Turf and Boards is proud to present the third annual Boards Awards in recognition of excellence in the Major Arena Soccer League. The 2019-20 Boards Awards will include Rookie of the Year, Coach of the Year, Defender of the Year, Goalkeeper of the Year and, finally, Most Valuable Player. Rather than picking one definitive winner in each category, our esteemed panel of Craig Elsten, Art Kramer, Nathan Dunn, and Turf and Boards publisher Sydney Nusinov will each weigh in with their own choices for each award. Plus we want to hear from you in our poll.

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Sydney Nusinov (Turf and Boards Publisher)

The last two years the MASL produced a handful of rookies who were star players almost from the moment they stepped onto the field like Edgar Gonzalez, Adrien Perez, Hugo Puentes, Zach Reget, and Tavoy Morgan. This year you have to sort through a lot of hay to find the sharpest rookies.

Before I get to my three finalists I want to give an honorable mention to Eduardo Garay of the Monterrey Flash, Gerardo Jurado of the Turlock Express and San Diego Sockers, and Marcel Berry of the Harrisburg Heat. Garay, 26, had 19 points in 16 games and finished the year with an eight-game point scoring streak, earning his way into a veteran-laden lineup. Jurado, 23, only played 14 games, but scored 12 goals and stepped right into a prominent role with the Sockers after being traded from Turlock. Berry, 22, came on late for the Heat and his confidence and ball-handling ability led to an increased role as the season went on. Keep an eye on him next year.

My three finalists are Lipe de Andrade of the Dallas Sidekicks, Duduca Carvalho, of the St. Louis Ambush, and Eduardo “Pollo” Cortes of the Mesquite Outlaws.

Duduca, 31, is an indoor rookie, but a veteran of professional futsal in Brazil. The big-bodied forward led all rookies with 20 goals and 29 points, which were both second best on the Ambush.

Lipe, 29, couldn’t match the hype the Sidekicks heaped upon him, but he overcame a slow start to finish with strong overall numbers. After scoring only four points his first eight games, Lipe had 13 goals and 20 points in his last 11 games, including 11 points in his last five games.

My pick for Rookie of the Year goes to Eduardo Cortes of the Outlaws. Mesquite head coach Tatu trusted Cortes enough to make him his opening night goalkeeper and he started 19 of 21 games and finished with a sturdy 5.50 GAA. He went 6-14 on the MASL’s fourth worst offensive team, but kept the Outlaws in most games with a regular assortment of acrobatic saves.

Art Kramer (Longtime player, coach, and broadcaster)

I’ve been an avid sports fan all my life. Years ago, my thoughts of a professional sports rookie were that of a young first year standout right of college, a guy like Vince Young in football leading the Texas Longhorns to an NCAA championship one season and immediately excelling the very next year with the NFL’s Tennessee Titans. Or it could be a highly touted high school player, a prep to pros phenom like Lebron James in basketball, drafted out of  St. Vincent/St. Mary’s High School in Akron, transitioning to NBA excellence in his first season with the Cleveland Cavaliers.   

My vote for Rookie of the Year in the Major Arena Soccer League does not fall into either of these categories. Some may argue he is not a rookie at all due to his prior professional experience and well known accomplishments in Brazilian professional Futsal.  While I don’t necessarily disagree with that sentiment, I’m not going to let that keep me from voting for the most deserving player who meets the current qualification criteria. With that said, my vote for this year’s MASL Rookie of the Year is 31-year old Duduca Carvalho of the St. Louis Ambush. Duduca was a key cog in the Ambush’s notable turnaround this season. He led all rookie scorers with an impressive 20 goals and 29 points in just 21 games.  

As part of my research in my decision, I looked up past ROY winners in other sports. MLB lists Sam Jethroe of the 1950 Boston Braves as the oldest at 32 years, 33 days. The NHL’s oldest ROY winner was Sergei Makarov of the Calgary Flames, who won the award at the age of 31 following eleven years with CSKA Moscow in the KHL. This record will most likely stand forever as the NHL redefined its rookie status to players 26 and under following the large influx of Russian players in the late ’80s. David Robinson of the San Antonio Spurs was the oldest player to win the award in the NBA at the ripe old age of 24. Interestingly enough, in 2009 Fred Whistle competed as a 51-year old rookie kicker for the Springfield Wolfpack in the Arena Football Professional League. Which leads me to this final thought and bold prediction: The winner of the 2034 MASL ROY award goes to 51 year old Zlatan Ibrahimovic of Team World!   

