Countdown to First Kick: 19 Who is the next Sapong?

As First Kick, presented by Dick's Sporting Goods approaches, MLSsoccer.com is marking each passing day with a different statistic, observation or talking point, setting the stage for the beginning of the 2012 MLS campaign.

19 – First round picks in the 2012 SuperDraft

It’s always best to start at the beginning, especially when predicting the rookie who’ll have the biggest impact in any given year.

Six of the last eight players to earn MLS Rookie of the Year have been top-10 picks, and one of the two who wasn’t – D.C. United’s Andy Najar, who won in 2010 – surely would have been had he not signed a Home Grown player contract.

The only outlier in the group is Jonathan Bornstein, who took everyone but his parents and Bob Bradley by surprise when he won the award for Chivas USA in 2006 after being taken 37th overall.

So that really narrows it down some, and with Andrew Wenger of Montreal and Darren Mattocks of Vancouver, the first two picks in this year’s draft, looking good bets to play significant minutes for teams that will demand production, we can probably narrow it down even more. Wenger and Mattocks were by far the top-rated players in the draft, and neither has done anything to dissuade onlookers of that notion thus far in the preseason.

But probably isn’t definitely, and it’s best not to forget the lessons of 2011, when Sporting’s C.J. Sapong came out of nowhere to win the award. Yes, his talent is impossible to miss now, but somehow nine teams and a whole host of prognosticators let it slip by this time last year. Sapong, after all, wasn’t found on any preseason “Best Rookie” lists.

Which brings us to LA’s Tommy Meyer. Omar Gonzalez’s ACL tear has opened a spot in the center of the Galaxy defense, and Meyer, so far, has been the one Bruce Arena’s called upon to fill it. Replacing the 2011 Defender of the Year is no easy task for anyone, and Meyer, who was picked No. 19 with the last selection of the first round, wasn’t considered an elite prospect entering the draft.

But neither was Sapong. Or Bornstein.

And Meyer – like them – will have that most valuable commodity at his disposal: Playing time. While most of his peers will be fighting just to get on the field, it looks pretty certain that Meyer already has that battle won.

The 2012 season will kick off on March 10.  GET TICKETS!

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