The strengthening ties between Major League Soccer and the United Soccer League during the 2015 season creates new opportunities and an unparalleled interest in the development of young players. Players selected in the entry draft and homegrowns have a new path to the first team. Even for the clubs involved, the mechanics and policies for moving players between leagues is still foggy. Nevertheless, rookies are finding roster spots on MLS clubs, providing an impact in various form. Soccer Yanks will be producing a monthly Rookie Ranking to track the progress and impact of those select few players that found a spot on the first team.
March’s Rookie Ranking:
- Fatai Alashe – San Jose Earthquakes: The fourth pick overall earned the trust of notoriously pragmatic Dom Kinnear and rewarded the coach with a set piece goal in the home opener. Alashe earned a call up to the US U-23 team. In a substitution appearance against Bosnia and Herzegovina, he once again scored a header this time from a corner. Alashe played the creative midfield role for Michigan State. At San Jose he is a box to box midfielder, starting in the wins against Seattle and Chicago. He has yet to display his ability to be part of the possession but regardless has been effective in his duty.
- Axel Sjoberg – Colorado Rapids: The big Swede (6′-7″) from Marquette has started in both of the Rapids matches. The former player out of Sweden’s Sollentuna United FF has a nastiness and confidence to his game. Sjoberg earned the top spot due to results, shutout against NYCFC and Philly, rather than his entertainment value… because no one is watching Colorado to be entertained.
- Khiry Shelton– NYCFC: Shelton has quickly become the cult hero of the debutant franchise. At NYCFC’s home opener he received the bleacher creature Roll Call and most recently a call up into the U-23 USMNT team after not playing internationally since 2011. The Oregon State forward has been a game changer on the wing reviving NYCFC’s stagnant play in the first two matches. He has yet to start despite being easily one of the most hyped rookies.
- Cameron Porter – Montreal Impact: This will be the Princeton’s forward first and last appearance on the list as it was announced he will miss the remainder of the season with season ending ACL surgery. Porter was the last man invited to the MLS combine despite receiving back-to-back Ivy League Offensive Player of the Year awards and scoring 26 goals in his junior and senior year. I had shotgun on the Porter bandwagon even putting him as a late second round pick in my first mock draft. Porter has the ability to develop into Chris Wondolowski (don’t roll your eyes), unfortunately that will be on hold for another season.
- Matt Polster – Chicago Fire: Polster is playing out of position as the holding midfielder, but he’s not awful… He earned the starting job over Homegrown player Chris Ritter after he was awful in the match against the LA Galaxy. It is difficult to judge Polster as there is so many problems with the Fire. At least Polster is getting minutes.
This Month’s Throw-In:
After a hiatus the Throw-In portion of the column has returned. If you are unfamiliar this space is reserved to musings and observations not long enough or fully developed for a full post.
- On the March 20th Homegrown podcast (which Soccer Yanks produces), we discussed the topics of MLS watered down player pool and expansion. After the following weekend of matches, the broad narrative outside of MLS Soccer produced media was the watered down play of the league. It was not a difficult observation or issue to spot, but with limited mainstream outlet covering US and Canadian domestic soccer some narratives can over take the entire conversation. Cross your fingers play improves as teams begin to build chemistry and clubs figure out what to do with young players… because no one is looking forward to another weekend with 9 goals in 8 matches.
- The consensus early season tire fires are Chicago, Philly and Colorado; but we really need to consider DC United in that group. DCU had the best record in the East last season, they are also one year removed from the worst season in league history. The 2014 strategy of picking up every above-average veteran part of a salary dump in the re-entry draft succeeded immediately. Can it last one more season or are they just an unfortunate victim of an injury bug than cleaned out their forward core?