Monday Mid-Day Centerback: A look at the Rookie of the Year race, and the different ways to look at the award

AustinBerry (Getty)

What makes a Rookie of the Year? Is it, like the MLS MVP Award, an honor to be given to a player who puts together an outstanding first professional season, or an award to give to a young player who shows the most potential?

Those two things may sound like they are the same thing, but they are not. With the former, we are talking about the actual accomplishments and contributions delivered in a given season, while the latter can constitute both the level of ability shown at times, and the promise of much better soccer in the future.

It is that latter example that must be why some still think this year's MLS Rookie of the Year race is between Vancouver Whitecaps striker Darren Mattocks and Chicago Fire centerback Austin Berry, and why some may actually be ready to already hand over the award to Mattocks.

It is tough to argue that Mattocks hasn't shown flashes of brilliance that make you think there just might be greatness in his future. His blazing speed has produced moments of magic, as well as his seven goals, for the Whitecaps. A closer look at his season will show, however, that the bulk of his best work, and magical moments, came in one impressive one-month stretch.

For two other rookies, centerbacks Austin Berry and Matt Hedges, their seasons haven't been filled with highlight-reel moments, or flashy contributions that stick in the minds of some Rookie of the Year voters. No, what both have done instead is spend most of the season emerging as indispensable parts of their team's defenses.

Berry has made 24 consecutive starts in central defense and has developed into a consistent force in the back while also giving the Fire a threat on set pieces (he has scored three goals this year). Hedges has had a similar campaign, rattling off 19 consecutive starts in the FC Dallas central defense after the team lost veteran defender Ugo Ihemelu. Hedges has steadily improved to the point of being the anchor of the central defense when George John hasn't been available, and he is a key reason FC Dallas is back in the playoff race. Also, like Berry, Hedges has shown an ability to find the net. He has three goals this season, including a goal in Saturday's 3-3 draw vs. San Jose that ultimately helped Dallas earn a valuable point.

Yes, Mattocks has seven goals, but he has scored in five matches this MLS season as a forward while Berry and Hedges have scored in three matches each. Not exactly a big difference considering one is a forward and the others are central defenders.

Given these statistics you would think Mattocks would be trailing Berry and Hedges in the court of public opinion by a wide margin for the Rookie of the Year race, but the sense is he is still the front-runner in the eyes of some. If that is the case, it isn't a stretch to suggest that it is because of Mattocks' potential, and not his actual production.

How else to explain how a player who has started just 14 games and played just 1200 minutes is considered by some to be a Rookie of the Year lock already. Mattocks has the potential to be a superstar, but if the Rookie of the Year award is about actual production, should a forward who has started so few games, and had an impact on so few games, be seriously considered over two centerbacks who have not only been consistent starters, but have also scored goals themselves?

It all depends on how you see the Rookie of the Year Award. If the award is a way to honor and identify someone you think is going to be a superstar, and eventually the best player in the class, then it is very easy to understand why Mattocks would be the pick.

That isn't what the award is though, at least it didn't used to be. The Rookie of the Year Award should go to the rookie who does the best job of performing during their rookie season. It's about the body of work, not the potential. I'm sure some will disagree, but if potential drives the voting then MLS might want to consider a Future Star Award to go along with the award for the rookie who actually had the best season.

Mattocks could still wind up scoring a bunch of goals late in the season to help Vancouver make the playoffs and lock up the award (assuming he recovers from the hamstring injury suffered last weekend), but if things stay as they are going, with Berry and Hedges anchoring their defenses as steady and impressive centerbacks, Mattocks isn't even in the top two for Rookie of the Year.

For my money, the front-runners for the Rookie of the Year award are Berry and Hedges because of their actual contributions on the field in 2012. Berry gets the nod at this point because he has been a steady force in central defense for one of the better teams in the league. Hedges' chances of winning the award will likely come down to whether Dallas makes the playoffs or not, but if he keeps playing at the high level he has reached over the past month he will definitely be in the conversation.

