With MLS on a break for the CONCACAF Gold Cup, we decided there was no better time to dish out some superlatives from the first half of the season. Today we'll be handicapping the 2017 MLS Rookie of the Year race.
We polled members of the MLSsoccer.com editorial staff on the issue, and here are their takes on the best first-year pros in the league right now:
Charles Boehm, Contributor
Not only has Julian Gressel risen to the top of a stacked, international-heavy Atlanta United roster to become a productive regular starter, he's earned enough of Tata Martino's trust to be fielded in multiple roles around the field. And that's all in addition to navigating the usual rookie challenges.
Ben Couch, Senior Editor
Other names dominated the January conversation, but there’s not many who join Gressel in the midseason one. Raise your hand if you thought he’d not only be seeing regular PT, but also starting – and thriving – under Tata Martino. I’ll wait…
Matt Doyle, Senior Writer
The Philadelphia Union have gone 6-4-3 and concede .92 goals per game when Jack Elliott starts. In their other five games this season, they're 0-3-2 and concede 1.8 goals per game. Numbers don't tell the whole story – they never do – but in this case they match up well with the eye test. Elliott has a chance to be one of the all-time SuperDraft steals.
Nicholas Rosano, Senior Editor
He's got his own t-shirt, he's got the trust of one of the game's most talented coaches, and he's shown he can hang with the pros. I am all in on Gressel-mania.
Arielle Castillo, Senior Editor
Just watching Andrew Carleton in recent senior-team turns, like in the US Open Cup, makes me feel tired and old and lazy.
Simon Borg, Editor-in-Chief
It’s too easy to pick the rookie with the best numbers. But you know you’re not off with your pick for Rookie of the Year when the player in question doesn’t even look like a rookie. That’s the case with Julian Gressel, who has not only found a way to break into a star-studded lineup like Atlanta United's, but he’s also rarely looked out of place, showing the versatility to play in a few different midfield positions.
Andrew Wiebe, Senior Editor
At the MLS Combine in January, there was a man among boys. That would be the German-born Gressel, who was older, stronger and more tactically and technically advanced than his peers. It didn’t take long to figure out that performance was no mirage, as the 23-year-old jack of all trades immediately forced his way into Tata Martino’s lineup in Atlanta. The Rookie of the Year trophy is his, just as long as he stays in the lineup (19 appearances, 15 starts, 1,196 minutes played) and keeps producing (3 goals, 6 assists).
Benjamin Baer, New Media Editor
It’s a pretty weak rookie class, but Gressel takes the cake for me over Jack Elliott. His special moments have been better than anything the Union defender has done this season. That said, with Josef Martinez back and Gressel’s playing time likely to decrease, I could easily see someone else (Elliott, Ian Harkes) stake their claim over the second half of the season.