SBI 2011 MLS All-Rookie Team

CJSapong (Getty)

The 2011 MLS Draft was considered a good one with more long-term upside than immediate contributors when it took place last January, but as the season went on, we realized that the number of rookies who would wind up playing key roles on teams would be higher than most would have expected.

Whether it was C.J. Sapong playing a major part in Sporting Kansas City's climb from worst to first in the East, to A.J. Soares establishing himself as the best defender on New England in year one, there were several rookies who flourished in their first seasons as pros.

In fact, there were so many solid rookie seasons that we wound up with a handful of worthy candidates for the SBI MLS All-Rookie Team who fell short of selection. Columbus' Rich Balchan, New England's Stephen McCarthy and Vancouver's Michael Boxhall all earned 18 starts for their clubs this seasons and all have bright futures as they move forward into 2012, but none of them made our MLS All-Rookie Team.

When thinking of the 2011 MLS Rookie class, you should also remember that there were several top young prospects in it who didn't contribute much in 2011. Players such as Omar Salgado (Vancouver), Diego Fagundez (New England) and Zach Pfeffer (Philadelphia) to name a few.

Please keep in mind that our selections are players who qualify as rookies under the MLS definition of a rookie, which is any player who hadn't been under a professional contract prior to the 2011 MLS season. That means Toronto FC standout newcomer Joao Plata does NOT qualify despite having been selected in the 2011 MLS Draft.

So who were the top rookies in MLS this season? Here are my picks for the 2011 SBI MLS All-Rookie Team:


GK- ZAC MACMATH, Philadelphia Union

7 starts, 3-0-4 record, 3 shutouts

D- A.J. SOARES, New England Revolution

28 starts, 1 goals, MLS-rookie best 2860 minutes played

D- JALIL ANIBABA, Chicago Fire

27 starts, 2 goals, 2508 minutes played


MLS Rookie Best 31 starts, 2781 minutes played, 1 goal


24 starts, 2114 minutes played


21 starts, 24 games, 1928 minutes played, 1 goal

M- DARLINGTON NAGbE, Portland Timbers

21 starts, 28 games played, 2 goals, 3 assists, 1651 minutes played

M- MICHAEL FARFAN, Philadelphia Union

13 starts, 21 games played, 2 goals, 3 assists, 1460 minutes played

M- JEB BROVSKY, Vancouver Whitecaps

16 starts, 24 games played, 1509 minutes, 1 assist

F- C.J. SAPONG, Sporting Kansas City

22 starts, 2096 minutes played, MLS Rookie Bests 34 games played, 5 goals, 5 assists

F- WILL BRUIN, Houston Dynamo

21 starts, 24 games played, 1679 minutes, MLS Rookie Best 5 goals, 1 assist


What do you think of these picks? Which rookies impressed you the most this year? Which rookies not on our list do you feel should have made the SBI All-Rookie Best XI?

Share your thoughts below.

This entry was posted in Major League Soccer, SBI MLS Awards, SBI MLS Best XI. Bookmark the permalink.

78 Responses to SBI 2011 MLS All-Rookie Team

  1. MrTuktoyaktuk says:

    I know he is not eligible due to his 7 appearances for LDU Quito in 2010 but 19 year old TFC forward Joao Plata certainly can be ranked among the top newcomers. 3 goals, 5 assists, 26 games, 21 starts, 1753 minutes.

  2. Bo says:

    Good to see a good group of rookies in the league this year.

  3. Charles says:

    I hate comparisons with other leagues, because I really don’t care about other leagues.

    But I am going to do it anyway. MLS has to be adding talent faster than any league out there, don’t they ?

    Maybe you can argue it was weaker and easier to get into in the first place. Fine, but at some point that isn’t true and you just have a lot of competition for places on very good teams.

  4. Brian D says:

    I see you resisted the urge to combine the Farfan twins into one awesome D/F player.

  5. PD says:

    very happy to see anumbert of Union players on this list and I hope it bodes well for the future.

