Thursday, October 14, 2010

Tim Ream for Rookie of the Year

As DC United's 2010 campaign winds down to its miserable finish, The Great Satan has turned its attention to the Rookie of the Year race, hoping to throw its fans a bone at the end of an epic failure of a season.  To that end, they have launched an Andy Najar for Rookie of the Year page that lays out the case for the Honduran winger, complete with slobbery blurbs from various media types and a highlight reel compilation of his massive five goals and one assist.  In fact, the consensus among most MLS observers seems to be that Najar has the award locked up, despite competition from Philadelphia Union striker Danny Mwanga and Red Bulls' centerback Tim Ream.

As an avowed DC hater I am of course hardly unbiased, but upon closer examination I don't see how Najar could possibly be considered a more worthy Rookie of the Year candidate than Ream.  I could even make a case that Najar should be third, behind both Ream and Mwanga.

Let's look at the facts:

  • Najar has started 20 games and made 4 sub appearances for DC United (1,803 total minutes).
  • Mwanga has started 15 games, with 7 subs (1,333 minutes).
  • Ream has started all 28 games for New York (a league-leading 2,520 total minutes).
Conclusion: Ream has been on the field for every minute of every game for New York.  Along with Colorado's Drew Moor, he is the only outfield player in MLS who has played the full 90 of every match.  Najar is tied for second in minutes played for DC and is second among rookies.  Mwanga suffers here by not having featured in a number of games for Philadelphia.

  • Najar's 5 goals, amazingly, make him DC's (co-)leading goal scorer.  He has provided just a single assist.
  • Mwanga has scored 7 goals, while racking up 4 assists.  The 7 goals places him first among MLS rookies, while he trails Los Angeles Galaxy's Michael Stephens in the assist race (8 vs. 4). 
  • Ream has scored a single goal for the Red Bulls and has no assists.
Conclusion: It's difficult to even make the case for Najar as the league's best rookie attacker when you look at the numbers Mwanga has put up in fewer appearances.  When it comes to providing goal scoring opportunities, both Mwanga and Stephens have to be favored over Najar.  Ream suffers here in comparison because of his position as a central defender.  He has not been asked and has not been expected to carry the scoring load for the Red Bulls.  His single goal came from a very well-worked set piece.

Influence on Team, Intangibles
  • Najar has helped a dismal team look slightly less dismal.  Though he has admittedly not been blessed with the greatest supporting cast (Danny Allsopp anyone?), DC is nearly as bad with Najar in the lineup as they are without him.  One thing Najar does have going for him is that he has great dribbling skills and is perhaps the most exciting player of the three to watch in action.  He's also an academy product, which may help his case.
  • Mwanga has been a great story for the Union this season, but it's Sebastian Le Toux who has been carrying the team on his shoulders.  Perhaps Piotr Nowak's sparing use of Mwanga works against him here, but he has simply not been as vital to Philly's success as the other ROY candidates have been to their respective clubs.  
  • Ream has helped the Red Bulls keep 10 clean sheets while surrendering just 27 goals to date - a remarkable turnaround for a club that let in a whopping 47 goals in 2009.  As a defender, the mistakes he has made have perhaps been more noticeable, but consider this: for all of their supposed attacking prowess and big-name designated players, RBNY is middle of the pack when it comes to offensive production.  Moreover, they have only managed to bang in 16 goals in 13 home matches. Juan Pablo Angel and Thierry Henry have not been the main reason the Red Bulls have been getting results.  Rather, it's been a case of stout defending and steady goalkeeping.  
Conclusion: Here's where Ream (for me at least) is head and shoulders above the other candidates.  Depending on results in their final two matches, New York is on course to set the record for the best single season turnaround in MLS history.  Yes, Hans Backe and the team's influx of big name talent certainly deserve some credit.  But the biggest factor has been the solid work of Ream and his defensive partner Carlos Mendes, backed by a revitalized Bouna Condoul.

The hardest part in all of this is that we are left comparing apples to oranges.  Ream's role is quite different from that of Mwanga, Najar or Stephens.  The fact of the matter is that being a central defender is less sexy than being a striker or tricky wing player.  Of course that didn't stop voters from handing the 2009 ROY award to Omar Gonzalez.  I'd argue that the emergence of Ream is at least as remarkable as that of Gonzalez, if not more, considering the fact that he was relatively unheralded coming out of college.

I suspect that a lot of the momentum behind the Najar candidacy is down to his potential.  Of the three to four players in the running for 2010 ROY, he certainly may have the most upside, but what are we awarding here - the players performance over the course of the season or our personal vision of what that player could be?

Ream may not be as sexy as the other candidates, but for me at least he is the clear choice.  Tim Ream for 2010 MLS Rookie of the Year.
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