Tuesday, May 20, 2014

MLS Rookie Roundup

Since any “Rookie of the Year” debate would start and stop in Chicago, let’s consider this a “Rookie Roundup” and cast a wider net for what has been a newbie crop starved of playing time.

Your Rookie of the Year: Harry Shipp

After missing Chicago’s opener against Chivas, Shipp has started every game and been the chief catalyst for the Fire’s first two wins of the season.  Everyone remembers Shipp’s hat trick against the Red Bulls, and this past weekend he set up the opening penalty in Chicago’s 2-1 win over Sporting KC.

I caught the Smiling Assassin’s first two matches live and, at the time, was most impressed by his movement off the ball and sharp delivery from out wide.  As the season has wore on however, Shipp has been most exciting when cutting inside, exploiting passing lanes most people didn’t know existed, and then doing his little sheepish “ya, that was pretty cool grin.”

Chicago’s eight game winless run to start the year put the club down but not yet out of the Eastern Conference playoff hunt.  Juan Luis Anangonó may have to wear a disguise when he goes out in public, but if Frank Yallop sorts out his leaky defense, Shipp, Benji Joya, Mike Magee, and Quincy Amarikwa could still carry the Fire to the promised land.

Yes, I’ll have the Kool-Aid: Patrick Mullins

The Revs had an exceedingly difficult start to the year, much of it down to the assorted absences of Jose Goncalves, Kelyn Rowe, and FC Utrecht refugee Juan Agudelo.  After a season opening 4-0 spanking by the Dynamo (in which Mullins only lasted 45 minutes wide right), New England didn’t score until its fourth match against San Jose – even then it was a Victor Bernardez own goal and controversial taking of a dead ball that got them a 2-1 win. 

Jay Heaps first solidified performances by sorting out his midfield and defensive corps, then turned his attention to the Revs attack.  Teal Bunbury was contributing pretty much everything but goals, while Jerry Bengston, Saer Sene, and Charlie Davies contributed a whole lot of nothing.  Since drafting in Mullins as the central striker and moving Bunbury wide, the Revs’ attack has been revolutionized and the team has soared to the top of the Eastern Conference.

A goal in each of his three starts, Mullins has shown the finishing ability and intelligent movement you’d expect from a two-time Hermann Trophy winner.  His hold-up play may not be as physical as that of Bunbury, but Mullins’ ability to play off the last defender’s shoulder and genuine goal threat allow him to occupy center backs in an effective, if different manner.

It’s only been three starts, but Diego Fagundez has bounced out of his slump, Bunbury’s contribution is more efficient, and there’s finally someone to take advantage of Lee Nguyen’s inch-perfect service.  He may not be able to catch Shipp for Rookie of the Year, but Mullins may end up lasting longer in the fall.

Bumps in the Road:

Eric Miller

The Montreal Impact hasn’t exactly set the world aflame this year, but a relative bright spot has been full back Eric Miller.  Miller started and played the full 90 in every Montreal contest through their 4-0 loss to Sporting KC.  That debacle moved Miller to the pine for a match, before a thigh injury has kept him out of contention since. 

If his pre-hiatus stats of 3.5 tackles, 2.5 interceptions, and shade under three clearances per game (all while conceding less than one foul per) don’t convince you of his value, go visit DC United’s late equalizer against the Impact over the weekend.

Montreal’s Hassoun Camara came too deep from his right back station, allowing Chris Rolfe and Fabian Espindola to overload DC’s left attacking channel.  Montreal center back Wandrille Lefevre came to cover, far center back Heath Pearce tucked over, and this left Jeb Brovsky isolated for Eddie Johnson’s back post header. It may have been Jurgen Klinsmann who poked the bear, and Brovsky was the man who felt Johnson’s wrath, but maybe, just maybe the Impact hang on for a desperately needed win had Miller been available.

All rookies have ups and downs and being a member of this version of the Impact means you’re guaranteed to suffer some bloody score lines, but Miller can play.  Let him get healthy and see how he finishes the season.

JJ Koval

Starting the year with four appearances off the bench, Koval had himself a three game stretch of starts in midfield during which the Earthquakes went 1-1-1.  In the three games since Koval has been squeezed out of the starting lineup, the Earthquakes have gone…1-1-1.  San Jose is already on the outside looking in at the Western Conference playoff spots.  Should the Portland Timbers and/or LA Galaxy finding some form coincide with a Chris Wondolowski World Cup trip, the Quakes could fade from the playoff fringes sooner rather than later.  At that point, Mark Watson may decide to give the kid some big-time minutes and then we’ll really see what he can do.

AJ Cochran

The towering center back has been given three starts so far under Dominic Kinnear and in those starts the Dynamo has conceded seven goals.  Cochran may well hang around on the first eleven fringes as the third center back, but David Horst and Jermaine Taylor had big performances in Houston’s 1-0 win over the Galaxy.  With Houston currently occupying third place in the Eastern Conference, it’s hard to envision Kinnear trusting Cochran to displace either of his more experienced teammates in the immediate future.

Keep an Eye On’em

Nick Hagglund

Got an early start against the Crew at the beginning of April and, aside from a late substitute appearance, had been largely MIA since.  That’s recently changed however, with Hagglund going the full 120 minutes in Toronto and Vancouver’s epic second leg to the Canadian Championship semifinal and then being rewarded with a start alongside Steven Caldwell against the Red Bulls this past weekend.  A 2-0 Toronto win and dominant Hagglund performance (16 clearances and four interceptions) means it will be hard for Ryan Nelsen to justify dropping the first round pick.

Jared Watts

Watts has made three starts and a duo of short appearances off the bench for the Rapids.  The midfielder had a tough debut against Sporting Kansas City, but has shown a significantly improved passing ability in his last two starts – both scoreless draws against San Jose.  Whether that is enough to get him a chance in a Rapids side that’s gone just 1-2-3 since its 3-1-1 start remains to be seen.

So, that's all I got, tell me who I snubbed below.


Zach said...

Is Kellyn Acosta a rookie? Might be worth a mention.

And even though he bombed in his debut, is EPB a rookie?

Tony M said...

The only game I have seen with Harry Shipp so far was his hat trick. So, yeah, based on that, he seems like he has a leg up...

downintexas said...

Zach, Acosta played last year.

Jay said...

Shipp is learning pretty fast, too. He's picked up his pace significantly since his first game, and figured out how to get the ball off his foot before he gets planted with a hard shoulder.

Erik Palmer-Brown isn't a rookie (is he?) but he made his professional debut against Chicago last weekend. Conceded a penalty and got ejected. Not the best stat line, but he otherwise looked pretty good.