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What’s behind Victor Vazquez’s Newcomer of the Year snub?

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Toronto FC’s star playmaker won’t be receiving any of the league’s individual honours.

MLS: New York Red Bulls at Toronto FC Kevin Sousa-USA TODAY Sports

The voting for the MLS Awards is a doomed exercise.

It starts with the clubs identifying which of their players they would like to put forward for each category. The longlists that come out of that are then voted on by three equally weighted groups: players, staff and media.

From those votes you get the finalists that were revealed earlier this week and then, announced category by category between today and December 4, the winners.

And every year sees fans of at least half the teams in the league air grievances over who does and does not appear among the finalists.

The basic problem is that instead of asking a handful of genuine experts to select the shorter list of finalists to then be voted on, those lists are decided by the voters from the initial, much wider pool of players.

Unfortunately, many of those voting are not qualified to do the narrowing down. How many players will have watched every team in MLS on a regular basis this season? What about the reporters that cover one beat rather than the league as a whole?

The players get to see each other close up at least once a year, of course, and any good writer should have a decent knowledge of the clubs the one he is covering is going up against.

MLS: Toronto FC at Atlanta United FC John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

But a truly insightful, in-depth understanding? Maybe for some, but not all.

The result is a bias to goals and anything that can be digested via highlight reels and boxscores over everything else. The MVP and Newcomer of the Year awards have never been won by a defender and there is rarely even one among the finalists.

It’s not just defenders that suffer, though; it’s also players who think the game at a high level, who are essential to their team’s functioning - the very definition of a most valuable player, really - but do not necessarily jump out to the untrained eye on first viewing.

Which brings us to Victor Vazquez.

In Toronto, the case for Vazquez the MVP candidate has been made on numerous occasions over the course of the 2017 season. What few expected was that he would not even make the final three for Newcomer of the Year.

“I think it’s crazy,” Greg Vanney said on Wednesday. “That’s my reaction. I don’t know what else to say.”

I don’t know that it’s crazy, and the reaction has been a touch over the top. The Newcomer field this year is extremely strong, after all, and it’s not outrageous to have voted for any of the three finalists - Josef Martinez, Miguel Almiron and Nemanja Nikolic - as the winner.

I suspect part of the reason Vazquez missed out on the top three is down to the nature of the voting. While three finalists are named, voters only pick a winner and a runner-up and it’s not hard to imagine Nikolic - the league’s top scorer - plus one of Atlanta United’s stars featuring on many ballots.

MLS: Vancouver Whitecaps FC at Chicago Fire Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

Those three players have all written headlines more frequently than Vazquez has over the course of the year.

(I’d expect Nikolic to win, by the way, because of the way Martinez and Almiron will probably take a chunk of votes off each other.)

But I voted for Vazquez as the Newcomer of the Year - and had him as the runner-up for MVP behind Diego Valeri, for the record - and his absence from the final three should not diminish the fact that he would have been a worthy winner.

Simply put, he has been the most complete attacking midfielder in MLS this season and I include Valeri (though he deserves his likely MVP nod for the way he dragged Portland to the top of the Western Conference) and Almiron in that assessment.

There are players who create more chances than Vazquez, such as the unrelenting Sacha Kljestan.

(There is also something in the water at Real Salt Lake; when set pieces are filtered out, Joao Plata and Albert Rusnak lead the league in chances created per 90 minutes of play by some distance.)

And there are attacking midfielders who score more goals than him, too, such as Valeri and Ignacio Piatti.

But none combine goalscoring, chance creation and influence in possession and build-up play as a package to the same extent. Vazquez ranked fifth in the league in chances created and fifth in successful passes in the opposition half, and his goalscoring rate was just short of some very good forwards (Dom Dwyer, Maxi Urruti, Chris Wondolowski).

The two players who come closest to offering the same breadth of quality are Almiron, an MVP finalist, and Lee Nguyen, who may well have been another had his efforts been enough to put the New England Revolution in the playoffs.

That there was something special about Vazquez - and the consistency of his excellence - quickly became apparent to those who watched him regularly, but is not as evident to everyone else.

The irony in all of this is that Sebastian Giovinco, whose absence from last year’s MVP shortlist was the subject of similar complaints, is back in the running in that category when many Toronto fans might have had Vazquez or Michael Bradley there instead.

That probably has something to do with the six free-kicks (now seven) he had scored when votes were cast, which - to casual viewers - might have given off the impression of a player repeatedly saving the day.

Giovinco’s nod demonstrates that this isn’t one of those things that the border has something to do with; those making the picks just didn’t know any better.