FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Tuesday morning’s announcement merely confirmed what fans of the New England Revolution have known for quite some time.
Jose Goncalves is the best defender in Major League Soccer.
The 28-year-old Portuguese center back comfortably overcame fellow finalists Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City) and Omar Gonzalez (LA Galaxy) to be named MLS Defender of the Year, garnering the highest percentage of votes from media (46.75 percent), clubs (36.74 percent) and players (18.83 percent).
For Revolution fans, it was poetic justice after what was perceived as a midseason All-Star snub.
“It’s very nice to be honored for your work and for other people to realize that you did a good job this year,” Goncalves said. “It’s an honor for myself to be defender of the year.”
Goncalves helped transform the Revolution’s defense during his first year in Foxborough, turning what had been a mediocre defensive side into one of the stingiest in the league. New England finished the season with a club-record 14 shutouts and boasted the third-best defensive record in MLS with just 38 goals conceded.
Goncalves’ contributions off the field were just as significant. He was handed the captain’s armband just eight games into the season and immediately embraced the role, becoming one of the unquestioned leaders in the Revolution’s young locker room.
While there was, at times, a rotating cast of defenders and goalkeepers along the Revolution’s backline, Goncalves was a constant, playing every minute of every game. As a newcomer to the league, it was a remarkable feat considering the adjustment period many foreign signings require in the unique world of MLS.
“I’ve been traveling a lot in different countries, so it’s helped me learn a lot and adapt myself very fast to other leagues,” said Goncalves, who had experience in Switzerland, Italy, Lithuania, Scotland and Germany prior to moving to the United States. “When I came to the U.S., I knew that I had no time to adapt myself.”
Goncalves credited an extended preseason and the guidance of his MLS-proven teammates with helping expedite his adjustment, but his ability to play at the highest level week in, week out is largely down to the professional way he approaches each and every day. From eating properly to getting the appropriate amount of rest, Goncalves is a master of preparation.
“Consistency is something very hard, but something very, very important in sports,” he said. “The consistency is through hard work, it’s through mental training and it’s through taking care of yourself. Once the game is over, you start a new challenge, you start a new week. Day by day, step by step, you have to get yourself ready for the next challenge. My mind was always like this and it continues to be like this.”
The next challenge for Goncalves will be building upon his sterling debut season in MLS. After playing the 2013 campaign on loan from Swiss club FC Sion, Goncalves was recently purchased outright by the Revolution and has had his contract option for the 2014 season exercised by the club.
After a first year in which he garnered MLS Defender of the Year honors and helped guide the Revs back into the postseason, Goncalves has visions of a bright future for both himself and the Revolution.
“At 28, I feel I have the same hunger that I had when I was a child at 12 years old,” said Goncalves. “I wanted to be a professional and you have to have the same hunger. You can do big things if you have the same hunger.
“I believe that the club has a big, big future, and to be part of this future is something very important for me. I enjoyed this year and working with the guys at the club. Now it’s a new year and hopefully the story will continue.”