Unlike last year, the field for the Popie Award, given to D.C. United's best defender of the year, is stacked. Named after Eddie Pope, of D.C. United and US men's national team fame, it has been previously given out to Bill Hamid, Brandon McDonald, Dejan Jakovic, Julius James, and Bryan Namoff. So who should win the award this year?
1. Bobby Boswell: The once and future D.C. United player came back to the team in the re-entry draft and immediately became a rock of the defense and the captain of the team. While his physical skills may be on the slight decline, that was never the key part of his game; his positioning and game awareness remain as sharp as ever, as he led the team to one of the best defenses in the league. Runner up for defender of the year, and named to the MLS Best XI, Boswell was key to D.C. United's whole season.
2. Bill Hamid: Hamid played out of his mind this season, on his way to the MLS Goalkeeper of the Year award and a spot on the MLS Best XI. It has been said many times before, but it bears repeating: the saves that he made this year looked easy only because he is so good. He has always been a good shot-stopper, but this year he stepped up his positioning, his awareness, and his distribution to make himself a complete goalkeeper. This season, and ever season going forward, should be taken as an added bonus, because Hamid is not long for these shores.
3. Steve Birnbaum: Drafted with D.C. United's first round pick, Birnbaum sat on the bench for the beginning of the season (and even played one game in Richmond). He was also a part of the US Open Cup debacle, before jumping into the starting lineup when Jeff Parke went out injured. The game against Houston aside, Birnbaum was an excellent center back who should have won the Rookie of the Year. Whereas Boswell would often stay conservative, Birnbaum was there to step forward and make the athletic play. He should be a rock of D.C. United's back line for years to come.
4. Sean Franklin: The All-Star right back gave something that D.C. United hasn't had in years: a quality natural fullback. Other than Robbie Russell, who was on the downside of his career, and Andy Najar, who has moved back to the wing in Europe, the team hasn't had such a player on either side during Olsen's entire tenure (though Taylor Kemp may get there). With Franklin on the right, Boswell and Birnbaum could concentrate on their players without having to worry what was happening to their right. The one goal and four assists didn't hurt either.
5. Perry Kitchen: The rock of D.C. United's central midfield, Kitchen helped shield Boswell, Parke, and Birnbaum. There weren't very many times that players were running right at United's center backs, because Kitchen was there to slow them down. Together, Davy Arnaud and Perry Kitchen delayed opposing players long enough in the midfield to allow the defense to keep its shape. That Kitchen was also able to add goals and assists only made the team even better. The only knock on his game was the amount of yellow cards (and yellow card suspensions) he accumulated.