The votes are in, and Omar Gonzalez has won another MLS Defender of the Year award. This time, it comes from us here at SB Nation Soccer. Gonzalez anchored an outstanding Los Angeles Galaxy defense in 2011, and it looks like this is just the beginning of personal awards in his career. The 23-year-old already has an MLS Rookie of the Year award in 2009, and has been selected to the MLS Best XI in 2010 and 2011.
The voters in the SB Nation Soccer Awards had mixed feelings about the contenders for Defender of the Year. Gonzalez had a healthy lead over the second-place selection, Carlos Valdes of the Philadelphia Union. But altogether 19 players were selected by the voters, making it the season-ending award with the most players receiving votes. So it seems that Gonzalez was a cut above the rest of the pack, but there were many players deserving consideration. In the end, the top five was rounded out by Gonzalez's teammate Todd Dunivant, Seattle Sounders midfielder Osvaldo Alonso (defensive midfielders were considered eligible for the award in addition to defenders), and FC Dallas center back George John.
Gonzalez has benefited in his career from a combination of talent and circumstance. He was selected third overall in the 2009 MLS SuperDraft by the Galaxy. While the Sounders picked Steve Zakuani with the first pick in the draft and are probably happy overall with that selection, injuries notwithstanding, Toronto FC's selection of Sam Cronin at second overall probably looks like a poor selection considering the Galaxy got a young star in Gonzalez with the next pick. Consider if Gonzalez had been selected by TFC - he would have had five coaches in three seasons and while he certainly would have improved Toronto's defense, he would not have had the parts around him to transform that club's fortunes. As it is, with the Galaxy he benefits from having a coach who takes defending very seriously in Bruce Arena, and teammates on the backline who are good MLS pros. As a result, Gonzalez goes from being a talented player on a poor team to a talented player able to learn the ropes of the professional game in a winning environment and develop into a leader. This last trait has been the revelation this season, as Gonzalez's ability to control play in the defensive third through both his play and his leadership has been exceptional. He's doing what a top player should do: not only playing well but making his teammates better.
Gonzalez has the size in addition to the skill to be an elite American defender, and while there's no such thing as a sure thing, he seems destined to move to a good situation in Europe in the next few years and blossom internationally. A great deal has been made of his U.S. Men's National Team snubs since Jurgen Klinsmann has taken over as the coach, and it seems like Gonzalez has earned consideration in the recent friendlies. Still, if he is not called up in the next year, it may provide additional motivation for Gonzalez to go to Europe and prove himself on a bigger stage. There are only a handful of players in MLS who are tailored for a move to one of the top leagues in Europe, and Gonzalez must be considered among those players. Enjoy watching him in MLS while you can, because he is unlikely to spend his entire career in the league.