MLS Rookie of the Year race remains a close one

Danny Mwanga (ISIphotos.com)

Photo by ISIphotos.com

The MLS Rookie of the Year race is getting tougher and tougher to handicap.

Tim Ream and Andy Najar both enjoyed strong weeks to gain some ground on Philadelphia striker Danny Mwanga and Los Angeles midfielder Michael Stephens. Ream started and played another solid match in central defense in New York's win against Toronto FC, while Najar helped set up both goals in D.C. United's 2-0 win against Mwanga's Philadelphia Union. Mwanga didn't have much of an impact on the match. Neither did Stephens for Los Angeles in the Galaxy's 1-0 loss to San Jose.

With two-thirds of the season now over, the award is a tough one to call (and would have been even tougher if leading candidate Ike Opara hadn't suffered a broken foot). Do you go with Mwanga's seven goals and three assists, Ream's 21 starts as New York's defensive anchor, Najar's dynamic contributions for D.C. United or Stephens' seven assists for the MLS-leading LA Galaxy?

Who would you vote for right now? Cast your vote after the jump:

Who gets my vote? While Mwanga's seven goals are impressive, it's hard not to vote for Tim Ream, who has started every game and been the best defender on a good New York Red Bulls team. He's the pick right now, though Mwanga may benefit from the usual preference such awards have toward goal scorers.

Who gets your MLS Rookie of the Year vote right now? Which rookie would you add on your team if given the chance? Who isn't on our ballot that should be?

Share your thoughts below.

Tim Ream (ISIphotos

Photo by Howard C. Smith/ISIphotos.com

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62 Responses to MLS Rookie of the Year race remains a close one

  1. Joe G says:

    I don’t think this is anything more than a two horse race. Tim Ream and Danny Mwanga are a step ahead of the others on the list. At the end of the season, Mwanga will get it because he scores goals.

  2. gas huffer says:

    Sure, the forwards get the glory. But this year they’re gonna get REAMED!

    ¡Dalé Metro!

  3. Colin says:

    Michael Stephens should be getting more love. He’s actually won his starting spot over veteran players, unlike some of the other guys where there isn’t any other choice (or in the case of Andy Najar, where it doesn’t really matter who plays for DC United). Not necessarily saying that Stephens should win it over Ream and Mwanga (slightly better situation than Najar), but it’s not a two horse race.

  4. earthquakefan says:

    najar all day

  5. Eric_the_King says:

    I’d vote for Ream because I support my squad… and for a rookie centerback he’s been extremely consistent. But defenders rarely win these awards and based on production you’d have to say Mwanga is the leading candidate. But there’s still a lot of time left in this battle.

  6. DC Josh says:

    7 goals and 3 assists 2/3 of the way through the season is impressive for a veteran. For a rookie, its award winning.

  7. Optimist Primer says:

    I ask this as a neutral that finds it near impossible to pick one of these guys over the others:

    Are you more likely ROY if you’re one of the only bright spots on a struggling team (Nahar, Mwanga) OR one of the many bright spots on one of the league’s better teams (Stephens, Ream)?

  8. Dannyc58 says:

    Tony Tchani should also be on this list to vote for.

  9. Andrew says:

    Mwanga. No doubt to me. Ream is a hell of a second place player though. And that in no way is a knock to him. He’s going to be very good.

  10. David says:

    Tchani has been great of late but he had to work a lot harder it seems to earn Backe’s trust. Ream was handed the keys from day one. With the emergence of Tchani and the signing of Rafa the Red Bulls has leaned on Ream less for his distribution out of the back as they did at the beginning of the season. Up until recent weeks all the balls out of the back were coming from him and often he was moving up to midfield to distribute instead of a holding midfielder like Tchani coming back for it.

    (SBI-Wasn’t a case of earning trust as much as a case of Tchani needing more time to adapt and mature and learn the game. People forget how young he is and relatively new he is to the game. Ream was a four-year college starter who was able to make the transition much more easily. Tchani has arguably more upside and should thrive playing alongside Marquez.)

  11. Steve_NYRB says:

    Agreed. He’s been a solid and improving midfielder. He must be learning tons for Lindpere and Rafa and Henry.

  12. Steve_NYRB says:

    Since Marquez has joined up Ream has been more free to move down field and bring the ball up when he’s seen a opening. It catches the midfield off guard.

  13. GSScasual says:

    to the simple mind yes, give it to the goal scorer, but to the people who actually know what they are voting for, the obvious choice is Ream.

  14. primoone says:

    Tim Ream for Left Back. We have Boss and Gonzalez on the come up.

