Memorable Moments: Austin Berry Named 2012 MLS Rookie of the Year
With few days left in the year, we here at Chicago-Fire.com thought it appropriate to take a look back on 10 of the Most Memorable of what turned out to be a very successful year.
As it would be difficult to rank all the instances that pulled together a fantastic 15th year, we'll be listing them chronologically over the next two weeks. Some are club-wide and as the Team Writer, others are of a more personal nature but rest assured that all were special.
On Thursday, I remembered the club’s star-studded 15th Anniversary Celebration. Today, I finish Memorable Moments with the awarding of 2012 Rookie of the Year to Fire defender Austin Berry.
When Austin Berry was selected ninth overall by the Fire he was deemed as the most MLS-ready player in the SuperDraft.
Despite that distinction, the former Fire PDL product was left to be an observer through much of the first part of the season, watching as the likes of Cory Gibbs, Jalil Anibaba and Arne Friedrich manned the middle of the back line.
With Gibbs’ injury after just three games and a one-match suspension to Anibaba following a post-game altercation vs. Seattle on April 28, Berry was thrust into the starting lineup for the following week’s game at Chivas USA.
Just 21 minutes into the match, the green defender would get played by veteran striker Alejandro Moreno, who prototypically used minimal contact at the top of the area to draw a penalty kick.
Close-up shots on Berry’s face showed the rookie repeatedly ask referee Baldomero Toledo, “Are you kidding me?” to no avail.
Juan Pablo Angel would slot home the spot kick but the rookie wasn’t left wondering long on how he’d make amends.
WATCH: Berry Gets Debut Redemption
Just two minutes later, a throw-in from Fire defender Dan Gargan was headed to the top of the area where Sebastian Grazzini collected with one touch before chipping back into the box to find Berry.
The debutant defender stretched out to tape the ball beyond Dan Kennedy and inside the left post sending the rookie into euphoria and making suspended head coach Frank Klopas so excited that cameras showed him punch the wall in celebration.
The Fire of course went on to win that game 2-1 and other than the early foul, Berry played stellar in the victory.
With that performance, Berry locked down the role of left center back for the remainder of the season, starting and going the full 90 in the team’s remaining regular season games, mostly with the veteran tutelage of Arne Friedrich.
While he provided excellent skill in man marking and cutting out attacks, he also showed an ability to help out in the attack, bagging two more goals on the campaign, including the game-winning header in a 2-1 victory over Toronto FC on August 4.
As summer closed, Berry consistently appeared atop the Rookie Rankings for most MLS pundits but as the season’s end drew near, it was former Louisville University teammate Nick DeLeon of D.C. United who brought the biggest challenge to the stalwart defender.
With both players turning in excellent rookie performances, the two team’s P.R. Departments got in on the action.
First off, utilizing their partnership with Quaker Oats, the Fire popped Berry’s image on a Life Cereal box and sent around to media influencers and members who would vote on the Rookie of the Year award.
United countered with a highlight video that began with the more attack-minded DeLeon munching on said cereal before saying, “I eat defenders for breakfast.”
Not to be outdone, Berry countered with a highlight video of his own, wearing a DeLeon wig as he parodied the same line.
In the end, both players turned in strong performances but on November 18 it was announced that Austin Berry unanimously won the award, collecting a majority of media and club executive votes as well as winning the player vote.
With the victory, Berry became the third Fire player after Carlos Bocanegra and Damani Ralph to win the award and gave the club the most Rookie of the Year winners all-time in MLS.
Following the season, Berry, along with Anibaba took advantage of the club’s partnership with Atletico de Madrid, spending two weeks training with the La Liga giants with hopes of building of off his strong rookie campaign.
WATCH "Austin Berry: The Truth"