VANCOUVER, BC – Vancouver Whitecaps FC have clinched the first-ever MLS Cup Playoff berth by a Canadian club. With the success of this year’s squad, several strong candidates have emerged for MLS year-end awards, including: Jay DeMerit for Defender of the Year, Comeback Player of the Year and MLS Best XI; Young-Pyo Lee for Defender of the Year, Newcomer of the Year and MLS Best XI; and Darren Mattocks for Rookie of the Year.
Jay DeMerit – Defender of the Year, Comeback Player of the Year and Best XI candidate
Last year DeMerit battled a persistent adductor strain that kept him out for a third of the season. This year, however, has been a different story for the captain and his club. A fully-fit DeMerit – second on the team in games played (30) and minutes (2636) - returned to the form he displayed during the United States’ 2010 FIFA World Cup campaign, and meshed with his unrivalled leadership qualities to inspire his team to become the first Canadian club to reach the MLS Cup playoffs. Among his finest moments was a game-winning goal away to Chivas USA on March 17, heading the ‘Caps to their first ever MLS victory on the road. His fine play also earned him a starting spot on this year’s MLS All-Star team, playing the entire match and drawing rave reviews for his defensive work against Chelsea FC. And of course, let’s not forget his role in the MLS record shutout streak to start the season and the team more than doubling their shutouts this season (11) compared to last season (5). Indeed, a big difference between Vancouver’s inaugural 2011 campaign and their 2012 run to the playoffs has been the health of DeMerit.
Young-Pyo Lee – Defender of the Year, Newcomer of the Year and Best XI candidate
Only a well-deserved rest when the team visited Los Angeles Galaxy on September 1 prevented the tireless South Korean superstar from joining Colorado Rapids defender Drew Moor as the only two players in Major League Soccer to have played every minute of every regular season match in 2012. As it stands, Lee is fifth in MLS with a staggering 2,880 minutes to his name. The 35-year-old is one of the first names head coach Martin Rennie writes down when naming his starting XI and has been a valuable fixture for Whitecaps FC at right fullback all season long. Not only is he a reliable defender with a work ethic that defies his age, Lee has also managed to push forward and provide his team with an attacking spark from the flank. His four assists for Whitecaps FC this season – which ranks him second among his teammates – have been crucial, as the team has been able to take ten points from the matches in which he has set someone up. Lee has been a vital figure in the ‘Caps defensive work, including the MLS record shutout streak to start the season and the team more than doubling their shutouts this season (11) compared to last season (5). He also found the back of the net in the ‘Caps 1-0 road win against Columbus Crew on April 28. Beyond just his impact on the field, Lee has left an indelible mark off the field, consistently drawing hundreds of fans to see him at each venue he’s played.
Darren Mattocks – Rookie of the Year candidate
One thing cannot be argued: no other rookie in Major League Soccer this season is capable of doing what Darren Mattocks can do. When he is fit and firing, Mattocks is no doubt one of the most dangerous players in the league. In only his first season, Mattocks has already shown both the pundits and fans why Whitecaps FC chose him with the second overall pick in this year’s MLS SuperDraft. The 22-year-old has capitalized on his electrifying pace and incredible athletic ability in his 20 appearances – or more specifically, 1,229 minutes on the pitch – to score seven goals and tally an assist. Needless to say, the Jamaican international’s output this season was a major factor in Vancouver becoming the first-ever Canadian team to reach the MLS Cup playoffs. Four of his goals – two of them game-winners – and an assist helped Whitecaps FC secure 10 points from those matches while his amazing leaping header in July 11 match away to Toronto FC continues to be a regular feature of highlight reels around the world. Mattocks has already had one award bestowed on him this season, when he was named the best MLS player under the age of 24 in MLSsoccer.com’s ‘24 under 24’ list.