It may seem as though acquiring players through the MLS SuperDraft is becoming a relic of the past given the league’s emphasis on bringing international talent in from the outside and developing homegrown talent from within. As MLS rosters get deeper year after year thanks to increases in allocation money, the need to select and nurture rookies who have not trained with a team’s youth academy at a young age appears to have shrunk. In addition, some of the U.S.’s most promising college players have avoided the draft to secure a contract in Europe or use a loophole that allows players to train with a club while in college to achieve Homegrown Player status (The Jordan Morris rule).
Looking back at the 2015 MLS SuperDraft, any assertion that rookies don’t have a place in today’s MLS is false. Top pick Cyle Larin is a budding superstar for Orlando City and has single-handedly gotten his team results, usually outshining his Designated Player teammates. His two goals in stoppage time against RSL in the opener demonstrated his energy and game-changing ability. Just look at what he did late in a game against Chicago last season to bring Orlando back in a game that they would eventually win.
Larin was by no means the only rookie to find success in 2015 and beyond. NYCFC’s Khiry Shelton opened his 2016 account in his team’s starting lineup, netting and assisting once in a victorious effort against Chicago. Other 2015 rookies who featured in the starting lineups of their respective teams were Chicago midfielder Matt Polster, Kansas City forward Connor Hallisey and Vancouver defender Tim Parker. San Jose midfielder Fatai Alashe will also demand minutes when he returns from injury.
After only one week of MLS action, some of the league’s 2016 rookie class have already shown they are a force to be reckoned with now and in the coming years. Based on their performance in week 1, the following is a ranking of players who are most likely to win rookie of the year honors at the end of the 2016 campaign.
5. Hadji Barry, Midfielder/Forward, Orlando City SC
Barry began his MLS career as a 77th minute substitute and played a part in the most entertaining finish of opening weekend. The UCF forward had a fantastic chance to put his name on the scoresheet within 5 minutes of entering the game, but he was unable to direct an over-the-shoulder pass into an open goal with the side of his foot in the 80th minute. He was credited with a secondary assist though, finding Brek Shea on the flank before Cyle Larin finished Shea’s low, driven cross. Barry could be relied upon heavily in Orlando’s rotation of young forwards.
4. Brandon Vincent, Defender, Chicago Fire
Giving up 4 goals in your debut as a defender is never ideal, even when you’re just learning how to piece together a completely overhauled backline with the rest of your teammates. Vincent will likely become one of Chicago’s most reliable field players in the coming years, but he, along with the rest of his teammates, will have to suffer through many growing pains as they begin to implement head coach Veljko Paunovic and general manager Nelson Rodriguez’s new system. Vincent put in a full shift against NYCFC but was soft in defending Khiry Shelton, who blew past him en route to a goal, and was caught trailing a his mark too far to the middle, leaving Tommy McNamara wide open behind him toward the top of the box to drill home his second goal of the day.
3. Keegan Rosenberry, Defender, Philadelphia Union
Rosenberry has been on the Union’s radar even since he participated in their youth academy before and during his collegiant career at Georgetown. Though Philadelphia couldn’t secure Rosenberry as a Homegrown player, they were able to select him with the third SuperDraft pick just after they used the second pick to take his teammate Joshua Yaro. Rosenberry earned a starting position at right back for opening weekend and played a full 90 minutes against Dallas. The amount of faith Philadelphia have in Rosenberry and their lack of depth at that position bodes well for his rookie of the year chances. Matching up against Fabian Castillo, who may be the most dangerous player on the league’s best team, is an unfair draw for the young right back’s first game, but he will be given every opportunity to improve throughout the season.
2. Jordan Morris, Forward, Seattle Sounders
Morris is the undeniable favorite to win the 2016 AT&T MLS Rookie of the Year. He has already faced some of the world’s best talent during his call-ups with the USMNT and in training with German club Werder Bremen in the buildup to his first “this one counts for points” professional soccer game. Morris showed flashes of his ability and football intelligence in his first start for Seattle. Within 10 minutes, he found himself in a position to give the Sounders an early lead with an open shot in the box, but his shot soared over Sporting KC goalkeeper Tim Melia and the goal. Morris is in the best position to rack up stats compared to other rookies in 2016, but for at least one week, he sits behind the next guy for best performing rookie of week 1.
1. Tsubasa Endoh, Midfielder, Toronto FC
Aside from having the best name of anyone on this list, and perhaps MLS, Endoh was one of the few bright spots in the otherwise dull first 70 minutes of the Red Bulls and Toronto FC matchup. As each team spent most of the game feeling the other out in preparation of a box-to-box finish, Endoh didn’t miss a beat, showing great energy, aggressiveness and skill while going toe-to-toe against the previous Supporters’ Shield winners and linking up well with his new teammates. Endoh’s main contribution came late in the game he made cut in front of NYRB defender Kemar Lawrence to position himself in the path of a Sebastian Giovinco cross. This move resulted in Endoh getting run over by Lawrence, drawing a penalty which put TFC up in the 82nd minute. If Endoh builds on his first MLS appearance, he could go down as one of the most surprising stars to emerge from the 2016 rookie class.
Others to keep an eye on:
Julian Buescher, Midfielder/Forward, DC United
Buescher played 15 minutes, replacing Luciano Acosta. D.C. gave up two goals in the final 7 minutes while chasing an equalizer.
Joshua Yaro, Defender, Philadelphia Union
Yaro, the 2nd pick in the MLS Superdraft, did not appear in the 18-man roster for the Union against FC Dallas, instead playing with Union affiliate Bethlehem Steel. He is one of the top talents in the 2016 rookie class and will be called upon sooner rather than later to shore up the Union backline.
Fabian Herbers, Forward, Philadelphia Union
Herbers entered the game in place of C.J. Sapong in the 83rd minute against FC Dallas. With top players Maurice Edu and Tranquillo Barnetta out with injury, Jim Curtin will need to rely on his on crop of youngsters to fill in the gaps until his veterans return.
Jack Harrison, Midfielder, NYCFC
Harrison, the top draft pick out of Wake Forest, is out for an unclear but lengthy amount of time due to a pelvic injury. Harrison may prove to be a vital asset to NYCFC once he does return, but given his potential, he will likely not be rushed into action and his true worth will be measured in the years to come. Until then, take a look at some of the things that made Harrison worthy of being selected first overall.