Cavalry FC defender Dominick Zator controls the ball against the Montreal Impact during the first half during the Canadian Championship Semi-final soccer match at Spruce Meadows. (Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports for CPL).
The Canadian Premier League’s first-ever awards ceremony is just around the corner (November 26, to be exact), and debate has sprung up between fans over who is most deserving of the nod for 2019’s Player of the Year, Coach of the Year, U-21 Canadian of the Year, and Golden Glove awards.
With those four titles (plus the Golden Boot) set to be dished out next week, the CPL Editorial team figured we’d take this opportunity to recognize some players who are often overlooked for their contributions to their club’s success.
So, the gloves are off between John Molinaro, Armen Bedakian, Marty Thompson, and Charlie O’Connor-Clarke as we’ve each made our case for which CPL player is most deserving of a hypothetical Defender of the Year honour.
In my view, Daniel Krutzen flew under the radar for most of the 2019 CPL season, overshadowed by a rotating cast of partners in the centre of Forge’s defence, including Canadian international David Edgar. But more than anybody else, Krutzen was the quarterback of a stout Forge back line that conceded just 26 goals, the second-best defensive record in the league.
Don’t be fooled by Krutzen’s unassuming presence on the pitch. The Belgian was a pure workhorse in 2019, appearing in all 28 regular season games for Forge, and playing an amazing 2,471 out of possible 2,520 minutes – more than any other defender on the team.
He also played every minute of every game (six in total) in all other competitions for Forge, helping the Hamilton-based cub reach the round of 16 in the Concacaf League. Krutzen also chipped in offensively, too: he bagged two goals and a pair of assists across all competitions.
Based on all the minutes he logged, you’d think he was some grizzled veteran with vast experience. But it’s easy to forget he’s still only 23, which makes his individual accomplishments this year all the more impressive.
And it was due to Krutzen’s solid play and leadership that Forge was able to blank Cavalry FC – who boasted the league’s best attack – over both legs of Finals 2019.
Bedakian’s pick: Dominick Zator (Cavalry FC)
Because, how could he not be? The most versatile, high-level defender in the Canadian Premier League (yup, you read that right – he is a Canadian men’s international, after all) playing for the tightest defensive unit in the league, but doing so by dominating as both a right back and as a centre back makes a pretty solid case for the previously-unheard-of 25-year-old, after all.
With 37 appearances in league, Finals 2019, and Canadian Championship play under his belt, Zator was an ever-present force for Tommy Wheeldon Jr.’s side – starting 34 times and racking up 3,145 minutes in total. In that time, Zator recorded two assists and scored three goals, the most important of which came against his former team, the Vancouver Whitecaps, to eliminate them from Voyageurs Cup contention at B.C. Place in what was arguably the most thrilling and impressive showing of any CPL team in 2019.
On the defensive end? He was just as stellar, picking up 62 interceptions and winning 34 tackles – good for a 66.7 per cent success rate in that regard. In comparison, Krutzen polls in at winning around 50 per cent of his duels, while York9 FC’s Luca Gasparotto stands slightly above Zator with 72.73 per cent, but with less production on the goal and assist charts.
The numbers tell only half the story – the other half was told through Zator’s willingness to fight, his desire and commitment to the Cavs’ cause, and his versatility, all of which saw Wheeldon Jr.’s side win the Spring and Fall titles. For those efforts, Zator was rightfully called up to the Canadian national team, and the rest, as they say, is (modern) history.
Thompson’s pick: Amer Didic (FC Edmonton)
Daniel Krutzen offers ball-playing prowess, Dominick Zator excellent tackling ability and physicality.
Amer Didic? He does both.
A six-foot-six, the defender cuts an imposing figure, using his size to effectively marshal FCE’s defence. He’s hard to get around – whether via the block or headed clearances. Didic, who topped the league in aerial duels and clearances, has the kind of frame any coach would want in their backline, but it’s his technical ability that puts him well above the rest.
Didic shows some of the best ball-moving skills in the CPL. What’s more, the 24-year-old is as good at making a tough pass as any other CPLer. Didic lead the league’s defenders with a 71 per cent of his long passes in 2019. His range was on display in several assists this year, including one of my favourites: Down a goal late against eventual champions Forge FC, Didic ended up delivering a one-hit ball from a spot that made him look more like a winger than an oversized centre back. It was a mark of a modern defender who can do it all at this level.
The Nine Stripes’ defender is the only one on this list actually nominated for an award (he’s up against Tristan Borges and Terran Campbell for Under-21 Canadian Player of the Year). Abzi came to York9 from Blainville this season and immediately seized the club’s starting left-back job. He played in all but four games for them as a 20-year-old, totaling 1,927 minutes.
Nobody in the CPL was as dynamic from the fullback position as Abzi. He was always active in attack, overlapping with wingers and making fools of opposing right-backs by carrying the ball deep into the far corner. He was responsible defensively as well, fast enough to get back into formation after venturing upfield.
According to Sportlogiq, Abzi was in the top 10 per cent of CPL defenders in interceptions, blocked shots, key passes, line-breaking passes, and passes under pressure. He was quick to identify dangerous passing lanes and plug them up, giving opponents no choice but to filter their attacks through the middle for Luca Gasparotto to deal with on a regular basis.
Abzi was an electric player on both sides of the ball this year, and he’s well-deserving of the credit as perhaps the best two-way defender in the league in 2019.