When the New England Revolution acquired Jose Goncalves on loan last offseason, it barely registered as a significant move. The defender had spent the last two seasons with Swiss club FC Sion and had only made five senior team appearances. Little did we all know that Goncalves would turn out to be arguably the most dominant defensive force in the league.
Fueled mostly by his standout play, the Revolution improved by 16 points from last year and went from the ninth-best defense to the third-best. Those are the main reasons why SB Nation soccer bloggers made Goncalves the overwhelming choice for our MLS Defensive Player of the Year. Only two other candidates even received more than one vote and no one else was picked by more than five voters.
Picking out a specific part of Goncalves' game that made him so good is not particularly easy, mainly because he does everything pretty well. At 6-foot-2, he had plenty of size to deal with the bigger forwards in the league. But he also proved agile and fast enough to handle the smaller forwards.
That the Revolution only allowed 38 goals -- six fewer than in 2012 -- obviously speaks well to Goncalves' influence. That they also did it while rotating goalkeepers is another point in his favor. But the Revolution were also very good at limiting set-piece goals, another area where Goncalves was a standout performer. The Revs' six goals allowed on set pieces were the third-fewest in MLS.
But defending set-pieces is just part of the equation. An even better way to defend them is to not put your opponents in positions to take them in the first place. While Goncalves never seemed to shy away from a tackle, he did manage to stay out of the book to an impressive degree. Despite playing every single minute of the season, Goncalves committed just 32 fouls and picked up only three yellow cards. Compared to other elite defenders like Jamison Olave (38 fouls, four yellow cards, one red card in 29 games) and Aurelien Collin (54 fouls, 13 yellows, 29 games), those are very good numbers. Actually, the only top center backs with a much better rate than Goncalves were Matt Besler and Omar Gonzalez, neither of whom played nearly as many minutes.