In a season riddled with injuries and lineup inconsistency, one player on the Columbus Crew played in every minute of every match: Jonathan Mensah. He was one of only two non-goalkeepers to play in 23 regular season matches and not be subbed off once.
Those minutes were warranted too, with Mensah leading Major League Soccer in blocks (30), clearances (114) and passes by a defender (1,473). Columbus’ defense also led the league with nine shutouts and the second-fewest goals allowed (21). It wasn’t enough, however, to award Mensah the MLS’s highest individual award at the defender position.
On Wednesday, MLS awarded Walter Zimmerman with the 2020 Defender of the Year award. The Nashville SC defender received 28.37 percent of the final vote for an award determined by current players, club technical staffs and members of the media chosen by the MLS. Mensah finished third in the award standings with 16.07 percent of the overall vote and the Philadelphia Union’s Mark McKenzie finished second.
When looking at how the voting broke down, Mensah was third place in all three voting group categories, with a heavy club and media vote pushing Zimmerman over McKenzie. McKenzie received the highest total of current player votes with 20.75 percent compared to Zimmerman’s 16.82 percent. Rounding out the field of five finalists were Anton Tinnerholm from New York City FC and a duo of Toronto FC defenders in Chris Mavinga and Richie Laryea.
It’s hard to imagine how the Ghanaian international could have had a better season. In 2020, Mensah earned the Crew’s captain’s armband from former Columbus staple Wil Trapp following his move to Miami and led the defense through an impressive season. Defensive results came throughout the year despite rotation at the other center back position.
Vito Wormgoor’s offseason signing was a way to put a formidable duo at center back to strengthen an already strong 2019 defense. Wormgoor’s season-ending ankle injury in the opening MLS is Back Tournament win against FC Cincinnati saw Aboubacar Keita and Josh Williams rotate through the starting lineup, depending on form, match congestion and a four-match suspension for Williams.
Mensah also had to lead a defensive side that didn’t have its number one goalkeeper for portions of the season, with Eloy Room missing six of the Black & Gold’s 23 regular season matches and the MLS is Back tournament knockout shootout loss to Minnesota United.
Even without the award, the Black & Gold captain can celebrate a top season at his position, captaining a side primed for a playoff run and playing in his 100th match with the Crew.
Of the four postseason individual awards that Columbus has been nominated for, only Lucas Zelarayan came away with a win, as MLS Newcomer of the Year. Milton Valenzuela and Room also both finished third in their respective categories of Comeback Player of the Year and Goalkeeper of the Year.
The Crew has spoken all year about the team’s focus on the ultimate team award in lifting the MLS Cup trophy at season’s end, and the Black & Gold will start that playoff journey Saturday at 3 p.m. ET when they welcome the New York Red Bulls to MAPFRE Stadium.