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)

Defender of the Year always is the most polarizing award. If you pick someone for their point total you are awarding them for their offense, not defense. If you want to go straight to the blocks column you are likely to get more reliable information from a Russian bot.

With that in mind, I’m going to buck the format again and only pick two finalists who check all the boxes. Drew Ruggles took his Milwaukee championship degree to the Florida Tropics and led a defense that allowed over three goals per game fewer than last year. Ruggles set career highs in goals, points and blocks, contributed to the power play, and led the league with 33 penalty minutes, reflecting his physicality and competitive nature.

My Defender of the Year, however, is Elton De Oliveira of the Harrisburg Heat. Like Ruggles, De Oliveira was in his first year with a new team and made an immediate impact. Elton previously won two championships with the Baltimore Blast and became the anchor of the Harrisburg defense (with a veteran assist from Nelson Santana). Unlike the Tropics, the Heat were not big players in free agency, but De Oliveira was instrumental in Harrisburg’s improvement from 11-13 to 13-8. Elton scored a career-high 19 points and was second in the MASL with 38 blocks, and helped second-year goalkeeper William Banahene become one of the tops in the league. De Oliveira was probably Harrisburg’s Most Valuable Player (with all respect to Dominic Francis) and should be at least in the conversation for league MVP.

Art Kramer (Longtime player, coach, and broadcaster)

Have you ever heard the saying, “You don’t know what you don’t know”? I define that phrase as a person’s gaps of knowledge on a particular topic. I will be the first to admit this statement somewhat applies to me selecting a MASL Defender of the Year this season, as I would have felt a little more comfort with additional viewing time of all the league’s top defenders, however deadlines are deadlines and I’ve gone well past my time.     

Quite honestly, this is an award that is best suited for the players to select.  It would be interesting to see who guys like Franck “the King” Tayou, Ian Bennett, or Kraig Chiles would pick. One of the toughest defenders I ever played against was Bret Hall. No, not the famous hockey player, Bret Hall was a tenacious defender who played for the Chicago Sting, Cleveland Force and Chicago Power. What made “Kato” (as he was known) so difficult to play against was his ability to deny his opponent time and space. If you stood still in the penalty area for just a split second Kato would have you locked up in full grasp with no chance of scoring. 

My choice for Defender of the Year came down to consideration of the following three players that I really like as lock down defenders.

1)  Robert “Berto” Palmer, Kansas City Comets – While the Kansas City Comets team play has fallen off the past few seasons, the play of Berto Palmer has risen each year. Berto had the best statistical season of his career, scoring 20 points in 19 games, while leading the league with 49 blocks. 

2)  Chad Vandegriffe, Milwaukee Wave – Chad is a player that I got to see a great deal as a member of the Wave. Chad is one of the league’s top man markers whose play was extremely consistent this season. 

3)  Uzi Tayou, Ontario Fury – When one mentions the name Tayou, the first thoughts are of Uzi’s younger brother Franck, the former MASL Most Valuable Player. While Uzi spent his first few professional seasons playing in the “King’s” shadow, I’d label Uzi’s performance this season as break out. 

With that said, emerging from the shadow and into a well earned and deserving bright light, my MASL Defender of the Year selection goes to Uzi Tayou.    

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

I’d like to begin by saying, in my opinion voting on MASL defenders has been one of the least accurate exercises done historically by our league. The reason for this is simple: the primary statistic by which a defender can be easily judged from the outside is the single most flawed stat in our sport: blocked shots.

As Sydney wrote about *extensively and well earlier in the year* (Wrong Number: Calling on the MASL to Fix Its Record Book, STAT!), MASL statisticians and scorekeepers are plagued by inconsistency. For some clubs, *anything* deflected becomes a block, even if it wasn’t a shot on goal (the ball might have even been a pass!). Others are stringent about defining a BK. As a result, I take our league’s blocked shots totals with an entire shaker of salt, not just a grain…so don’t be surprised when those players don’t necessarily make the top of my list.

