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How Fair Play Could Affect Jose Goncalves and the 2013 MLS Defender of the Year Race

There's nothing our resident referee loves more than Fair Play. Fewer whistles, less choppy games and of course, really good defending. New England thinks Jose Goncalves is the 2013 MLS Defender of the Year, but how does he stack up the rest of the contenders?

Stew Milne-USA TODAY Sports

It's very difficult to quantify just how good New England Revolution defender Jose Goncalves has been in the 2013 MLS season. Because what he's done for this Revs team with his leadership, consistency, 70-yard runs to the corner flag and playing 85 minutes with a injury to get his team into the playoffs transcends any statistic that I can provide in this article.

But I believe that Jose Goncalves is the 2013 MLS Defender of the Year. And to see how he stacks up against the rest of the field, I need to see how he stacks up based on one very simple and almost quantifiable fact: Fair Play. Or rather, fouls.

That's right, Fair Play, the total number of fouls, bookings, etc., or in this case a lack thereof, could be the deciding factor for Goncalves winning the Defender of the Year award. Not including the fact that the Revs only allowed 38 goals in 2013, tied for third in MLS with Los Angeles Galaxy and Colorado Rapids and behind only Portland Timbers (33) and Sporting Kansas City (30) for best in the league this year, and Goncalves played every single minute of the 2013 season and was a big part of the Revs defense.

And while Goncalves was spectacular this year with the Revs defense as a whole, pairing with A.J. Soares and Stephen McCarthy in the center and mainly Chris Tierney and rookie Andrew Farrell out wide, statistically I want to how Goncalves stacks up to the rest of the pack. And there's no better way to do this than comparing Fair Play.

Fair Play in MLS is something the Revs have actually done quite well in their long history, winning three team titles in 2003, 2008 and last year in 2012. Former Rev Michael Parkhurst won two individual titles in 2007 and 2008 along with his 2007 MLS Defender of the Year title and Steve Ralston won the 2009 individual title as a member of the Revolution and the 1999 and 2000 titles as a member of the now defunct Tampa Bay Mutiny.

This year, the Revs have no chance at the team Fair Play title thanks to a combined five red cards from Dimitry Imbongo (who led MLS with three) and Andy Dorman, who were just two of nine total players in MLS who saw multiple reds in 2013. Combine that with Lee Nguyen's 63 fouls, good for 5th highest in MLS, and that puts the Revs in the middle of the Eastern Fair Play standings, well behind (surprisingly) Houston.

But how do you quantify Fair Play? It's just an odd number that score a team's fouls committed, yellow and red cards and MLS Disciplinary Committee suspensions. Well, Fair Play is more of a team number, so it's difficult to handicap the Fair Play award in my opinion. But Chicago Fire defender Austin Berry's stats say he's a good bet, 16 fouls committed without missing a minute in 2013.

Individually however, I just want to compare Goncalves' regular season to the rest of the MLS front runners for Defender of the Year and the defenders who played in the 2013 MLS All Star Game.

(Note: GP - Games Played, GS - Games Started, MP - Minutes Played, FC - Fouls Committed, YC - Yellow Cards, RC - Red Cards. Any yellow card accumulation or MLS Disciplinary Committee actions/suspensions are not included.)

Jose Goncalves (New England Revolution) - 34 GP, 34 GS, 3060 MP, 32 FC, 3 YC, 0 RC

Corey Ashe (Houston Dynamo) - 30 GP, 29 GS, 2585 MP, 14 FC, 4 YC, 0 RC

Tony Beltran (Real Salt Lake) - 25 GP, 24 GS, 2230 MP, 18 FC, 2 YC, 1 RC

Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City) - 23 GP, 23 GS, 2070 MP, 18 FC, 2 YC, 0 RC

Aurelien Collin (Sporting Kansas City) - 29 GP, 29 GS, 2565 MP, 54 FC, 13 YC, 0 RC

