Less than a year ago I sat at the SuperDraft in the media pit watching the madness unfold. The Chicago Fire had just picked Jack Harrison, only to trade him to New York City FC for the fourth pick in the draft. The Philadelphia Union had the next two picks, and the consensus was that they were going to take Josh Yaro from Georgetown and follow that with Brandon Vincent, a left back from Stanford who had already been called into the United States national team camp by Jurgen Klinsmann. The Union stuck to the script, drafting Yaro as predicted. Then in a surprising turn of events, they took Keegan Rosenberry with the third pick. No one could believe it.
Rosenberry was a good player with Georgetown, and the Union had tried signing him via the Homegrown Player mechanism; however, Sporting Kansas City reportedly blocked the signing, forcing Rosenberry to go into the SuperDraft. It seemed a bit crazy that the Union would spend a high draft pick on a player that they should have already had with a guy like Vincent available.
In hindsight, it would have been crazy not to draft Rosenberry.
Vincent has done well with Chicago, but being on the Fire doesn’t lend itself to being noticed for anything but being on a bad team. Harrison had a decent year, but was often buried behind David Villa, Khiry Shelton, and Tommy McNamara. The rest of the rookie class was ok with a couple of standouts - Philadelphia got another good rookie in Fabian Herbers, D.C. United’s Julian Buescher looks to be a good value, as does Toronto FC’s Tsubasa Endoh - but no one else really stands above the pack.
Unfortunately for Rosenberry the odds-on favorite to win the Rookie of the Year award wasn’t in the draft class, but was instead a homegrown signing - the Seattle Sounders’ Jordan Morris.
Morris famously spurned Bundesliga giants Werder Bremen to play with his hometown Sounders, picking up for Obafemi Martins after he pursued greener pastures in China. It’s a great story for MLS - a league trying to assert its standing in the global game is able to develop and hold on to top talent.
While that’s a great story, that should not weigh in on whether Morris should be named Rookie of the Year. Morris’s play on the field should be the sole determining factor - and to be fair, Morris had a good 2016. Morris’s stats are very good: 12 goals and four assists in 34 appearances. He played a total of 2856 minutes, starting 32 games, committing 29 fouls and earning an overall whoscored.com rating of 6.89. Morris also played in the Chipotle Homegrown Game, coming on as a sub in the 62nd minute in a 2-0 loss to the Mexico U20 team.
Let’s compare Rosenberry’s stats: two goals and two assists in 34 appearances. This isn’t out of line - a right back wouldn’t expect to score as often as a forward, and two goals for a right back is a very good line, as is putting up half as many assists as Morris. Rosenberry also set a rookie record by playing in all 3060 regular season minutes - a record that will never be broken unless more games are added to the schedule (unlikely). In those games, Rosenberry committed just 13 fouls - a crazy number for a defender. Rosenberry committed a foul once every 235.4 minutes, Morris (a forward) committed one every 317.3 minutes. Rosenberry’s whoscored.com rating of 6.86 is slightly lower, however both men were awarded two Man of the Match awards by whoscored. Rosenberry however started the MLS All-Star Game, playing 45 minutes in the 2-1 loss to Arsenal. Rosenberry was the only rookie to make the All-Star Game squad.
The stats are similar, while Rosenberry has etched his name into the rookie record book, and both made an appearance at showcase events, although starting the All-Star Game is more of an honor than being a sub in the Homegrown Game. There’s one thing though that pushed my vote toward Rosenberry: Morris plays on a team rife with offensive talent. When you’re on a team with Clint Dempsey, Nelson Valdez, Nicolas Lodeiro, etc. any competent offensive player will flourish.
Counter that with Rosenberry’s linemates: Fabinho, Richie Marquez, Josh Yaro, and Ken Tribbett. It’s easy to see that Rosenberry is at a disadvantage here, especially since his partner on the right vacillated between Yaro and Tribbett.
Package all of that up, and Jordan Morris had a good season surrounded by good players while Keegan Rosenberry had a great season surrounded by some good and some not-so-good players. That’s why Keegan Rosenberry should be the 2016 MLS Rookie of the Year.
Editor’s note: An earlier version stated that Morris held the MLS Rookie record for goals with 12. Cyle Larin holds the record with 17 in his 2015 rookie season. Thanks to Adam Cann of the Philly Soccer Page for pointing that out