As for Mattocks, he may be a better long-term prospect than either, and may wind up being the true star of this rookie class, but as things stand both Berry and Hedges have had better rookie seasons.

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So if we had two awards, one for Rookie of the Year (for production), and one for Future Star Award (potential and production), how would the voting look right now? Here is how I see the fields stacking up:

ROOKIE OF THE YEAR

1. Austin Berry

2. Matt Hedges

3. Darren Mattocks

4. Luis Silva

T5. Nick DeLeon

T5. Connor Lade

FUTURE STAR AWARD

1. Darren Mattocks

2. Luis Silva

3. Matt Hedges

4. Nick DeLeon

T5. Andrew Wenger

T5. Austin Berry

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I'm sure opinions will vary on both of these lists, and if anything, it shows just how much talent there is in the 2012 MLS Rookie class that rookies like Andy Rose, Tony Cascio and Kelyn Rowe aren't on either of these lists (and yes, they certainly could be).

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What do you think

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12 Responses to Monday Mid-Day Centerback: A look at the Rookie of the Year race, and the different ways to look at the award

  1. Kelly says:

    It has to be Berry…His team is securely in the playoff picture and his team has given up the second fewest goals in the Eastern Conference. Forwards tend to get most of the love and attention but the true rookie of the year has to be Berry.

  2. boosted335 says:

    Good to see Hedges recognized….It took the US soccer media 2 years before they recognized this guy as something special

    link to youtube.com

    Bottom line is coach Schellas Hyndman knows how to draft defenders..AND raid South America (is he CIA?)

    That said I’m sure its either Berry or Mattocks who ultimately gets the award

  3. Rory says:

    Sorry, I don’t think team performance or playoff records should enter into the discussion… this individual award should go to the guy who had the best season… period.

    At one point I thought it was DeLeon’s without a doubt, but I guess he’s cooled a bit since then and you know how everyone winds up voting for the guy that’s hot at the end so who knows.

  4. Darwin says:

    For me, it is Matt Hedges if Dallas make the playoffs. I’m biased as an FCD fan, but I have seen and heard him on the pitch and have watched his education unfold. Without him, Dallas wouldn’t have a chance at the playoff spot.

  5. matt says:

    That is the difference between Hedges and Berry if you ask me the Fire will be in the playoffs and possibly win the east still, and he has been a huge reason why. I’m kinda glad Gibbs got hurt early in the season.

  6. David s. says:

    Excellent article. I think the distinction is very useful. I will say, Luis Silva is an exciting young player, but he turns 24 in a few days. The second most promising ‘future star’ of the MLS draft of 2012 needs to start getting really good, really soon. Can it be done in Toronto?

  7. BrianK says:

    Sad to see Ryan Meara off all of these lists due to injury. He was having an excellent season.

  8. atd says:

    I’d definitely sign on to the ROY rankings. For the second list — if I were a coach and had free pick among this year’s rookies, I’d take Kelyn Rowe without thinking twice about it.

  9. 2tone says:

    Berry for me. Both Hedges and Berry have future potential USMNT CB’s written all over them. Hedges might turn out to be better than Berry.

  10. Andrew says:

    I think it’ll most likely go to Berry. There’s plenty of precedent of defenders winning ROY: in LA we had Franklin and Gonzalez winning it back-to-back, both playing at center back as rookies. And Michael Parkhurst won it without recording a goal or an assist, or even a single shot, so the award can’t be that stats-driven.

  11. Hogatroge says:

    I give Hedges the edge over Berry because he’s younger. A lot of people will say that shouldn’t matter, but I think it factors in.

    Similar levels of performance between two players, one of whom should be expected by his age to have a higher level of poise and maturity. The younger one gets the edge in my opinion.

  12. chris_thebassplayer says:

    As a life long CB, I have to go with Berry. One of the toughest positions to play well, especially for a first year player. He had a great game against Lenny in SJ, I was impressed with his game and discipline…never got distracted with the head games. Mattocks is flashy and has scored a few impressive goals but he hasn’t had a consistent impact for his team like Berry has with the Fire.