With the Canadian Soccer Association recently announcing the nominees for its 2011 player awards, media and coaches across the country have been asked to select their choices for the best male and female players.
Dwayne De Rosario and Christine Sinclair are again considered the odds on favourites to claim the honours, but I thought it would be an interesting and worthwhile endeavour to highlight those Canadian players who I believe were the standouts at each position over the calendar year.
Thus, after careful consideration, I present my choices for Canada’s Best XI in 2011.
Tomer Chencinski, goalkeeper – While he might still be unfamiliar to some, the 27-year-old Chencinski had an extremely strong year playing in Europe. After a successful trial with VPS, he was signed by the Finnish club to provide competition for the goalkeeper position and ended up winning the starting job. A standout season in which he earned his club’s Player of the Year and Most Valuable Player awards and finished third in the Finnish league in goals against average led to the up and coming ‘keeper earning a transfer to Swedish Premier League side Orebro SK.
Ashtone Morgan, left fullback – The young player who made the biggest breakthrough over the calendar year is undoubtedly Toronto FC’s 20-year-old left back. Not only did he make his debut for his country in 2011, but he looks like a player with all the tools, the work ethic and mentality necessary to make himself a fixture for Canada at the international level for years to come. In terms of his first year as a professional, Morgan solidified a spot in the Toronto FC starting eleven and very much became a symbol of the promise and potential of TFC Academy program.
David Edgar, central defender – 2011 was something of a breakthrough year for the Kitchener, Ont., native, who made his long awaited senior national team debut. With his excellent play over the course of the international calendar, Edgar staked a very strong claim to be a regular starter for head coach Stephen Hart. And after struggling to earn regular playing time for much of his professional career in England, Edgar has also recently become a fixture for Championship side Burnley.
Paul Hamilton, central defender – The Calgary native delivered an MVP calibre campaign in FC Edmonton’s first year in the NASL. Showing excellent leadership and delivering controlled and effective physical play on the back line, Hamilton was an inspiring player on the club team that was the most quintessentially Canadian professional side.
Andre Hainault, right fullback – In addition to delivering solid performances for Canada, the Quebec native had a fantastic cub season in MLS. Hainault played a key role on the Houston Dynamo and scored a number of dramatic goals to first help his side to qualify for the MLS playoffs and then to later help the Texas-based side to make it all the way to the MLS Cup final.
Will Johnson, midfielder – As a key cog in a Real Salt Lake side that made it to the final of the CONCACAF Champions League, Johnson was also one of the most consistent performers for Canada. A solid two-way performer, the gritty Toronto born midfielder always does all of the things that don’t show up on the stat sheet, but that are fundamental to team success.
Dwayne De Rosario, midfielder – The 2011 MLS Most Valuable Player and Golden Boot winner delivered another phenomenal season, as he continued to reinforce his place as one of MLS’ all-time greatest players. Add in the facts that he achieved all of that while playing for three different teams and also tied Dale Mitchell for most career goals scored for Canada, and it’s not hard to predict that De Rosario will most likely pick up his fourth Canadian Player of the Year award honour when the Canadian Soccer Association announces the winner in December.
Bryce Alderson, midfielder – The 17-year-old Whitecaps Residency Program product recently signed a professional contract with Vancouver and will make his MLS debut next year. Equally impressively, Alderson captained the Canadian under-17 men’s team and lead that impressive squad to Canada’s first appearance at a FIFA U-17 World Cup since 1995.
Josh Simpson, forward – The Burnaby, B.C., native has probably been Canada’s top player in 2011 when you consider the quality of his performances for both club and country. In addition to being a vital attacking threat for Canada, Simpson has established himself as one of the top players in Turkey and he is a key player for a Manisaspor side that currently sits in the top three in the Super Lig table, and is within shouting distance of the league title and a place in the UEFA Champions League.
Simeon Jackson, forward – The 2009 Canadian player of the year probably scored the biggest and most dramatic goal of any Canadian player this past year. The Mississauga, Ont., native topped off a blazing run of form down the stretch in his previous season in the English Championship by scoring the goal that saw Norwich promoted to the English Premier League with a dramatic late winner against Portsmouth.
Junior Hoilett, forward – The Blackburn Rovers attacker continued his ascent towards stardom in arguably the top league in the world. His consistency and quality has lead to a number of the top teams in England, including Arsenal and Tottenham, being rumoured to be very interested in buying the 21-year-old in the January transfer window.
In addition to the aforementioned, the following players also deserve to be highlighted for their excellent form and achievements in 2011.
Julian de Guzman, midfielder – He made a strong return from injury to deliver a high quality run of form in the second half of the 2011 MLS season for a TFC side that qualified for the knockout stage of the CONCACAF Champions League for the first time.
Jonathan de Guzman, midfielder – There is no question that De Guzman is one of the most talented players ever born in Canada. The only question surrounding Julian’s younger brother is whether or not he is still legally Canadian.
Shaun Saiko, midfielder – The talented midfielder was named to the 2011 NASL Best XI and was the straw that stirred the drink all season long for an FC Edmonton side that exceeded expectations in their inaugural season.
Randy Edwini-Bonsu, forward – Another young Canadian player who had a breakthrough season in Finland, with his 16 goals scored in 20 games with Oulu in the second division leading to an impressive move to German Bundesliga 2 side Eintracht Braunschweig.
Olivier Occean, forward – Probably Canada’s most consistent scoring threat at the club level over the calendar year. Occean was in blazing form, scoring constantly for Kickers Offenbach and SpVgg Greuther Furth in Germany.
Tosaint Ricketts, forward – The Edmonton native made a strong impact for Canada in his debut year with national team, scoring three goals and bolstering his country’s attacking options with his blazing pace and boundless energy.
Steve Bottjer is a Toronto-based writer, podcaster and editor for RedNation Online, on online magazine covering all aspects of Canadian soccer. Follow RedNation Online on Twitter.