Massive Report began giving out 2016 end-of-year honors for Columbus Crew SC and the club decided to follow suit. On Friday, the Black & Gold announced the 2016 team award winners.
Justin Meram was named the team’s Most Valuable Player
Crew SC six-year veteran Justin Meram notched career-highs in the 2016 season and has captured the club’s Barbasol Most Valuable Player honor. The midfielder is the Black & Gold’s longest tenured player and had a career-best season in a number of statistics. Meram’s team-high 13 assists in 2016 more than doubled his next-best season of five assists in 2015. He also set career-highs in games played (33) and games started (31), making his 150th MLS and Crew SC appearance this season and his 100th career start as well. His 76 shots on the season also became a career-best for the Michigan-native. Columbus was undefeated when Meram scored this season with a 3-0-2 record. When the midfielder contributed an assist, the Black & Gold were 6-2-3.
Ola Kamara won the club’s Golden Boot.
Ola Kamara proved to be a scoring threat in his first Major League Soccer season, scoring 16 goals in just 20 starts, earning himself the club’s Golden Boot award. Kamara is just the fifth player in Crew SC history to record a 16-goal campaign. The goal-scorer found the back of the net with his left foot (4), right foot (9) and head (3) throughout the 2016 season while also adding two assists. Nine of the Norwegian’s goals came in just four matches, registering four multi-goal games this season: one hat-trick and three braces.
Harrison Afful is the 2016 Defender of the Year
Second-year Crew SC defender Harrison Afful showcased both his high defensive skills as well as his ability to support the offense in the 2016 MLS season and has earned the club’s Defender of the Year award. Ranked as MLSsoccer.com’s top rightback in the League this season, the Ghana-native recorded 76 interceptions, three goals and three assists in 30 games played and started. Among all MLS defenders, Afful made the most touches in the opposing box (73), the most recoveries (203), the second-most overall touches (2,378) and the fourth-most successful passes (1,216). The rightback was in the lineup for all eight of Crew SC’s shutouts this season. His three goals and three assists were both tied for third-most among the League’s defenders.
Ethan Finlay was named the Humanitarian of the Year
Ethan Finlay served as a board member for the Columbus Crew SC Foundation helping with several initiatives in Columbus in 2016. Through his work on the board, he helped launch a new futsal court with Soccer for Success programming and assisted in providing gear, equipment and instruction to a local high school, Linden McKinley High School, to field its first team in 10 years. Finlay’s efforts also earned him a nomination for Major League Soccer’s MLS WORKS Humanitarian of the Year award. 2016 marked the fifth year of community appearances in Columbus for Finlay.
The Kirk Urso Heart Award went to Hector Jimenez
Hector Jimenez becomes the fourth player to receive this award after Kirk Urso was posthumously honored in the inaugural year of the special recognition in 2012. Voted by his teammates, Jimenez was chosen as the player that best exemplified the qualities in a teammate and became “the heart” in the Black & Gold’s locker room. The California-native appeared in 25 matches and recorded 14 starts this season while playing five different positions: rightback, leftback, right midfield, central attacking midfield and left midfield. He started and helped in two clean sheets for Crew SC this season, both against New England Revolution, while also adding an assist. Jimenez also made substitute appearances to help with three other Black & Gold clean sheets.
Devyn Etling was named the Academy Player of the Year
In recognition of his bright future and his contributions for the Black & Gold's Under-17/Under-18 Academy team, forward Devyn Etling was named the Crew SC Academy Player of the Year. An 18-year-old striker, Etling is verbally committed to The Ohio State University and has competed for the Black & Gold since the U-14 level. In 2013, Etling joined the U-14 Academy team, where he participated in the U.S. Soccer Developmental Showcase event. He steadily progressed through the Academy making an impact both field and in the community each season. Set to graduate from Ashland High School in 2017 with a 3.47 GPA, Etling completed the 2015-16 season with 21 appearances for the U-17/U-18s, registering 14 goals. He is set to serve as the Captain of the U-17/U-18s during the 2016-17 season.
There are no real surprises in this year’s awards. Perhaps the closest thing to a surprise is Afful as Defender of the Year. Although he is a key part of Crew SC in head coach Gregg Berhalter’s system, his justification for the award has more to do with his offensive play than his actual defending.
In a year when expectations are high and not met, it is hard to get excited about postseason awards. But each player will be happy with the honor when all is said and done and perhaps this will be a motivational tool next season.