When homegrown goalkeeper Matthew Freese made his surprise debut off the bench on Saturday against the Montreal Impact to replace Andre Blake he became just the 27th rookie to make an appearance so far this season.
Rookie as defined by MLS at least, which means a first-year pro.
Like Anthony Fontana last year, 18-year-old midfielder Brenden Aaronson lost his rookie status after he signed a pro contract in September and played for Bethlehem Steel.
The league released its list of 2019 rookies earlier this week and it includes just 68 names. More than half of the players on the list have yet to see the field. With his 36-minute cameo, Freese moved to 20th on the list of minutes played.
Chicago Fire rookie Jeremiah Gutjahr leads the list with 430 minute logged and just nine other players have logged 100 or more minutes. Reading United alum Kamal Miller is third with 270 minutes for Orlando City and Ocean City Nor’easters alum Emil Cuello is 15th after making one appearance in the first game of the season.
The Philadelphia Union have had a finalist in the Rookie of the Year voting for each of the last three seasons with Keegan Rosenberry, Jack Elliott and Mark McKenzie all turning in solid seasons coming out of college. Freese isn’t likely to keep that streak going this season since he has Andre Blake and Brazilian Carlos Miguel Coronel ahead of him.
As it is, the award will likely come down to what rookie played the most minutes or scored the most goals, which is a shame because adjustments to the award criteria would add a lot more intrigue and debate while better reflecting how far the league has come in getting players like Aaronson into the first team at a much younger age.
Part of the reason the SuperDraft’s influence on the league has faded is that teams would rather sign younger players they know who were developed in their academy than take a chance and more often than not give up an international roster spot on an older unproven player.
There are a number of ways the league could tweak the draft — they could create an international roster spot or two specifically for drafted players, open the draft to all underclassmen, etc. — but ultimately the limitations of college soccer’s game and training schedule will only continue to make it less relevant in top flight football. If you want to see the future stars of MLS, you’ll find them at the Generation adidas Cup or in USL at 16 or 17, in many cases burning their rookie status in the league before they even finish high school.
For this reason, the league should find a new way to honor young players excelling in MLS.