Dempsey named Rookie of the Year

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New England midfielder Clint Dempsey was named Gatorade Rookie of the Year Friday at the MLS Cup Media Luncheon. Dempsey, a 21-year-old midfielder from Nacogdoches, Texas, by way of Furman University, was selected for the award in voting by MLS coaches, general managers, players and members of the Professional Soccer Reporters Association.

He edged out two others who had a excellent initial campaigns. Chad Marshall, who along with Robin Fraser anchored the Columbus Crew backline and fueled an 18-match unbeaten streak, finished second in the voting. Freddy Adu, the 15-year-old D.C. United prodigy who performed incredibly well despite an enormous amount of pressure, finished third in the voting.

"Coming into the season, you set goals for yourself; you set goals as high as possible," Dempsey said. "Definitely (winning Rookie of the Year) was one of them. It's definitely a pleasant surprise. I was pretty nervous coming in. I didn't know what to expect. But I'm happy, and hopefully I can add on to it and have a better year next year."

Dempsey is the first Revolution player to win the Rookie of the Year Award, but he is flanked by former winner Jay Heaps, who won the award in 1999 while a part of the now defunct Miami Fusion, and Steve Ralston, winner of the inaugural award in 1996 as a member of the Tampa Bay Mutiny.

The 6-foot-1 midfielder burst onto the MLS scene after starting and playing the full 90 minutes in only his second Revolution game. After New England suffered two losses to open the season, Dempsey scored his first professional goal in the 11th minute against the MetroStars in the Revolution's third game. Off a corner kick taken by Joe-Max Moore from the left side, Heaps headed the ball down for Dempsey who sent a first-time right-footed shot from the top of the six-yard box inside the right post. Although the goal didn't give the Revs the victory (the match ended as a 1-1 draw), it foretold of the impressive skill Dempsey had to offer.

Past Award Winners
2003 Damani Ralph (CHI)
2002 Kyle Martino (CLB)
2001 Rodrigo Faria (MET)
2000 Carlos Bocanegra (CHI)
1999 Jay Heaps (MIA)
1998 Ben Olsen (D.C.)
1997 Mike Duhaney (T.B.)
1996 Steve Ralston (T.B.)

The eighth overall selection in last year's SuperDraft became a front-runner for the Rookie of the Year award early in the season as he continued to play well from his defensive midfielder role in coach Steve Nicol's formation. Dempsey was lauded for his ability to play maturely and to maintain his poise in the Revolution midfield. Although the Revs weren't winning many games, Dempsey and the defense weren't allowing other teams many goals, either.

The talented rookie tallied his fourth goal of the season, again victimizing the MetroStars, in another victory for the Revolution. His tally, plus effective play up top, earned him his first MLSnet.com Man of the Match distinction. That heralded a move into a more attacking role for the versatile rookie, where he was an out-and-out striker for a number of matches.

Dempsey also managed a nice scoring streak during the middle of the season tallying in three consecutive matches from June 12 through June 26. He finished the season with seven goals which was good for a tie for third-most on the Revolution with Ralston.

"It's something that I learned from my grandpa," said Dempsey of his work ethic. "He would go out there and help me when I was in high school, because he used to run marathons, and he used to help train me and get me fit."

Tough times did not avoid Dempsey during his first season, however. On July 23, Dempsey suffered a broken jaw that would keep him out of the lineup for several weeks. When he returned, however, Dempsey quickly returned to form that had the entire league talking.

Dempsey helped lead the Revolution to the Eastern Conference Final before they fell to D.C. United. He finished with 15 points on seven goals and one assist.

Danny Polinsky is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.


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