, Roberts has put together a great resume for Coach of the Year. The former MISL Champion as a player has his eyes set on his first Ron Newman Cup championship as a head coach, whether it is this season or in the seasons to follow.