For three months during the summer of 2010, all that stood between Austin Berry and the Chicago Fire was the 10-yard asphalt path that separates the PDL team’s training ground and the Fire’s practice field.
During those sweltering days, then-Fire technical director Frank Klopas saw Berry’s raw athleticism, he saw his ability to beat forwards to the ball and he saw the leadership qualities that executives from other teams weren’t privy to during short scouting trips.
“If I see someone once, it’s very difficult,” Klopas, now the team’s head coach, told MLSsoccer.com. “If I see someone three months, every day, or if I see someone 16 years like my wife, I can pretty much tell you every little thing about them. … He had a lot of leadership qualities.”
Apparently, the Fire knew something other teams didn’t when they picked the center back ninth in the MLS SuperDraft in January.
The 24-year-old out of Louisville was named the MLS Rookie of the Year on Monday after a standout campaign in which he started the last 28 games of the season for Chicago and scored three goals.
Early in the season, it looked as if Berry would be buried on the depth chart behind Cory Gibbs, Arne Friedrich and Jalil Anibaba, but he seized a starting spot after Gibbs went down with a knee injury and Anibaba missed a game because of suspension.
“I came into the season with an open mind,” Berry told reporters on a conference call on Monday. “I knew some individual honors would fall if we had a successful season. I just tried to work on improving myself and helping the team as much as I could.”
One of Berry’s next individual goals is to crack the US national team setup. He knows he has plenty to improve upon before earning a call-up, however.
“Things that I’m picking up on are just being better with the ball, making better decisions with the ball; making quicker, more influential decisions with the ball,” Berry said. “Not just making the safe pass, which I did a lot this year, and communicating tactically. That’ll come with more games.
“All of that stuff is stuff I need to improve on to make that jump,” he added. “I need to focus on myself, helping the team out and improving every day, and hopefully I’ll get a call-up.”
Logan Pause was named the 2012 Xbox Individual Fair Play Award winner on Monday. The Fire captain wasn’t carded this season despite starting 31 games at the “destroyer” position in the midfield, tasked first and foremost with breaking up opposing attacks.
“I try to look at something like this as how I try to play the game the right way,” Pause said on a conference call. “One might also say that for a guy in that position, [being called for just 11 fouls and no cards is] unacceptable. You try to look at it as a positive, and you try to represent the team well.”