The Chicago Fire have enjoyed a long tradition of strong MLS Drafts, with many of the club’s draft picks going on to have stellar careers with the Men in Red and overseas. Players like Carlos Bocanegra, Logan Pause and Chris Rolfe, all selected in the MLS Draft, are Fire legends and will surely be inducted into the Ring of Fire in due time.
The 2012 SuperDraft was no different, with the Fire selecting defender Austin Berry with the ninth overall pick in the first round. Soon after the team lost Cory Gibbs to a long-term injury at the beginning of the season, Berry was handed the chance to start and grasped it with both hands, going on to have one of the most successful rookie campaigns in Fire history. Here are three reasons why Austin should be named MLS Rookie of the Year (#Berry4ROY) in 2012.
1. Commanding in the air: Berry has been important in both defense and attack
Berry is a commanding defender and is especially dominant in the air. In his 26 matches this season, Berry has gone up against some of the biggest and best strikers in the league, such as New York’s Kenny Cooper and Sporting KC’s Kei Kamara and came out on top.
Against the Fire this season, hardly any team has decided to play long ball, opting instead to try and play on the ground. This tactic is used because teams know that the Fire are so dominant in the air and Austin is a large part of that.
Berry has also used his aerial ability in an attacking sense, scoring two headed goals including a game winner against Toronto FC in August. Berry scored twice in the month of May, a header in the 2-1 defeat against Columbus and also in his MLS debut (albeit with his foot), getting on the end of a Sebastian Grazzini cross against Chivas USA.
After the TFC game winner, Berry told the media, “I pride myself on being good in the air and I want to be dangerous on every attacking set piece, and I have to take care of all of my opportunities. There are so few chances for me to score and I was able to do that [against TFC].”
As the Fire enter the 2012 MLS Cup Playoffs, Berry's contributions to both the defense and attack could be crucial.
2. Consistency despite defensive reshuffling: Berry paired more than one partner this season
After the injury to Cory Gibbs, Austin Berry had to bide his time before making his debut against Chivas USA. On that night, Berry was paired with Arne Friedrich at the heart of the Fire's defense. That partnership did not last long however, with Friedrich picking up an injury, meaning Berry and second year defender Jalil Anibaba played together at the back for a number of games. Friedrich has since returned and both he and Berry are now the clear first choice pairing for coach Frank Klopas.
Berry has not only had to adjust to a new league, but also new partners on the back line while continuing to play at a consistently high level which is extremely impressive. The Fire PDL alum rarely has an off night, and, if he does, he comes back with renewed commitment in the next game.
Even in games that he has made mistakes, he has helped the side get back into contention with some vital goals. In his debut, he fell for a rookie mistake when defending against veteran MLS striker Alejandro Moreno to concede a penalty but two minutes later went straight down to the other end to score the tying goal.
In the away game against Columbus in May, Berry was at fault for the Crew’s second goal before dragging the Fire back into it with a header to make it 2-1.
Berry is quick to praise Friedrich for helping him transition smoothly into MLS, but he also needs to give himself more credit for staying level-headed and consistent despite numerous reshuffles in the defense.
3. Contributing to a good team: Berry standing out in the league's third ranked team
Looking at Austin Berry's rivals for the Rookie of the Year crown, one thing that immediately stands out is the gap in the standings from Austin to the others.
Darren Mattocks of the Vancouver Whitecaps and Matt Hedges of FC Dallas are widely tipped to be Berry's closest rivals for the trophy. It Mattocks's case, the Fire sit eight places higher in the standings and 14 points better off that Vancouver. In the case of FC Dallas, the Fire are ten places higher and 18 points better off.
Berry has started 5 more games and played almost 500 more minutes than Hedges. Compared to Mattocks, Berry has started 12 more games and played over 1100 more minutes. In both instances, Berry has played more on a team that is not only very deep but is also still challenging for first place in the Eastern Conference.
Both FC Dallas and the Vancouver Whitecaps are in a battle to claim the last Playoff spot in the West and are both over 20 points back of West leaders San Jose. One could make the argument that it is easier to play with better players but it is also much harder to break into a good team, and to retain your place you must be consistently performing at a very high level, something that Austin has clearly done this season.
Hopefully the voters that received the #Berry4ROY cereal boxes agree, Austin should hands down be the 2012 MLS Rookie of the Year.