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Rookie Rankings: Chicago Fire midfielder Harrison Shipp making early case for Rookie of the Year

Once a month throughout the 2014 MLS season, MLSsoccer.com will take stock of the performances of rookie players, looking at which first-year professionals are making the biggest impact for their team and in the league.

OK, so it's probably a little early to start predicting the Rookie of the Year race, especially with significantly fewer instant impact players coming through this rookie class, compared to the likes of Deshorn Brown, Dillon Powers and DeAndre Yedlin. But it's not too early to start pinpointing some of the key rookie contributors in 2014 one month into the season.

Chicago Fire homegrown Harry Shipp turned an impressive preseason into an equally impressive start to the regular season. He's only taken the Fire's set piece responsibilities on his shoulders to the tune of two assists and, along with fellow young gun Benji Joya, keeping seven-year veteran Patrick Nyarko out of the starting lineup.

Shipp's attacking contributions only just edge out arguably the best draft pick so far, Chivas USA midfielder Thomas McNamara, who has played his part in his team's picking up some tough results, including a season-opening win. Over in Colorado, the Rapids may have struck gold on a young goalkeeper for a second year running, with John Berner putting in work between the sticks for Pablo Mastroeni's side.

Rounding out the first edition of the top five are two top 10 draft picks: full back Eric Miller, Montreal's lone draft pick of 2014, who has acquitted himself well despite a rocky start, and Earthquakes rookie J.J. Koval, who has featured in each of San Jose's three games and looked strong in CONCACAF Champions League play.

And although the top five rookies after one month of MLS are fairly clear-cut, there's always plenty of room for more rookies to blossom, so be sure to check out the rookies to watch below, too.

Only MLS regular-season games reflected on schedule and statistics.

Rank Trending Last Player Comment

1

N/A

Harry Shipp

The much-talked about prospect out of Notre Dame is one of the leading lights of a new generation of young, small playmakers coming out of MLS academies, including the likes of fellow rookies Tommy Thompson and Raul Mendiola. After watching the Fire's season opener from the stands, Shipp has jumped out ahead of his rookie counterparts and become Chicago's top chance-creator thanks to his strong set piece delivery and ability to create from a variety of spots on the field.

  • Last Month: 3/9 at Chivas USA (3-2 loss, DNP - coach's decision), 3/16 at Portland (1-1 tie, 90 min), 3/23 vs. New York (1-1 tie, 66 min, 1 A), 3/29 at DC (2-2 tie, 90 min, 1 A)
  • This Month: Saturday vs. Philadelphia (5 pm ET; MLS LIVE), 4/12 at Montreal, 4/19 vs. New England
  • Season Statistics: 2 A (3 GP, 3 GS)
  • MLS Fantasy Soccer Manager: 19 points, $5.8 million (8.1 percent owned)

2

N/A

Thomas McNamara

A surprise starter on opening day, the versatile McNamara scored on his debut with a strong finish and has looked the part since. If you need to give him a natural position, it's probably attacking midfielder, but through three games he's featured there, at forward, and further back in central midfield, and has proved equally suitable in each role.

  • Last Month: 3/9 vs. Chicago (3-2 win, 79 min, 1 G), 3/16 vs. Vancouver (1-1 tie, 80 min), 3/22 at Dallas (3-1 loss, 90 min), 3/30 at New York (1-1 tie, 87 min)
  • This Month: Sunday vs. LA Galaxy (3 pm ET; UniMas), 4/12 at Portland, 4/19 vs. Seattle, 4/26 at San Jose
  • Season Statistics: 1 G (4 GP, 4 GS)
  • MLS Fantasy Soccer Manager: 17 points, $4.9 million (20.5 percent owned)
3

N/A

John Berner

What are the odds? A year after Clint Irwin burst on to the scene as a rookie goalkeeper for the Colorado Rapids, Berner has done the same in Irwin's injury-forced absence. The highlight of his month was a three-save shutout performance in the Rapids first win of 2014, against Portland. He will, however, be feeling the pressure from a now-healthy Irwin, who recently inked a new deal, after getting beat at the near post on Dom Dwyer's winner in the Rapids' 3-2 loss to Sporting.

  • Last Month: 3/15 at New York (1-1 tie, 90 min, 1 SV), 3/22 vs. POR (2-0 win, 90 min, 3 SV), 3/29 vs. Sporting KC (3-2 loss, 90 min, 1 SV)
  • This Month: Saturday at Vancouver (6:30 pm ET, MLS LIVE), 4/12 at Toronto, 4/19 vs. San Jose, 4/26 at Seattle
  • Season Statistics: 5 SV, 1.67 GAA (3 GP, 3 GS)
  • MLS Fantasy Soccer Manager: 12 points, $4.0 million (2.6 percent owned)

4

N/A

Eric Miller

It's been an ugly March for Montreal all around, save for perhaps their last result of the month in Philadelphia, but Miller, the top draft pick (No. 5 overall) on this list, has given Impact fans a little something to cheer about. He's gone the full 90 minutes in each of the Impact's four games and not only shown himself to be one of the team's most consistent defensive players so far, but one of its best crossers from open play, too.

  • Last Month: 3/8 at Dallas (3-2 loss, 90 min), 3/15 at Houston (1-0 loss, 90 min), 3/23 vs. Seattle (2-0 loss, 90 min), 3/29 at Philadelphia (1-1 tie, 90 min)
  • This Month: Saturday vs. New York (4 pm ET; TSN in Canada, MLS LIVE in the US), 4/12 vs. Chicago, 4/19 at Sporting KC, 4/26 vs. Sporting KC
  • Season Statistics: 360 min (4 GP, 4 GS)
  • MLS Fantasy Soccer Manager: 12 points, $4.8 million (16.3 percent owned)

5

N/A

J.J. Koval

He's yet to get an MLS start, but there's no reason to think Koval won't factor into a Quakes central midfield unit that's still figuring itself out. And though his regular-season stats won't show it, Koval has surely earned his way into coach Mark Watson's good book after putting in a tremendous showing in the Quakes' 1-1 draw in the harsh environs of Toluca in the teams' CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal.

  • Last Month: 3/15 vs. Real Salt Lake (3-3 tie, 27 minutes), 3/22 at Sporting KC (1-0 loss, 45 minutes), 3/29 vs. New England (2-1 loss, 6 minutes)
  • This Month: 4/13 vs. Columbus, 4/19 at Colorado, 4/26 vs. Chivas USA
  • Season Statistics: 78 min, 2 chances created (3 GP, 0 GS)
  • MLS Fantasy Soccer Manager: 2 points, $4.5 million (1.2 percent owned)

Other rookies to watch: Jared Watts (COL), Sean Okoli (SEA), Patrick Mullins (NE) Mark Sherrod (HOU), Christian Dean (VAN)