    (SBI-Ream wouldn’t do well as an MLS left back, let alone an international left back. He’s a centerback. And can we let Agbossoumonde play a game above the Miami USL level as a pro before annointing him a starter in 2014? Kid’s got talent, but pump the breaks.)

  15. hank f says:

    Ream has played every minute of every game as a rookie in a position in which the margin for error is razor thin and with 2 different center back partners. Of those 21 games, Marquez has played in 3. I give the nod to Ream with the understanding that Mwanga at 18 may go on to greater heights (hopefully in a US jersey).

    I also feel like Tchani deserves to be on that list. He has beaten out veteran Seth Stammler and the vastly overpaid veteran Carl Robinson and has grown with each game. He will be a monster, Shalrie Joseph 2.0. (hopefully, also, in a US jersey).

    I have seen stephens play three or four times and he is also impressive.

    (SBI-Tchani is blossoming, but the vote is for who the rookie of the year is RIGHT NOW. By the end of the year he could play his way onto the ballot, but he’s only recently begun to have strong games.)

  16. GSScasual says:

    Can we also look at success… I mean, yea mwanga scores, but its not in the clutch hence doesnt result in a W… Ream’s performances has saved games.

  17. j4ton says:

    Stephens had a hot first half of the season but the last 6 or so games the vast majority of his crosses seem to find no one in particular, but it might just be the galaxy as a whole that’s underperforming.

  18. Paul says:

    I apologize for what may seem like a silly question, but is the ROY award limited to first-year pros? Or is it more like a “Newcomer of the Year” award open to guys that come from other leagues? I am assuming it’s the former — otherwise Henry would be eligible! — but I wasn’t sure.

    (SBI-You’re right, that is a silly question. LOL. Just kidding. Rookie of the Year is only open to players who have never played professionally before. Henry’s award would be Newcomer of the Year, though he isn’t making a push for that award just yet.)

  19. Pico says:

    I have the feeling that Mwanga is going to take the honors, but I am very happy that the RB have come up with two solid rookies contributing in the first team.

    Playing next to Marquez will be an incredible learning experience for both rookies.

    Cheers

  20. pooperscooper says:

    ream is too slow for a fullback. and a bit too early to be throwing boss around. if anything, i’d speculate ream/opara unless opara turns out to be injury prone.

    was opara fragile in college?

  21. Jeff says:

    Mwanga or Najar will win as defense is not a sexy position, but come the January camp and USMNT friendlies Tim will have a chance to prove to everyone how deserving or not he is.

  22. JohnC says:

    umm what? Mwanga has seven goals in seven different games with the first two coming in extra time to tie the first game and win the second game. I believe at least all his goals have tied or given the Union a lead. The guy is all clutch though it helps the Union backline and goalie are dreadful and give up numerous early and stupid goals making nearly all goals scored by a Union player a tieing goal.

    This guy is class and I think forward is a harder position than a wing for a young player to jump into the league and why I believe he deserves it over Stephens and Najar. Ream is a tough one- CB is tough- and he has been given a lot of responsibility- but seven goals and 3 assists and the coach would’t play you in the first five games. Mwanga will finish with 11 goals and 5 assists and take home the honor.

  23. RobStyles says:

    Gotta go with Ream. Like the old saying goes, Defense wins championships. You cannot undervalue what he has brought to this team. Last season the defensive line was our (NYRB) biggest weakness and now it’s probably our biggest strength. Unfortunately as Ives said, goal scorers usually get overvalued and Ream will probably be just an oversight.

  24. dbag says:

    I dont think Omar Gonzalez would have been in the top 4 of this years ROY race if he was a rookie.

  25. jonk says:

    (I should preface this by saying I’m not a Philly fan, just someone who has been paying attention this season)
    Not sure you know what you’re talking about in terms on Mwanga’s “clutch-ness.” May 15 – stoppage time equalizer. May 29 – stoppage time winner. July 3 – scored in 1-1 draw. Aug 11 – scored in 1-1 draw. Aug 14 – scored in 1-1 draw.
    So it seems to me that when Mwanga scores, Philly gets points. But I guess he needs to start scoring 2 goals a game to appease you since Philly is incapable of shutting anyone out.

  26. jonk says:

    This myth of defense not being sexy doesn’t really apply to MLS lately. The last offensive player to win ROY was Clint Dempsey (unless you count Edu as offensive)

  27. Josh D says:

    Has to be Najar, he has single handily kept us (DC) in games the whole year and he’s a couple years younger than the rest.

  28. jonk says:

    That being said, this year’s offensive class is very strong compared to years past.