Omar Gonzalez (Los Angeles Galaxy) - 27 GP, 27 GS, 2368 MP, 17 FC, 2 YC, 0 RC

Pa Modou Kah (Portland Timbers) - 20 GP, 20 GS, 1721 MP, 23 FC, 7 YC, 1 RC

Chris Klute (Colorado Rapids) - 31 GP, 30 GS, 2696 MP, 26 FC, 2 YC, 0 RC

Jamison Olave (New York Red Bulls) - 29 GP, 27 GS, 2368 MP, 38 FC, 4 YC 1 RC

DeAndre Yedlin (Seattle Sounders) - 31 GP, 30 GS, 2710 MP, 35 FC, 2 YC, 1 RC

I will simplify this mess in a bit, but it's staggering to me to see how many games Besler missed with the USMNT (missed 11 games, started 23 of 34 in the 2013 MLS season) and just how good some of these defenders are statistically with their fouls/bookings. Particularly the outside defenders or fullbacks like Beltran and Ashe and Gonzalez and Besler in the center, which means not only are some of these players not committing that many fouls, but they're also not committing tactical/professional or dangerous fouls that get them booked and they're staying on the field.

But Gonzalez and Besler missed a lot of time with the USMNT, so how can I compare their stats directly with Goncalves? Fouls per 90 MP.

(For the record, this is the first time I've used this proportions in a long time. So long I had to look up the fact they are called proportiions so everyone didn't get confused. Basically, 32*3060=x*90. Rounded to the nearest tenth.)

Name Minutes Played (MP) Fouls Committed (FC) FC/90 MP
Goncalves (NE) 3060
32 .94
Ashe (HOU) 2585 14 .49
Beltran (RSL) 2230 18 .73
Besler (SKC) 2070 18 .78
Collin (SKC) 2565 54 1.9
Gonzalez (LA) 2368 17 .65
Kah (POR) 1721 23 1.2
Klute (COL) 2696 26 .87
Olave (NY) 2368 38 1.4
Yedlin (SEA) 2710 35 1.2

First, in case you're confused at how good Besler and Gonzalez are, just look at that number on the right. Being able to play defense in soccer, particularly center back, and to do it without fouling is a real skill in my opinion and Besler and Gonzalez are not only talented defenders but they can also play solid defense without fouling.

Goncalves, Besler and Gonzalez all play center back and have commit less than a foul per game, although I could say that JoGo commits about one foul a game. But, he generally has to do more defending because the Revs at times are not the best at relieving pressure in the back and possessing the ball going forward.

Also, for comparison, the rest of the Revolution defenders had the following Fouls/90 Minutes played: Chris Tierney (.57), Stephen McCarthy (1.1), A.J. Soares (.79) and Andrew Farrell (.38). I did this to point out Yedlin's really high 1.2 FC/90 MP for a right back and point out that Farrell is a much better defender (not player, just strictly on the defensive side) than Yedlin (who I think is better suited to play midfield) is and yet only one made the MLS All Star Game as a right back.

So what does this mean for Jose's chances at the 2013 MLS Defender of the Year? Well, again, this my little statistic is just one way to compare defenders. Just because Jose doesn't have the best FC/90 MP out of the ten frontrunners I compared him doesn't mean he's going to lose.

I think that my stat separates Jose from defenders like Collin and Olave, who commit too many fouls and are booked too often despite their status as elite defenders, which is deserved, they're just over physical. Fouls as a defender can often lead to dangerous free kick/set piece opportunities as well. Besler and Gonzalez are both near the bottom of the above list in terms of minutes played, something that should also factor into the voting race. But sadly, I don't have a vote.

Jose Goncalves played every minute of the 2013 season at center back averaging less than a foul per game. That's really impressive. And while it's nowhere near former Rev and United States defender Michael Parkhurst MLS career .28 FC/90 MP (yes, you read that correctly, that's about one foul every four games played for Parky), Jose Goncalves is still really, really good at this defense thing.

And even if he doesn't win because the national media couldn't find New England on a map, I'm would still prefer him to every other player on that list.

And you can't say I jinxed Jose, because the votes are already in and the MLS Awards will be announced toward the end of the month.

And either way, New England knows the truth. Goncalves is our defender of the year and we don't care what the rest of you think anyway.

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