The envelopes are sealed, and the nominees are waiting.
Eleven individuals have been put forth for the 2019 Canadian Premier League Awards, which put a bow on the league’s inaugural season.
Tristan Borges is the only guaranteed winner that will be announced during Tuesday’s awards ceremony in Toronto after the Forge FC star scored 13 goals to claim the Golden Boot.
Like any series of year-end awards, there are debates to be had over who deserves to win.
With that in mind, here’s an argument for each of the six nominees who are up for Coach of the Year and Player of the Year.
Part 1 of this series, which covers Best Under 21 Canadian and Golden Glove for best goalkeeper, can be found here.
COACH OF THE YEAR
Tommy Wheeldon Jr., Cavalry FC
Moments after walking off the pitch following a devastating loss in Leg 2 of Finals 2019, Cavalry FC coach Tommy Wheeldon Jr. looked to the gathered reporters and said, “Well, we’re the league champions.”
Huh. Uh. Good point. His team did win both the Spring and Fall seasons, after all.
Wait, was Cavalry the first Canadian Premier League Champion? Of course not – but it was an honest post-mortem on Cavalry’s season under Wheeldon Jr.
From their seven-match winning streak to countless road wins over the long summer, Cavalry were consistent – and consistently the best team in the CPL. Cavalry’s topping of the Spring and Fall tables left Forge to enter Finals 2019 via the back door. Their overall point total doubled most CPL clubs, and was better than Forge’s tally over 28 matches.
Then there was beating the Vancouver Whitecaps in the Canadian Championship – arguably the biggest win by any CPL club in 2019. Besting an MLS team was a potentially more impressive achievement than winning the league.
Bobby Smyrniotis, Forge FC
Ah, see? This is a tough one.
Mastermind of the 2019 Canadian Premier League Champions, Bobby Smyrniotis arrives as the second frontrunner.
His case is headlined by Finals 2019 and the stellar two-legged performance his side put in against Cavalry. To score against Cavalry twice and hand them back-to-back defeats for the first time this season was an incredible feat.
Something should be said for Smyrniotis’ ability to build on his team’s success, too. A stumble through the Spring season blocks led to a big win against Cavalry in June, a 14-match unbeaten run in the league and eventually a Canadian Premier League Championship.
As a bonus, let’s remember Forge’s run in the Concacaf League. That was a Forge side going into the unknown, but Smyrniotis’ side held its own in reaching the round of 16, which included earning a historic win over Honduran outfit Olimpia at home.
Jimmy Brennan, York9 FC
Coach of the Year suffers from the same misnomer as “most valuable player.” Is the winner the most valuable to their team, the highest-valued across the league or the best overall performer?
York9 FC’s Jimmy Brennan is your Coach of the Year if “doing the best with what you have” or “improving the players you have” are your criteria.
The Nine Stripes were the CPL’s Jekyll and Hyde side. After his team struggled to score early, Brennan turned the group around by Fall, where they earned credible results against Forge and Cavalry – coming a few inches away from winning at least one more against their 905 derby rivals.
Also, let’s not forget their tie with Montreal Impact in the Canadian Championship – a more difficult opponent than Cavalry faced in the form of the Vancouver Whitecaps. Brennan’s team pounded the Impact in Leg 1, as Ryan Telfer’s fizzing volley was a shot heard around the nation. Y9 went to Montreal and again were just a few inches away from being the second CPL side to jump to the semifinals.
Something should be said for Brennan’s ability to develop players, too. Telfer and Emilio Estevez earned national team debuts, 1,800-odd minutes to Diyaeddine Abzi (more on him later) put the fullback on John Herdman’s radar for Canada, and both Nathan Ingham and Luca Gasparotto excelled under difficult circumstances.
PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Dominique Malonga, Cavalry FC
Let’s start up top.
Dom Malonga arrives as Cavalry’s option for Player of the Year after he bagged 11 goals, tied for second-best in the CPL.
Now, didn’t one of these fellows below score more goals than Malonga? Umm, yes. But hold on.
Let’s look to Centre Circle Data. Armen Bedakian broke down the numbers and found Malonga had an expected goals hovering around 15.56 – a predictive sum that would have bettered Tristan Borges’ Golden Goal-winning. Malonga took better-quality shots, more often, than Borges, but Borges finished more of his opportunities.
Woooeeyy having fun with #ccdata. Great work by @canpldata to put this data in the hands of nerds of all kinds
That boils down to his exceptional movement nearly-unmatched physicality and tricky linkup play. Moving up the pitch, the Congolese international was by far the best player on Cavalry, leading and creating on a team that scored a staggering 51 goals in 28 matches.
Tristan Borges, Forge FC
Forge’s main man could take home as many as three awards on Tuesday. Player of the Year is the grand prize. To become the first “MVP” in a league history is quite the honour, one that Borges is more than deserving of winning.
His left foot became a threat from just about anywhere in the final third, and a valuable bail-out for Forge when it needed it.
Don’t forget the consistency, either. Borges averaged more shots (3.03), completed more tackles (3.61) and made more key passes (2.10) per 90 minutes than any CPL midfielder.
Kyle Bekker, Forge FC
Why Bekker over Borges, you ask? Dependability, for one.
Bekker’s ability to do everything in the midfield puts him top of the list of nominees. Stretching, cross-field passes, short dribbles out of danger, shielding the ball from the opposition – he is the most adaptable and dependable midfield general in the CPL. A league-leading five assists show that.
His Finals 2019 performance was as good as his Forge teammates, completing more passes than anyone over the two matches.
As a captain, he led his team by example all the way to a championship. What else could you ask for from him?