Matt Bernhardt Columbus, Ohio In your "Best talent of 1999" (Nov. 29 issue of Soccer America Magazine) you nominate four members of the D.C. United defensive core and give honorable mention to a fifth -- a group which finished sixth in goals allowed (43). Meanwhile, the Crew's defense is mostly underrepresented (only Dougherty honored, no one else mentioned as being close) -- which let in fewer goals (39). This leads me to wonder: What is your assessment of the Crew's defensive group? Are they just a group of yeomen working unspectacularly but effectively without any real talent? Is Mark Dougherty carrying this group of players alone? Is Tom Fitzgerald a better defensive coach than he receives credit for? Or is there some other reason why in virtually every postseason awards session the Crew are largely overlooked (MLS Best 11, Soccer America awards, defender of the year consideration, etc)? Ridge MahoneyBernhard, in a way, you've answered your own question. The Crew defenders received very little mention for the Defender of the Year as well as the Best 11, so those who voted on those awards were in general agreement with our assessment. Clark is a veteran with moderate ability, Lapper had a good season, Yeagley is honest but limited, and Elcock can attack but is defensively suspect. Of the group, probably Yeagley and Lapper were the steadiest, but did either of them play as well as Llamosa, Sonora or Agoos? These are always tough calls. Both Llamosa and Pope missed nearly half of the season, and Sonora was also injured, yet still D.C. United gave up only a few more goals than Columbus, and in our informal poll of selected MLS coaches, the Crew defenders were rarely mentioned. To be honest, a mention of Lapper as one of the "alsos" wouldn't have been inappropriate. And Yeagley also did well. Yes, I would say Dougherty rescued this defense many times. But so did Hartman and Jordan. You'll also have to remember goalscoring dropped considerably in 1999, and better defending contributed to that, so logically, more defenders had better seasons than in past years. The Crew gave up more goals than all four Western Conference playoff teams, so it was a particularly competitive season for honoring the best defenders. Because of space limitations, we can't always mention every player who was close. We were certainly aware of what the Crew did this season. (If you have a question for a Soccer America Magazine editor, click "Q&A with SA Editors" in the left column of the home page under "Interactive.")
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