    Here’s my burning question: do McMath, Valentin, Kitchen, Farfan and Bruin have NATS potential?

  6. Louis Z says:

    I noticed only C.J. Sapong is from a top tier MLS team.

    not sure how much weight I would put in this rookie class.

  7. Modibo says:

    What’s your definition of “top tier?

    Kansas City had the fifth highest points total in the league, lagged behind LA and Seattle by over 10 points, and had only 3 more points than Philly in the regular season.

    (SBI-When you consider where KC started, and the incredible record they put together after the first 10 matches of the season, I don’t think anybody could reasonably argue that KC wasn’t one of the strongest teams in the league when the regular season finished.)

  8. Matt says:

    Well, yeah, rookies are called upon (and allowed to excel) more often, the less talented a team is. That doesn’t mean the rookie class isn’t good. In fact, we should welcome the day when MLS teams are so stacked that top-shelf rookies rarely earn starts straight out of college. When that day comes it will not be a reflection of the quality of incoming talent but of talent already present.

  9. Annelid Gustator says:

    Possibly some of this is dilution from expansion. Shoudl we expect a slightly smaller rookie class impact next year? I think it is reasonable. I will have to check what numbers I can.

  10. Seriously says:

    The other Farfan has already played professionally in Mexico

  11. Northzax says:

    And then they’ll be loaned out to USL or NASL (or whatever this week’s iteration is) for PT. Everyone wins.

  12. abc says:

    The last few years have certainly had strong rookie classes, but part of it could be due to expansion, more minutes available for rookies to fill.

  13. abc says:

    I think more important than how well their MLS team did is how well the rookie did. All of these guys were at least decent, and many were quite good (MacMath, Soares, Anibaba, Valentin, Farfan). A few of those quite good rookies even have really high upsides (Nagbe, Kitchen, Sapong).

  14. JoeW says:

    This is a good rookie class.

    1. People lament about how expansion dilutes the talent pool. Yet every year (at least for the past 5-6), MLS has upped the quality of talent and level of play each year. Despite expansion.

    2. People say that ultimately the talent will come from HS and academy players. And I”ll think we’ll see a lot more of that. But the reality is that colleges are producing even better players.

    Look at when MLS started out. It was shocking to have someone like Eddie Pope come out as a rookie and start and be successful. Now we see 10-20 rookies a year who start most or all of the season for their teams. It used to be inconceivable to have a ROTY candidate who was a skill player–we were almost always talking about a defender or maybe an outside midfielder. Young players (especially out of college) weren’t supposed to be good enough to come into MLS and start as rookies at skill positions. But now that’s changing too.

    This was a deep rookie class. Here’s to a lot more of them–even deeper and better–in the future.

  15. Salgado says:

    Should Omar Salgado leave to go to a new team for his continued development? The coach who drafted him is gone, and it sounds as if he is not happy in Vancouver.

  16. Artie says:

    There’s also the fact that bad teams this year were more likely to be bad teams last year, and therefore have higher draft selections.

  17. Sgc says:

    Wonder-twin powers, activate!

  18. Lost in Space says:

    McMath, Valentin, & Kitchen do have NATS potential. Farfan may have potential (both brothers) if they can keep it up. Bruin?…there is a LOT of younger, more tallented, and further developed forwards playing in better leagues. I just don’t see him making the NATS outside of camp cup-cake.

  19. Louis Z says:

    top 4 in the league.

  20. Louis Z says:

    you are correct. I was hopping more rookies in better teams making an impact right away.

  21. Fake Caleb Porter says:

    Frankly, Salgado, you should have gone to a top college rather than play for a bad expansion team and only get 10 reserve games. MLS/US soccer needs to be more careful about the young gen. addidas signings, especially during expansion years. A crappy 10 game reserve season is not better than college for a players’ development.

  22. Valentin, Kitchen and MacMath are all longtime US youth internationals. Between them they have more than 100 youth appearances for the United States. The Farfans have a handful of youth appearances and Bruin has never appeared for the United States.