Honorable Mention

Robert Palmer, KC Comets—The Comets allowed the sixth-most goals in the MASL this season and posted a losing record, but Palmer had a breakout offensive season from the blue line with (14-6=20) points, capped by a four goal match in the Comets season ending OT win at Utica. He was credited with a league-leading 49 blocked shots.

Elton De Oliveira, Harrisburg Heat—In his first season with the Heat, De Oliveira had a breakout season on both ends of the floor, finishing with a career high 13 goals and 19 points, and being credited with 38 blocked shots. Harrisburg allowed over one goal fewer per match in 2019-20 compared to 2018-19.

Finalists

3rd: Cesar Cerda, San Diego Sockers—Wiry yet durable, the 5’10”, 155 lbs Cerda was asked to match up 1-on-1 against his opponent’s top attacker every match, averaging almost 30 minutes of floor time. Smartly physical, Cerda committed 30 fouls but only was shown one blue card. In addition, Cerda had his best offensive season with the Sockers, scoring (8-11=19) points in 20 matches played while earning power play time.

2nd: Marcio Leite, Milwaukee Wave—Leite is simply one of the top-10 players in the MASL, a force on both offense and defense. Leite finished second on the Wave in assists (18) and fourth in points (26) despite being held to 16 matches played. He added a credited 17 blocks, and regularly shut down the opponent’s top scorer. Anyone starting a MASL team would want Leite to anchor their back line.

Winner: Drew Ruggles, Florida Tropics—Ruggles stands out over the pack of defenders in the MASL this season, and was as valuable a player as anyone in the league, forwards included. It’s the rarest of specimens to find a defender who plays 30 minutes a match, is the point of the spear on the penalty kill, *and* plays the center of the power play. Ruggles did all of the above, finishing with (14-7=21) points and 22 blocks while anchoring the MASL’s top defense, as the Tropics allowed only 86 goals in 21 matches.

Nathan Dunn (Turf and Boards, The Blue Testament)

Unlike the Coach of the Year and Rookie of the Year, the 2019-20 MASL Defender of the Year is composed of three candidates that have brought a great deal of talent and experience to the league for several years now. My candidates are Robert Palmer of the Kansas City Comets, Uzi Tayou of the Ontario Fury, and Marcio Leite of the Milwaukee Wave. 

Coming from an impressive 2018-19 campaign where he was the joint leader in blocked shots with Rio Grande Valley’s Emmanuel Aguirre’s 41 blocks, Palmer was even better this season by adding a league-leading 49 blocked shots in 19 games and tying a career-high of 20 points from 14 goals and six assists. He did all this after missing the first two games and, with three games left to play, he was just four blocks shy of tying the MASL record for most blocks in a season, which was achieved by Stephen Basso of the Harrisburg Heat in the 2016-17 season with his 53 blocked shots in 20 games. Despite a career high of 33 fouls, Robert Palmer was also one of only two Comets field players that never served time in the penalty box.

Next up is Ontario’s Uzi Tayou. Uzi might not be as well known as his brother Franck, but Uzi Tayou really made his presence known in his first season with the Fury. Tayou finished the season tied with Harrisburg Heat’s Elton De Oliveira with 38 blocked shots, ranking second in the MASL this season. He proved that given the opportunity, he is among the best in the MASL and was instrumental in Ontario’s late run for the playoffs, where they won eight of their final nine games.

Finally, Marcio Leite had another big season for the Milwaukee Wave. While his 21 blocks aren’t among the league’s best, he was hugely impactful yet again offensively for the defending champions. Providing 26 points from 18 assists and eight goals, he led the Wave to another season among the top teams in the league while allowing the second least amount of goals in the MASL. Leite was behind only Ian Bennett and Max Ferdinand in his squad with 1.6 points per game in 16 games.

My pick for the Defender of the Year goes to Robert Palmer of the Kansas City Comets. With so much fluctuation in the Comets defense with four keepers playing at least three games and John Sosa’s availability limited due to injury, Robert Palmer was about the only consistency. The Jamaican defender had an extremely impressive season and averaged 1.1 points per game. Palmer pretty much nailed this award down with an incredible effort late against Utica City FC, where he led the Comets to an overtime victory in their final game, scoring three goals in the final minutes to complete an incredible comeback.