This year's Rookie of the Year race will almost certainly be a coronation since, after a slightly slow start, Seattle Sounders striker Jordan Morris has started living up to his potential (and hype) with goals in four straight games. He's been absolutely worth the starting spot that he's earned, and each week he improves upon his weaknesses -- hold-up play and a non-existent left foot -- while figuring out how to play, more and more, to his strengths.
As long as he continues to do that, he will win Rookie of the Year. The award almost always goes to an attacking player even when there are more deserving defenders.
And with all due respect to Morris, the best rookie this season has been Philadelphia Union right back Keegan Rosenberry. He was the best player on the field in Wednesday's 2-2 draw against the LA Galaxy, getting his first pro goal and overlapping effectively all day. And then on Saturday he topped that, putting on a defensive clinic as the Union got themselves a precious point on the road in Montreal.
Back on the day of the SuperDraft I questioned the Union taking Rosenberry so high (#3 overall), and obviously I'm stupid and that was wrong. Even if Rosenberry never did a damn thing in the attacking third, he'd still be worth the pick because he is a monster defensively.
Here we go:
This is where Dos Santos is at his best, isolated against a recovering defender and with the time and space to pick a move, pick a pass, pick an angle. Rosenberry gives him nothing, however, forcing a weak, back-foot cross that's close enough for Andre Blake to come off his line and snag.
Rosenberry's balance and agility on that play are remarkable, and his footwork is textbook.
One minute later, here's Rosenberry suckering Keane into a move that it, quite honestly, looked like the kid had scouted. Keane's shoulder-drop and step-over have combined to skin hundreds of the defenders over the years, but Rosenberry baits him into it by staying a half-step high and seemingly giving Keane an angle toward goal.
And then, rather than bite on the move, he instead closes the distance then takes the ball off of Keane with his own left foot -- crossing over in front of the Galaxy legend, and then showing (once again) superior quickness and composure in playing out of trouble.
This is as good a 1-v-1 play as you'll see a fullback make all season.
For my money, Piatti is the best dribbler in MLS in these 1-v-1 situations (apologies to Sebastian Giovinco, Fabian Castillo, Darlington Nagbe, Dos Santos, and Burrito Martinez). And to his credit he does actually manage to get Rosenberry off balance, but the kid still makes the play, getting a foot to the ball and stopping the type of break-out goal that Piatti has been scoring for fun in 2016.
Similar situation against Drogba, and even better balance from Rosenberry. He knows the shoulder dip is coming, reads it, then makes the tackle in the box. And makes it look so damn easy against a guy with 343 professional goals.
Here's a little bit more of the hell he gave to Piatti on Saturday:
Stay square, stay balanced and don't dive in. (That little trick from Piatti works, by the way -- he skinned Joshua Yaro with it later in the game).
The kid is also better at reading passing lanes than any rookie has a right to be. This was my favorite play from that game against LA on Wenesday -- when he shows he understands what pass Steven Gerrard is going to hit three steps before Gerrard actually hits it:
He can play some emergency defense in the box as well:
There are still some nits to pick, of course. Over the last 20 minutes of the draw in Montreal the Union defense came a little bit disorganized as the Impact threw numbers forward, and one time in particular Rosenberry went up into midfield with Piatti while Montreal left back Maxim Tissot overlapped into that space. He also can get a little bit lost at times when re-pressing, which isn't at all unusual for fullbacks adjusting to the pro game, and he was a half-step slow in closing down Mike Magee on Wednesday.
Regardless, this kid is the most polished right back to come out of college since Steve Cherundolo back at the turn of the century. This isn't to say he's better than presumptive USMNT starter and EPL veteran DeAndre Yedlin -- who has improved immensely over the last 24 months and has the type of weaponized, straight-line speed that Rosenberry will never possess. Yedlin is fantastic, and should own the right back spot for a decade.
But Rosenberry's a more complete fullback than Yedlin was in his first three years as a pro. Yedlin had to learn the position, while Rosenberry clearly already knows it. So he makes faster defensive reads off the ball, shows better patience when defending in isolation, and is more reliable and accurate with his distribution. He is the most game-ready fullback I've ever seen come into MLS from the college ranks.
And so far, I think he's the rookie of the year.