When the Whitecaps FC fans voted in Young Pyo-Lee as their Player of the Year, was there any real surprise?
His resume of work in his first season alone is impressive. 2790 minutes logged, second on the team with four assists and a game winner goal against Columbus are impressive stats for any defender, but the fact it comes from the right back position is what really matters to the Whitecaps.
Think back to last season’s debacle at the position that saw at least four players get used on the right flank. Whether it was Wes Knight, Jonathan Leathers, Jeb Brovsky or even John Thorrington, the Whitecaps never had any consistency along the right hand side.
When the Whitecaps announced the signing of Lee last offseason, some questions persisted about his age and fitness levels, yet he quickly put those questions to rest with ease. Time and time again he showed poise under pressure and a certain grace with the ball at his feet, a combination of qualities the Whitecaps really lacked at every other position on the team.
The improvement defensively Lee gave Vancouver at right back would have been enough to give him Player of the Year alone. Statistically, the Whitecaps aren’t a whole lot better than they were last year. They have less shots attempted and shots on goal, more fouls committed and less fouls suffered, and have matched their goal output from last season. Yet the one area where they did improve was goals against where they’ve allowed 14 less goals than they did in their inaugural season.
Having a healthy Jay DeMerit and adding Martin Bonjour and Andy O’Brien are surely factors in the improvement, but the stability and leadership Lee has provided is the real testament to any and all successes the Whitecaps have had this season.
Rarely did he make a mistake, and often did he cover for other players errors. Using his vast wealth of experience he defended exceptionally well against players faster and stronger than him and still found time to create offense out of the back, a contributing more than the Whitecaps would’ve expected but definitely needed as the season progressed.
At age 35, who knows how much longer Lee will be able to or want to play for but if he remains consistent, he’ll be an annual contender for the team’s Player of the Year award.