As was widely expected, Fire defender Austin Berry was named as a finalist for 2012 MLS Rookie of the Year Thursday along with former Louisville teammate and D.C. United midfielder Nick DeLeon and Vancouver Whitecaps forward Darren Mattocks.
Austin becomes the first Fire player since Chris Rolfe in 2005 to be a finalist for the award and sixth for the club all-time. Here’s a breakdown of the rookie seasons the others had…
Josh Wolff (1998) – As a member of Nike Project 40 (the precursor to Generation adidas), Wolff (right)played only part-time with the Fire appearing starting just four of his 14 appearances. It didn’t keep him from tying for the then rookie goal scoring record with Jeff Cunningham, tallying eight goals and three assists en route to helping the team to the 1998 MLS Cup double.
In a strange twist of fate, Wolff was a finalist with future Chicago Fire player Andy Williams (Columbus) and his future boss Ben Olsen (D.C. United). Olsen would go on to win the award and ironically enough Wolff serves as a player/assistant coach under him at the moment…
Carlos Bocanegra (2000) – Left on the bench as the team went 1-3-0 through their first four matches, Bocanegra was used in 27 of the team’s remaining 28 matches, helping the team to the Central Division title and a tie for the most points in MLS that season. Boca would also help the Fire to the MLS Cup final where they dropped a 1-0 result to Kansas City but would have to miss playing in that year’s U.S. Open Cup final win after being sent off in the semi-final against LA.
In the only all-defensive Rookie of the Year finalist class in MLS’ 17 year history, Bocanegra went up against former UCLA teammate Danny Califf (LA Galaxy) and Kansas City’s Nick Garcia. Though he tallied just a goal and two assists on the campaign, Bocanegra’s play outshined the others as he became the first Fire player to win the Rookie of the Year award.
Kelly Gray (2002) – The fifth overall pick for the Fire in the 2002 MLS SuperDraft, Kelly Gray played mostly as a winger during his first season in Chicago. The University of Portland product would go on to tally two goals and five assists across 27 of the team’s 28 matches to cap a strong rookie season.
Gray would go up against other finalists in midfielders Kyle Martino (Columbus) and Brad Davis (MetroStars) and though he and Martino shared the exact same number of goals and assists, the Crew midfielder likely won because he achieved his numbers in less matches played (22 to 27)…
Damani Ralph (2003) – Though he wasn’t even the first forward the Fire would select in 2003, future Jamaican international Damani Ralph set the highest bar for MLS rookies by tallying 11 goals and six assists en route to helping the Fire to the club’s first and only Supporter’s Shield as well as a trip back to MLS Cup and scoring the game-winner to clinch that year’s U.S. Open Cup.
Teaming with Ante Razov after the departure of Josh Wolff in the offseason, the pair didn’t skip a beat, combining for 25 of the team’s 53 goals and contributing 12 assists.
Ralph went up against New England attacker Pat Noonan and MetroStars holding midfielder Ricardo Clark for the award. Though Noonan had near identical stats to Ralph (10 goals, 7 assists), the Fire forward made bigger contributions in helping his side to the regular season title and deservedly earned the award.
Chris Rolfe (2005) – One of the lowest drafted Rookie of the Year finalists in league history, Rolfe picked up the load left in the wake of Damani Ralph and Ante Razov’s exit and surprised many by leading the team in goals with eight, adding five assists in the process.
The club’s future second all-time leading goal scorer’s competition would be Kansas City forward Scott Sealy (nine goals, two assists) and New England defender Michael Parkhurst. Though he didn’t have the stats, Parkhurst appeared in all of the Revolution’s 32 regular season matches and was long the consensus favorite to win the award.
Austin Berry (2012) – Since making his first Fire appearance back on May 4, defender Austin Berry would go on to play in 28 consecutive regular season matches, tallying three goals in the process. It was in that 2-1 win over Chivas where Berry showed his resolve, conceding a penalty early on only to score minutes later. With that goal, he became just the eighth player in club history to tally in his first Fire appearance.
On the defensive end, Austin formed a solid partnership in the middle of defense with Arne Friedrich, helping the Fire tie for the second best defensive record in the league.
Berry is the only defender among the finalists, joining D.C. United’s Nick DeLeon and Vancouver’s Darren Mattocks. DeLeon tallied six goals and four assists in a season where his form certainly dipped midway while some of Mattocks’ seven were highlight reel strikes but the Jamaican international disappeared in the second half of the season.
Based on play throughout the 2012 regular season, Berry should be the winner but the voters are fickle… We’ll find out on Monday.