October means award season is right around the corner in MLS, along with the healthy (some would say raging) debate that comes with it. Some awards, such as this year's MVP, seem to have a clear-cut field of candidates already in place.
Others warrant a bit more scrutiny, though, in particular Defender of the Year, where the field is a little more muddled. A sizable crop of backliners made their case this year, but none with the crazy stat line or ability to jump off the tape to separate themselves from the rest. Here are three that should certainly make the shortlist:
José Gonçalves – New England Revolution
Completely unheralded when he joined the Revs in the offseason after a journeyman career in Europe – the latest stops coming in Switzerland – Gonçalves has been the centerpiece of what was, up until a couple weeks ago, one of the stingiest defenses in the league.
Though the Revs backline has fallen off in recent weeks, Gonçalves should still be considered as a Defender of the Year candidate not just for his own ability to make big stops but also the quality he brings to those around him, whether it's less work for Matt Reis and Bobby Shuttleworth or guidance to an improving Stephen McCarthy or A.J. Soares next to him.
He's unlikely to eclipse the likes of Diego Valeri for the Newcomer of the Year award, but apart from one other defender listed below, it's hard to argue any offseason acquisition has had such a transformational effect on his team's defense.
Jámison Olave – New York Red Bulls
The 32-year-old may have lost a step, but a step isn't all that much when you're talking about the blazing speed that Olave pairs with an imposing physical presence and ability to read the game.
He's more than justified the offseason trade from Real Salt Lake that brought him to the Big Apple (as has Fabián Espíndola, for that matter). As I pointed out last week, the Red Bulls are 13-6-5 and have kept all 10 of their clean sheets this season when he's started and are now 2-3-2 when he does not start.
A Defender of the Year award this year would put him in the rarified air of players who have won the award twice (Robin Fraser, Carlos Bocanegra, Chad Marshall) and cement his legacy as perhaps MLS' best center back of the past five years.
Chris Klute – Colorado Rapids
Between the Lines: Future Full Backs of the USMNT
Fullbacks don't get a whole lot of love in Defender of the Year voting – in fact, not one of them has won the award after a full season outside. (The closest was Carlos Bocanegra, who won in 2002 playing on the left side of a 3-5-2 while also playing at left back for the US national team.)
Klute, however, is more than deserving. He's a two-footed attacking full back who can cross with the best of them, racking up seven assists, second only behind Philadelphia's Sheanon Williams among defenders.
On the other side of the ball, he has shown improvement in his one-v-one ability since being signed last year, and though not unbeatable, can prove a handful for any opposing winger that takes him on. If we're going to show some love to the full backs among Defender of the Year candidates, it might as well be one of the best young defenders MLS has to offer.
Honorable Mentions: Aurélien Collin (Sporting Kansas City), Tony Beltran (Real Salt Lake), Amobi Okugo (Philadelphia Union), Jhon Kennedy Hurtado (Seattle Sounders), Andrew Jean-Baptiste (Portland Timbers)