With about a fifth of the season done, this week's Rookie Rundown checks in with the freshmen to see how they're getting along. Think of it as an early semester report card. Last week we looked at the East; today we tackle the West.
Chivas USA: The kids in the middle
Blair Gavin secured his starting spot as a defensive midfielder early in the season and tallied his first goal on Wednesday night. (Watch: Gavin’s goal.) Two weeks ago, his former Akron teammate Ben Zamanski debuted with him to complete Martin Vasquez's hugely effective double-barreled holding midfield.
So far, so good. Thanks in part to the Zips duo, the Goats have become a joy to watch—and gone unbeaten in three games. The rookies are doing everything they need to do in that position: holding up the ball, breaking down attacks, distributing simply and effectively through the midfield. Better still, their presence has allowed Sacha Kljestan and Jesus Padilla to roam and be creative.
Overall grade: A- … It's no small feat these kids are keeping Marcelo Saragosa from the lineup.
Colorado Rapids: Will Casey 2.0 please stand up
With the World Cup just weeks away and Conor Casey still among the chatter, you can't help but feel Andre Akpan's time will come at Colorado.
Though the Harvard grad has fallen behind Quincy Amarikwa in the depth chart, and so far has only earned minutes in a U.S. Open Cup game, he looked the part in that match as he's physically similar to Casey and plays the same target-man role. Should Casey earn a ticket to South Africa, Akpan would deputize nicely without mixing up the Rapids' chemistry too much.
Overall grade: C- … Akpan needs minutes now if the Rapids are to prepare for life without Casey.
FC Dallas: Options at every position
Jason Yeisley's marauding run into the box famously won Dallas a late PK against Seattle a few weeks back. (Watch: Yeisley’s PK.) Now, with FCD struggling to find the net this season, is it time to truly unleash the rookie forward? Sure, it's always going to be tough unseating Jeff Cunningham, but it took a major shakeup up front to unleash the goals in 2009—maybe that's what's needed in 2010.
One thing FCD don’t lack is versatility—it seems every week Schellas Hyndman is trying players in different positions. Having capable rookies on the bench in Zach Loyd and Eric Alexander certainly helps rearranged lineups.
Overall grade B+ ... You sense these rooks are on the verge of greatness, like the team itself.
Houston Dynamo: The oldest rookie in the book
We’ve all been too busy opining on Houston’s “shorthanded” midfield to notice they actually have a pretty deep bench. Dominic Oduro and Luis Landin may have played their best games in an orange jersey last weekend, but pacey midfielder Sammy Appiah—who, at 25 years old, is the eldest of this year’s rookie class—turned heads with a nicely taken goal on his professional debut. (Watch: Appiah’s goal.) More please.
Academy product Francisco Navas Cobo is already a fan favorite in Houston, but he’s been touted as one for the future. The 18-year-old made his league debut late in the game a couple of weeks ago.
Overall grade: B ... Have the Dynamo found their attacking midfielder in Appiah?
LA Galaxy: Sometimes, one is just enough
It’s tough to get column inches when you're sharing a locker room with the likes of Landon Donovan and the ridiculously red-hot Edson Buddle, but LA’s one and only rookie, Michael Stephens, is quietly running the Galaxy midfield in the absence of another very big star.
Stephens has been tagged as the most hardworking player on the team, and it shows. Last weekend his simple but confident passing directly led to two goals, and on Wednesday he did his part to contend with Colorado’s veteran midfield. He’s also played in every game for the unbeaten Galaxy in 2010, starting in the last four.
Overall grade: A- ... The Galaxy could very well be looking at a Rookie of the Year three-peat.
Real Salt Lake: Saving the best ‘till later
The acquisition of Luis Gil caught everyone’s attention as RSL traded big with Kansas City to earn the U.S. U20s star’s signature. However, the club said it’s placing no expectations on the 16-year-old in his rookie year as it wants to avoid “the pitfalls of some of the league’s teenaged signings of the past.” Fair enough.
RSL does, though, have high expectations of attacking midfielder Collen Warner, as the first-round pick has been tasked with deputizing for the injured Javier Morales. So far, not bad—had it not been for a world-class save from Toronto ‘keeper Stefan Frei last weekend, Warner would have tallied a goal the Argentine veteran would have been proud of.
Overall grade: B- ... Though we’ll have to wait on Gil, Warner’s time is now.
San Jose Earthquakes: My, what a pleasant surprise
This year’s surprising San Jose have been getting goals from a surprising source: their rookies. Center back Ike Opara used his height and strength to nod home goals in two straight games, including a game-winner at Chicago. (Watch: Opara’s matchwinner .) Second-round pick Justin Morrow bagged a go-ahead score in an Open Cup loss to RSL. Then, San Jose local and lifetime Earthquakes fan Steven Beitashour snagged a consolation at Chivas a couple weeks back. (Watch: Beitashour’s goal.)
The goals are a nice touch, but their contribution to a much-improved San Jose defense is also notable. Opara has missed just one game this season due to school commitments, and Beitashour, who has started in three games, is keeping veteran right back Chris Leitch on his toes.
Overall grade: A- ... These rookies have San Jose looking fresh and energized in 2010.
Seattle Sounders: Sometimes the solution is under your nose
Seattle signed just the one rookie this offseason—22-year-old David Estrada. Meanwhile, Sounders fans have been harping on about their team’s dearth of a true forward.
Well, guess what? Estrada, who made his first start in Dallas a couple of weeks back, could be that man. He’s a natural goalscorer—he tallied 11 goals in his freshman year at UCLA as a walk-on. Though at 5-foot-8 he’s never going to be that target man Seattle think they need, he has shown enough craft in taking players on and getting behind defenses to warrant a good look.
Overall grade: C-... If the goals don’t come soon, it’s time to start the freshman.
David Agrell is a new media editor for MLSsoccer.com. His "Rookie Rundown" appears every Thursday.