Voting has closed, and once again you, the fan, have spoken! The fans' choice for 2011 Chivas USA Defender of the Year is Heath Pearce. While four players got votes, Heath won handily and only really got a run for his money from the runner-up, Ante Jazic. Third place was a tie between Andrew Boyens and Zarek Valentin. Thanks very much for voting and making your voice heard!
Let's go over the case for Pearce as the team's best defender this season. While my selection for team MVP differed from the fan vote, I agreed with you on this one. So let's look at the merits and demerits for Heath Pearce.Pearce was traded from FC Dallas to Chivas in February, and his arrival was warmly welcomed by Chivas' fans who suffered through a tough 2010. A U.S. international-caliber full back who had experience playing in Europe, Pearce proved his worth quickly after Jimmy Conrad, the other experienced defender brought in during the offseason, suffered a career-ending concussion. Pearce started the first two games at right back, his regular position, but after Conrad went down, Pearce was shifted to center back, a position he has never played in his career. It was a gamble for Robin Fraser, but on the whole it paid off, as weak central defenders cause the backline to collapse, and a quality right back is essentially stranded on the field.
And Pearce played well in the middle, so much so that he was selected to the All-Star Game at midseason and received call ups from Jurgen Klinsmann at the beginning of the German's tenure on the USMNT. He started Chivas' first 27 matches and played every minute through the first 26. His streak undoubtedly would have continued if it was not for a hamstring injury against Real Salt Lake on August 27, one that took him out of the U.S. National Team friendlies around that time and kept him out of four of the next five league matches. Although he ended up returning at the end of the season, he wasn't at 100 percent in limited action.
The impact of his injury was significant. Although Chivas lost the game before he got hurt and the game where he was injured, the defense was disorganized and confused in his absence, and the slump that ultimately doomed the season continued while he was out. There's no question that Pearce was the player that the rest of the defenders took their cues and leadership from over the course of the season, and without him, there wasn't enough experience anchoring the backline. Here's hoping Pearce returns at full strength next season and can play better, and help the team play better defensively.
Were any other Chivas defenders in the conversation for Defender of the Year? Like the fan vote, I think Jazic was the only other player to be seriously considered. Although he also missed time with injury, he played the second-highest number of minutes among defenders this season, behind Pearce. A fixture at left back, Jazic played a campaign that fit his style: quiet and steady. Besides his calm defensive play, however, Jazic added a new dynamic to the team, by moving up in attack and providing service from the left. In the end, he tallied seven assists for the season, which was more than he had in all his previous MLS seasons combined. In fact, Jazic lead the team overall in assists this season. And he got called up several times towards the end of the season by the Canadian National Team, so his hard work with the Goats has been rewarded internationally.
That said, I still think Pearce is the Defender of the Year, primarily because his influence was more significant in the end than Jazic. Still, it was a good season overall by both players. Again, I hope both players can help build a better defense and team next season.