  29. soccerroo says:

    I went with Stephens because breaking into th Galaxy line up and making the contributionswas Not as easy. One player to keep an eye on is maybe FC Dallas Zach Lloyd. He has started several game recently and is doing a good job. May have come in to late in the season to earn ROY but is contributing in Dallas.

  30. DJ says:

    Well, over the body of work that each of the players have put in, I’d vote for Ream.

    Having said that though, I feel like the player that has the most potential on that list is Najar. That kid plays on a team that, until very recently, has looked AWFUL more often than not. He has been a very bright spot on a pretty dim team.

    You may be able to make that same argument for Mwanga, to a degree, but I would argue that they have a better overall team than United. They are in their first year, and Sebastian’s had a good year for them. Najar, until this past weekend, was the only player to score in league play for United since the World Cup. So, he is truly doing something with very little help from the rest of the squad.

    Still though, right this moment, Tim Ream looks like a centerback that will be playing in Europe in the near future. The others have a ways to develop before they’re ready for that.

  31. JoeW says:

    Wow–tough call. Right now, this very moment, I’d go with Mwanga–very impressive stats given the season isn’t even finished. That said, as good as Ream and Stephens have been (stepping in and not looking like rookies), I think Najar has had the most impressive play. I think it’s harder for a young player to consistently play at a productive professional level. Najar not only has started most of the season (and kudos to Stephens and Ream for the number of starts and minutes they’ve both earned) but there is a difference between starting and filling your role perfectly (or pretty close to it–as Stephens and Ream have done) or being literally the “go-to” guy who the team looks to for a difference (as DCU has had to do with Najar). Even as good as Mwanga has been (and he’s been exceptionally good), he hasn’t been Philly’s prime offensive threat–he’s had, what–10 starts?

    And bottom line–none of these 4 guys would be unworthy as ROY. And I hate to make the case for one player by denigrating any of the others. It’s just that it’s a question of what you value:
    –playing from day 1 (Ream) at a high level
    –making a tremendous impact at something very difficult to do (Mwanga–scoring goals)
    –earning a starting position against proven veteran talent on maybe the league’s strongest team (Stephens)
    –being a team’s primary offensive go-to guy and difference maker in practically every match this season (Najar)

  32. hank f says:

    Ream is not too slow to play left back any more than Bocanegra is. This “Ream is slow” narrative really is not borne out by the facts. He was quick enough to keep bace with Andy Najar, Freddie Ljunberg, and Buddle.

    (SBI-Tchani is blossoming, but the vote is for who the rookie of the year is RIGHT NOW. By the end of the year he could play his way onto the ballot, but he’s only recently begun to have strong games.)

    I understand that the vote is for RIGHT NOW and I am saying that he deserves consideration for his performance all year. Having seen all of Tchani’s games (including the US Open Cup games, the NY challenge games, which I understand do not count) each more than once, both live and on dvr, I can tell you that he has not only recently begun to have strong games unless you consider late May to be recently. Going back to the Columbus game in May in which he came on as a sub in the 60th minute or so and scored, his performances have ranged from solid to quite good.

  33. Vik says:

    Opara is the most dominant of any of the rookies, but his injuries mean he hasn’t played as many games. Still, if he gets wins his spot back and SJ make a good push to the playoffs, I could see him clinching it.

  34. Ben says:

    Brek Shea, oh wait he was previously in the league?

  35. A-Lott says:

    Voted for Najar. Without that kid, this year’s DC United squad is unquestionably the worst team in MLS history. Precocious seventeen year-old may almost single-handedly keep his club from setting a league-record mark for offensive ineptitude.

    Ream’s terrific and Mwanga’s a true goal-scorer, but Najar is the class of the group. I can only imagine what a forgone conclusion this race might be if the Honduran wunderkind had a better supporting cast.

  36. Stretch says:

    Surprise surprise… Ives goes with someone that plays for the Red Bulls.

    Ream is a good centerback, but that entire back line has stepped up to put the Red Bulls where they’re at in the standings right now (with Albright back healthy and Miller/Mendes having good years). Najar and Mwanga aren’t getting as much love because they play for bad teams, but both have been extremely impressive (especially both as teenagers) and I believe they should be the two frontrunners for RotY right now.

  37. Yanks says:

    Mwanga is from Congo, but does he have anything going that makes him eligible for the USMNT? If the answer is yes I vote for him, if the answer is no I vote for Ream.

  38. Hank from Jersey says:

    Mwanga has his green card and has indicated that he wants to play for the USMNT. I believe that he may still be a year away from getting citizenship.

