>By Evan Ream
Obviously, with the season not over, it is impossible to choose a Rookie of the Year right now, but I believe we have at least narrowed it down to three main candidates. This year’s rookie class has had some really strong candidates that could have possibly won the award in years past such as Sean Johnson, Tony Tchani, Michael Stephens, Teal Bunbury, and Zach Schilawski just to name a few. This being said, the play of Danny Mwanga, Andy Najar, and Tim Ream has stood far and away above the rest of the rookies. Let’s take an in depth look to see which one deserves it.
Danny Mwanga, Forward Philadelphia Union
GP GS MINS G A
20 14 1,212 7 4
Danny Mwanga was the number 1 overall pick in this year’s MLS SuperDraft. Originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mwanga attended college in Oregon. Mwanga, due to his age of 19, was looked at as being more of a project player when he was originally drafted. However, he has greatly exceeded expectations by scoring the most goals for a rookie since Damani Ralph had 11 in 2003. Mwanga has shown that he is not only a calm and capable finisher, but that he also has the intelligence to set up goals as well. Along with Sebastien Le Toux, Mwanga forms one of the pest forward partnerships in the league. The downside to Mwanga is that in addition to playing for a mediocre at best team, he has actually logged the fewest minutes of any rookie on my shortlist. Mwanga has turned into a first choice starter, but it took him longer than either of the other two on the list.
Andy Najar, Midfielder DC United
GP GS MINS G A
23 19 1,713 5 1
Andy Najar is the youngest member of this list (17) in addition to be the only one that was not drafted. Mwanga was the second player (behind Bill Hamid) to be signed from DC United’s youth academy. Even more so then Mwanga, Najar was expected to be a project player due to his age and the fact that he didn’t even play college soccer. Surprisingly, Najar has been one of the lone bright spots for the last place United team this season. Like Mwanga, he has turned into a first choice starter; however, Najar plays on the right side of the midfield instead of up top. His numbers are stunningly similar to Freddy Adu’s rookie season, but I can tell you for sure that Najar is a much better player. For example, Najar actually plays defense. Kidding aside, Najar is actually a great decision maker unlike Adu and it is impressive that just a year out of high school soccer Najar is doing what he is doing.
Tim Ream, Defender Red Bull New York
GP GS MINS G A
26 26 2,340 1 0
I’m going to say this just once and I don’t believe I’m exaggerating. Tim Ream is the best USMNT center back prospect since Eddie Pope. Ream isn’t amazing in the air like Omar Gonzalez; he isn’t super athletic like Ike Opara, but Ream has something that in my opinion no USMNT center back has ever had. To fully explain this, you just have to watch him play. He is the most calm and composed defender that I have ever seen. Ream’s distribution skills are off the charts and actually remind me a lot of his club mate Rafa Marquez. Ream has a great soccer brain and that is what this country is missing. Despite being older (22) and falling to the second round in the SuperDraft, Ream is still one of the most impressive rookies this year. He has definitely had his ups and downs, but while he adjusts to the pro level this is to be expected. It’s hard to believe that Ream lasted outside of the top five picks in the SuperDraft.
So, now that you know a little more about each player, it is time for the big decision. It should be noted that this is not who I think WILL win Rookie of the Year, but rather who I think SHOULD win Rookie of the Year.
3. Danny Mwanga
While Mwanga has obviously been impressive and has us hoping he can get his citizenship as early as possible, he simply hasn’t been as amazing as the other two rookies have. He obviously is a goal scoring player, but he hasn’t made enough of a contribution to his team which is mostly been carried by Sebastien Le Toux. This being said, I can still see Mwanga possibly having the best career of the three.
2. Andy Najar
It really is hard to believe that Najar is just 17. Three weeks ago, he would have ranked last but this goal:
and then of course there was this one as well. I haven’t seen anyone in MLS with that kind of patience and composure since, dare I say it, Jaime Moreno. The fact is that Najar is proving to be a once in a generation player in just his first year.
1. Tim Ream
If Najar is a once in a generation player, then Tim Ream is something that we have actually never seen before in MLS. Despite being a rookie, he has played every single minute of the season up to this point. This is impressive for multiple reasons. First of all, it means that he was ready from day one, and from a performance standpoint, he is obviously one of the best rookies in the league. Second, as a defender, it is amazing that he has yet to be suspended this season. It takes just five yellow cards to be suspended for a game and Ream is sitting at just two with four games yet to play. Additionally Ream has committed just 12 fouls all year or just .46 fouls a game. The Red Bulls have the 6th best goals against average in the league and Ream’s ability to not give away free kicks in dangerous areas seems to be a direct cause of this. Not to get ahead of myself or anything, but I believe that Ream’s career will be what Michael Parkhurst’s would have been had Parkhurst been a little taller and a little more athletic. His ability to read the game is unbelievable as is his distribution out of the back and that is why Tim Ream should be this year’s rookie of the year.