Late Tuesday morning, D.C. United midfielder Nick DeLeon was tabbed to Major League Soccer’s prestigious 24 under 24 list. Being on the league’s catalogue of talented youngsters is certainly an honor for the University of Louisville product, but there could be more in store for DeLeon later this year.
After a summer where he admittedly hit a ‘rookie wall’, DeLeon has been a key contributor for D.C. through the month of August. He produced one of United’s most scintillating runs of 2012 in setting up Chris Pontius’ game-winning goal against Columbus on August 4, and tallied two goals and an assist in the five appearances since.
But can DeLeon – who earlier this season was considered an early frontrunner for Rookie of the Year – become the fourth consecutive D.C. player to be selected as a finalist for ROY honors?
“I think he has to be in the conversation for rookie of the year,” said D.C. assistant coach Chad Ashton on Monday. “He has a very high-level IQ in terms of understanding the game and what the game needs. He’s able to be a step ahead of most rookies in terms of knowing what is going to happen on the field and being able to make play predictable for himself and his teammates.”
In addition to his improved play, external factors may also be trending in DeLeon’s favor. New York goalkeeper Ryan Meara, who likely would’ve taken up one of the finalist spots, had season-ending hip surgery last month. Aside from Vancouver’s Darren Mattocks (seven goals, one assist), no other attacking rookie can match DeLeon’s offensive output (5 goals, 4 assists).
In Connor Lade, Austin Berry and Matt Hedges there are three solid defensive players who might end up as finalists, but – over the last few years – MLS has been loathe to burn more than one of the three finalist spots on a defender. Another good sign for DeLeon.
If the winger does bring home the honor, D.C. United would become the first MLS club ever to have three players named Rookie of the Year.
Here’s where recent D.C. entrants have finished in Rookie of the Year voting:
2011: Perry Kitchen (Finalist/Runner-Up)
2010: Andy Najar (Finalist/Winner)
2009: Chris Pontius (Finalist)