  39. kfly says:

    That’s what I’m thinking. He’s been quite literally the ONLY good player for us this year. We can’t go much lower, but we probably would only have about 6 goals right now without him, and would certainly not be in the USOC semis.

  40. Alex G says:

    Who knows when Opara is going to be back??, he’s a great propect and I believe he has a chance for becoming a starter for the MNT.

  41. Charles says:

    NY’s record compared to last year has to be considered too.

  42. moosecat says:

    every time i watch a Galaxy game Stephens loses the ball 90% of the time he touches it. am i missing something with this guy?

  43. Scott A says:

    Tream!
    I believe the level of difficulty of what he has done is higher than what the others have done. To be honest, I haven’t watched a ton of the others but from what I’ve seen I’d put Najar above Mwanga

  44. Joe G says:

    I think Najar has talent, but standing out on a crappy team is not a big accomplishment.

  45. Cory says:

    Dilly Duka. Hands down. He plays mind games from the bench. He’s single-handedly contributed to countless goals for the Crew, many not recorded on the stat sheet. For his efforts, ROY. Can you imagine the impact if the Crew gave him some run?

  46. Steve_NYRB says:

    TIM REAM for ROY by the way.

    Anyone remember how Philly and DC did against the Red Bulls? ;)

  47. daggius says:

    mwanga gets it just look at that body

  48. Neuwerld says:

    It’s too bad Opara has missed so much of the season through school and injury. He’s been awesome when he’s played, not only on defense but he’s a monster on offense as well. Three goals in eleven games (SJ’s second best scorer) and he’s a constant threat on set pieces.

  49. guwinster says:

    Why does everyone keep saying the defenders will get overlooked? The past two Rookies of the Year were both defenders and it’s not like they didn’t have any competition for the award.

  50. wilyboy says:

    Anybody who didn’t choose Najar hasn’t seen him play very often. Understandable, but this kid is far more special right now than Mwanga or Ream. Mwanga will blossom as he gains experience, as will Ream. But I think Najar could cut it in any of the top leagues right now.

  51. wilyboy says:

    How about being the unquestioned MVP the minute you’re signed from the DC academy?

  52. papa bear says:

    Najar has talent but being on a crappy team will lose it for him. If DC was DC this year, he’d be a shoo in.

    That said, I give an edge to Ream because he has been the most polished. Mwanga has played well but has also had some spots where he’s looks a bit ‘mystified’ by the pro game. Ream has looked like someone who has played in MLS for 5 years.

  53. Paul says:

    Thanks, Ives. Just back from vacation, and not thinking very clearly yet.

  54. DJ says:

    If DC was DC this year, then Najar might be on pace to score 15+ goals. This kid could be very special. We’re talking top league, top club special. I hope that the academy systems of MLS teams keep producing more players like him every year.

  55. Peretz48 says:

    While ROY is a nice honor it’s not necessarily predictive of where a player will be in 2-3 years. I’m much more interested in which players show the potential to be a USMNT-caliber player (assuming that the ones who have other options select the U.S.). Right now, I’ll go with Mwanga, with Tchani neck and neck just behind him, then Ream, then Najar, and way back, Stephens, who I don’t see as a future USMNT player. All of the first four, however, have potential USMNT status.

  56. EDB says:

    Najar hands down. No other player is expected to do as much as Najar.. anything offensive comes from Najar while Ream, Mwanga, and Stephens have a lot more support. Also, in soccer it isn’t easier to stand out on a bad team like in the NBA. If anything its more remarkable how he can set up the other players in DC to score when they are so gawd awful

  57. Julio Beltran says:

    Who ever it is that wins rookie of the year, the USMNT has at least four quality central defender prospects for the next world cup in Omar Gonzalez, Ike Opara, Tim Ream, and Gale A. Throw in a veteran like Onyewu (if health and PT permits), and we should have plenty of options. Now, if only we could get Miguel Angel Ponce to come over to the good guys, we could start building some depth at the outside back positions.

  58. SilverRey says:

    7 assists…

  59. Nick says:

    I voted Mwanga because his team, other than Le Toux, is an awful, discombobulated mess, yet he has had success. I think, though, he may need to get to at least 10 goals for the season to earn the award.

  60. I JIK I RED BULLZ says:

    Gonzales and Ream need to go to the English Premier League to develop their defensive skills and be ready to play for the USMNT. These guys are young and if the can get in to good, quality EPL teams, they will just get better and better

  61. I JIK I RED BULLZ says:

    Gonzalez*

  62. carl says:

    I vote Tim Ream, look at where his team was a year ago…..is it Bouna in net or the defense in front of him? He has stepped in and made a huge impact as a rookie. Najar has done well but where is his team as compared to before?