Craig Elsten (San Diego Sockers Chief Marketing Officer and Play-by-Play)

Honorable Mentions
*Ismael Rojo, defender, Soles de Sonora–P1 visa issues prevented Rojo, who was signed to become a regular in the San Diego Sockers backfield, from playing the entire season north of the border. Traded to Sonora, Rojo finally got his chance to play and burst out with six goals, an assist and six blocked shots in four games, earning a MASL Team of the Week mention. Without the league-wide P1 visa issue, he was the likely Rookie of the Year.

*Lipe de Andrade, midfielder, Dallas Sidekicks–While it’s tough to lay too much honor at the feet of participants on a 3-19 club, the rookie Sidekicks midfielder proved his ability on the offensive side of the field, developing into a wicked attacker as the year wore on. Finished second on the club with (16-8=24) points in 16 games, including 11 goals in his last seven. 

*Gerardo Jurado, midfielder, Turlock Cal Express/San Diego Sockers–The fleet-footed Tijuana mid (12-1=13 points, 5 blocks in 14 games) burst onto the scene with a two-goal performance in Turlock’s first-ever win in San Diego, and scored four goals in his first three games. After turning 23 in January, Jurado was acquired by the Sockers and netted three goals in two games, earning time on power play and penalty kill. 

*Eduardo “Pollo” Cortes, goalkeeper, Mesquite Outlaws–The rookie netminder of the expansion Outlaws was one of the most athletic goalkeepers I saw play in 2019-20. Improving as he went, Cortes’s 5.50 GAA and .686 save% should be noted in the context of having to play Monterrey five times (0-5 with a 7.82 GAA/.590 SV%). Closed the year with signature wins over Tacoma (21/23 saves) and San Diego (13/16 saves). 

*Winner* Duduca Carvalho, forward, St. Louis Ambush–It’s not easy to be a rookie power forward in the Eastern Conference, but Duduca bulled his way to the top rookies goal mark, scoring (20+9=29) points with four blocks in 21 games. Duduca was the opposite of a bottom-feeder: in a conference where many stars fattened up on Rochester and Orlando, Duduca netted 14 of his 20 goals against contenders (clubs .500 and better in top-5 position). 

Nathan Dunn (Turf and Boards, The Blue Testament)

In previous years, the MASL has seen some extremely talented rookies, such as Gordy Gurson, Andrew Coughlin, Philip Lund, Edgar Gonzalez, and Zach Reget. The 2019-20 MASL season didn’t really have many standout rookies with as much sparkle as those of the past. The few rookies that did standout also had previous professional soccer experience.

Before we get into the three candidates, I would like to mention Ray Lee of the Kansas City Comets. Lee got a tiny glimpse of the MASL last season with two games in the Comets 2018-19 campaign. This season Lee was one of Kansas City’s bright spots for the first 12 games, where he recorded 14 points from 10 goals and four assists. The former Philadelphia Union defender put an early conclusion to his rookie season to return to the USL Championship to play with Chattanooga FC. Had he carried out the remainder of the MASL season with the Comets, he likely would have been a name up for Rookie of the Year.

My three candidates are Monterrey Flash midfielder Eduardo Garay, Dallas Sidekicks midfielder Lipe de Andrade, and St. Louis Ambush forward Duduca Carvalho. Garay, 24 years old, is the youngest of my three finalists. The Tijuana, Mexico native produced 10 goals and nine assists in 16 games this season. Lipe de Andrade, whose Dallas Sidekicks rookie campaign at 29 years old picked up 24 points off of 16 goals and eight assists, got off to a slow start with just four points in the opening eight games, but the Brazilian kicked it into gear and was held pointless just once in the remaining 11 games as he finished the season behind only Freddy Moojen (21 goals) as the Sidekicks top scorer. Carvalho, a veteran of futsal in his native Brazil, impressed with a rookie-leading campaign of 29 points from 20 goals and nine assists in 20 games. The 31-year old was the second leading scorer for the Ambush, behind JT Thomas’ 25 goals.

My pick for the MASL 2019-20 Rookie of the Year is Duduca Carvalho of the Ambush. As head coach Hewerton Moreira continues to turn to Brazil to add more talent, the signing of Duduca was a great find. Not only was Carvalho competing for playing time with JT Thomas, but he was also up against MASL veterans Tony Walls, Stefan St. Louis, Anthony Grant, and Andre Braithwaite. At 6’1” and 209 pounds, the target forward was one of the stars for the Ambush in their most successful season since their 2013 beginnings. While the Ambush won’t qualify for the playoffs if they happen, he was a major bright spot for the organization in a season where the Ambush took another step forward with their best winning percentage and a new-look ownership group.