There were many pundits touting the 2009 draft class as perhaps the greatest that MLS has ever seen. Even though it's only seven weeks into the regular season, it's clear that this is a draft for the ages, with several rookies already logging serious minutes for their respective clubs. And while it's early, here's my pick for the top five MLS rookie performers up to this point:
1. Stefan Frei—Goalkeeper, Toronto FC
One of the great shocks on draft day was Frei dropping down to Toronto's third pick (thirteenth overall) of the first round. Many scouts listed Frei as the draft's top shot-stopper and had him going to D.C. or Chivas. He's proved his mettle in the past few weeks and seems to have a firm grip on the number one jersey in Toronto. Any rookie that beats out an established veteran like Frei has deserves his plaudits, and two shutouts in his past two games helps his cause tremendously.
2. Chris Pontius—Forward/Midfielder, D.C. United
To be honest, Pontius is almost neck-and-neck with Frei. The versatile forward/midfielder out of the University of California (Santa Barbara) has been a revelation for United. He has started and played every minute of the season so far in the Black-and-Red, one of just two players to do that. He's even contributed two goals and two assists, including a game winner against New York last Sunday. His versatility gives Tom Soehn a forward and wide player who works his tail off, announcing himself as an early candidate for Rookie of the Year.
3. Steve Zakuani—Midfielder, Seattle Sounders FC
The No. 1 overall draft pick always has pressure on him—whether it's the NBA, NHL or MLS. While Zakuani hasn't played as much as other rookies, his contribution of two goals and two assists in six appearances speak well for themselves. The flair and speed of the midfielder adds an element to the Sounders' attack that needs to be on display each game.
4. Matt Besler—Defender, Kansas City Wizards
Who is Matt Besler? He's a local product of Kansas City, from nearby Overland Park, and since jumping into the Wizards' starting lineup the team has an impressive record of 3-1-1. He's presence has helped to settle a backline that leaked five goals in its first two games. Three shutouts in the next five games, Besler will be need to help solidify a young defense aside from veteran Jimmy Conrad.
5. Rodney Wallace—Midfielder, D.C. United
This is no D.C. United love-in, but Wallace's resume thus far is similar to Pontius—jumping in to the starting lineup from day one, and refusing to relinquish it to veterans behind him. A wing player out of the University of Maryland, Wallace brings pace on the wing that United has lacked in the past. He scored his first goal against New York last weekend and has started and played in all but 17 minutes of league matches.
Just missing the cut: Sam Cronin, Midfielder, Toronto FC; Omar Gonzalez, Defender, Los Angeles Galaxy; Quincy Amerikwa, Forward, San Jose Earthquakes.
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