Steve Birnbaum defends Will Bruin (Rookie Rankings)
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Rookie Rankings: Can DC United's Steve Birnbaum ride stellar play to late RotY push?

Throughout the 2014 MLS season, MLSsoccer.com will take stock of the performances of rookie players once a month, looking at which first-year professionals are making the biggest impact for their team and in the league, and who could be in contention for Rookie of the Year.

The September Rookie Rankings reflect all games in the month, through the end of Week 29.


We've got a late push from another Rookie of the Year candidate, but it's hard to say Steve Birnbaum's rise on this list is a surprise. My colleague the Armchair Analyst has gone as far as to advocate for a USMNT call-up this month – I'll diverge slightly and say it would be best saved for January, but you get the idea. He has a fine soccer IQ, and has shown little in his first season to make you think he'll be anything other than a good MLS defender.

Harrison Shipp is still the likely Rookie of the Year winner, given voters' predilections for the attacking stats, and his strong finish to the month allows him to stay above Tesho Akindele, who he matched with one assist in September.

Turning back to defenders, set piece strongman Nick Hagglund and another rookie defensive replacement in A.J. Cochran round out this month's list, and could be two more names we'll see even more regularly on MLS backlines in the coming years.

Only MLS regular-season games reflected on schedule and statistics.

Rank Trending Last Player Comment

1

2

Steve Birnbaum

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Has shown no signs of hitting the rookie wall since stepping in for an injured Jeff Parke at the beginning of June, and D.C.'s backline hasn't looked any worse for wear either. That's no easy feat for a first-year player in his position. Turning specifically to September, his excellent showing in a shutout win over Philadelphia at the end of the month unquestionably helped his case.

  • Last Month: 9/6 at VAN (0-0 draw, 90 min), 9/10 at NY (1-0 loss, 90 min), 9/20 at CHI (3-3 tie, 90 min), 9/27 vs. PHI (1-0 win, 90 min)
  • This Month: 10/3 vs. SKC (8 pm ET; NBCSN, TSN2), 10/12 at HOU, 10/18 vs. CHI, 10/25 at MTL
  • Season Statistics: 1530 minutes (17 GP, 17 GS)
  • MLS Fantasy Soccer Manager: 77 points, $5.4 million (8.9% owned)

2

1

Harry Shipp

Holds steady in the second spot after a strong finish to the month even as Akindele dropped below him. He isn't quite the unknown quantity he was a the beginning of the season, but remains one of the Fire's primary attacking catalysts, especially with Mike Magee done for the season.

  • Last Month: 9/7 at NE (2-1 loss, 15 min), 9/13 vs. TOR (1-1 draw, 21 min), 9/20 vs. DC (3-3 tie, 1 assist, 71 min), 9/28 at HOU (2-0 loss, 90 min)
  • This Month: 10/2 at PHI (8 pm ET; ESPN2), vs. 10/5 vs. MTL (5 pm ET; MLS Live), 10/10 at SKC, 10/18 at DC, 10/24 vs. HOU
  • Season Statistics: 6 G, 6 A (28 GP, 22 GS)
  • MLS Fantasy Soccer Manager124 points, $6.0 million (16.7% owned)
3

1

Tesho Akindele

It's hard to drop Tesho two spots in the ranking, and part of it is that the top three or four guys here are still so close together. Still, the Colorado School of Mines product dropped off from his hot August – not unsurprising, as it's often just part of the rookie growing pains, but still naturally a factor when making these comparisons.

  • Last Month: 9/6 at RSL (2-1 loss, 45 min), 9/13 vs. VAN (2-1 win, 1 assist, 82 min), 9/20 at LA (2-1 loss, 75 min), 9/24 vs. DAL (3-1 win, 36 min)
  • This Month: 10/4 at VAN (7 pm ET; UDN, TSN2, MLS Live), 10/12 vs. LA, 10/18 at COL, 10/25 vs. POR
  • Season Statistics: 7 G, 3 A (22 GP, 17 GS)
  • MLS Fantasy Soccer Manager: 94 points, $5.2 million (11.4% owned) 

4

3

Nick Hagglund

The attacking numbers are gaudy for a defender, in part thanks to Portland's set piece woes, but the play over 90 minutes is nowhere near as consistent as a guy like Birnbaum. It's not meant to be a big knock on Hagglund – instead it's a testament to just how consistent Birnbaum has been.

  • Last Month: 9/3 at PHI (1-0 loss, 90 min), 9/6 vs. PHI (2-0 loss, 78 min), 9/13 at CHI (1-1 draw, 1 assist, 90 min), 9/21 vs. CHV (3-0 win, 1 assist, 90 min), 9/27 vs. POR (3-2 win, 2 goals, 90 min)
  • This Month: 10/4 at LA (10:30 pm ET; TSN, RDS2, MLS Live), 10/8 vs. HOU, 10/11 at NY, 10/18 vs. MTL, 10/25 at NE
  • Season Statistics: 2 G, 3 A (22 GP, 22 GS)
  • MLS Fantasy Soccer Manager: 97 points, $5.4 million (12.0% owned)

5

N/A

A.J. Cochran

He's had his share of rookie lows, but Cochran has improved steadily while helping Houston in their fight to stay relevant in the Eastern Conference playoff race. Two clean sheets to end a winning month, in two vital results against fellow playoff contenders, cement his first appearance on the list after being one to watch earlier this year.

  • Last Month: 9/6 vs. MTL (3-2 win, 90 min), 9/13 vs. CLB (2-2 tie, 90 min), 9/20 at PHI (0-0 tie, 90 min), 9/28 vs. CHI (2-0 win, 90 min)
  • This Month: 10/4 at NY (6 pm ET; NBCSN), 10/8 at TOR, 10/12 vs. DC, 10/16 vs. NE, 10/24 at CHI
  • Season Statistics: 1045 minutes (15 GP, 10 GS)
  • MLS Fantasy Soccer Manager: 35 points, $4.4 million (5.2% owned)

Five more rookies to watch: Chris Duvall (New York Red Bulls), Pedro Ribeiro (Philadelphia Union), Tommy Thompson (San Jose Earthquakes), Daniel Lovitz (Toronto FC), Jared Watts (Colorado Rapids)

Series: 

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