New England Revolution defender Michael Parkhurst was named Gatorade Rookie of the Year by Major League Soccer on Tuesday. The Wake Forest University product beat out tough competition from Chicago Fire forward Chris Rolfe and Kansas City Wizards striker Scott Sealy to become the first defender to take the honor since U.S. national team regular Carlos Bocanegra won it while with the Fire in 2000.
A fan of the Revs while growing up, the Rhode Island native was in the stands at New England's first-ever game at Foxboro Stadium during the inaugural MLS season in 1996. He was given the opportunity to play for his favorite club when the Revs selected him with the ninth overall pick in the 2005 MLS SuperDraft.
Parkhurst displayed maturity beyond his 21 years during an amazing rookie campaign in which he played every minute for the top team in the Eastern Conference as a central defender. He was one of only five players in the league to play in all 32 of his team's regular season games and the only member of the Revolution on that short list. Parkhurst was also the only second player in Major League Soccer's 10 seasons to play every minute during his rookie season, Kansas City Wizards defender Nick Garcia the first to accomplish the feat.
With Parkhurst patrolling the back line, the Revolution immediately burst to the top of the Eastern Conference with an 11-game unbeaten streak to start the season, earning seven wins and four draws in that time. They would retain their position at the top of the Eastern Conference throughout the season, finishing with a 17-7-8 record for 59 points. Only the San Jose Earthquakes could boast a better performance, having won the MLS Supporters' Shield with 64 points from an 18-4-10 record.
Always in control and rarely ill-positioned, Parkhurst uses composure, quick thinking and well-timed challenges to thwart attacks from opposing offenses. Though he is hardly an imposing physical presence at 5-foot-10 and 155 pounds, he was rarely beaten one-on-one. A combination of natural talent and top-class training at the U.S. Soccer U-17 residency program in Bradenton, Fla., have given Parkhurst the skills to be among the best in the league at his trade. He is a member of Major League Soccer's "Generation adidas," which is designed to nurture and develop the top young talent in the league. Parkhurst's consistency this season was a major factor in his selection for the award.
Sealy, who also played at Wake Forest, appeared to be the frontrunner for the honor after a great start to the season. The Trinidad & Tobago international scored nine goals and added two assists for the Wizards after being selected 11th overall in the SuperDraft. But his production slowed in the second half of the season and Kansas City failed win in their last eight games and missed out on the postseason.
Rolfe was the surprise offensive spark for the Fire this year and he finished the regular season as the club's top scorer with eight goals. Two of his strikes were game-winners to help the Fire to a third-place finish in the Eastern Conference with a 15-13-4 record. The University of Dayton product was selected in the third round (29th overall) of the SuperDraft after four strong seasons in the Atlantic-10 Conference. He made the jump to the Fire's full squad after being a member of the Chicago Fire Premier (formerly the Chicago Fire Reserves) in 2004.
The MLS Defender of the Year was determined by equal voting from the media (33.33 percent), MLS players (33.33 percent) and MLS coaches and general managers (33.33 percent). With each voting category representing one-third of the total votes, the formula used for determining the award winners involved assigning 33.33 total points to each category for a possible total of 99.99 points. Therefore if a player received 50 percent of the votes in any of the three voting categories, he would earn 16.67 points (half of 33.33) for that category.
Jonathan Nierman is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.