  23. Judging Amy says:

    Very true. I’m starting to wonder if maybe the college game could be viable forever as a major supplement to academies. Just because other countries don’t use the college system to draft major talent doesn’t mean it can’t work here. Look how well it works for b-ball/football.

    Clearly there are major differences b/t bball/football and college soccer, but still, could it be that all those proponents of Academy must systems and abolishing college as a serious pool for major league talent are offbase? Is it possible that college could become the type of resource that produces world class soccer talent (the way it produces the best athletes in the world at bball/football)?

    Interesting stuff.

  24. Rory says:

    We can give them a cute nickname based on an almagom of their last names… we shall call them “Far-Fan”

    Oh wait…

  25. rory says:

    Camp cup-cake? Damn, now I’m hungry.

  26. Camjam says:

    I honestly don’t think that is the problem I don’t think Vancouver had any problems playing young forwards, and they did it more often as the year progressed….. Salgado just wasn’t one of them.

    He should focus on WORKING for playing time, instead of whining to the press, which he seemed to do a lot.

  27. Louis Z says:

    Makes sense.

    I guess I was questioning for instance DC United, they have two players in the all rookie list yet, this season they got scored alot.

  28. Martek says:

    While as a Dynamo supporter, I would love to have Will Bruin win ROTY, and I believe he has a case, the video that CJ Sapong made for Hope Solo AUTOMATICALLY qualifies him. Sorry Will.

  29. PanchoMiguelMoralesdeConejo says:

    I see that the Class of 2011 plays in the dreaded 5-3-2…but I do like the two forwards: Bruin and Sapong are both good enough to get a couple of looks from Herr Klinsman.

  30. Cylo says:

    no shot for Bruin. Don’t forget he had a hat trick on a weak sided defense DC United had at the time. So for basically the rest of the season…Bruin only has 2 goals. No shot at ROY.

  31. abc says:

    The solution isn’t to go to college, the solution is MLS expanding the reserve league schedule so it’s not just 10 games. Every time MLS teams meet for a game, their reserve teams should be playing also.

  32. abc says:

    Yup. This is like when people got excited over Justin Braun when he had a hat trick. Number of games scored in is a much better way to tell quality (see Brek Shea).

  33. Landredas says:

    I don’t think Salgado would be better off with a different club. A few things really stood out this season for him.

    a)Whitecaps were picking for potential rather then current ability. Someone forgot to tell him that.

    b)While he does have skill, he still has a lot to learn, both about soccer and how to conduct himself as a pro. Complaining to the media about a lack of playing time, getting into pushing matches with other players at practice; he comes across as a petulant kid at times.

    c)Part of that potential will have to wait for his body to catch up with his height. He’s being bounced off the ball at times. Hardly surprising when he’s 18 yo, 6’4 170lbs.

    D)Other then where he was drafted, he didn’t do anything to earn his way onto the field this season. Long Tan worked his butt off all season in practice and reserve games, was never in the media complaining about playing time, and was rewarded at the end of the season with playing time. Jarju saw very little playing time despite the fact that he is a DP. Like it or not it would look like the Caps are fair in terms of passing out playing time to those that earned it.

    Certainly at the end of the season there were minutes to be had. Salgado’s lack of opportunity can be attributed in large part to his own actions.

  34. jloome says:

    Ashtone Morgan, the left back at TFC, had won a starting job by the end of the year and based on performances definitely deserves consideration. Maybe didn’t get enough early season action to warrant, though.

    (SBI-He’s one to watch in 2012, I’d agree there, but didn’t play enough this year to crack a loaded list of defenders.)

  35. Brian D says:

    +1. Although in Philly, we call them Marfan and Garfan to tell ’em apart.

  36. pd says:

    as long as it goes both ways and we see the style of play continue evolve in MLS and influence the style of play on the college level (no more dump and chace) then I’m all for it…

  37. george3000 says:

    As has likely been stated before (I don’t come up with original ideas all that often), I think the college level will continue to serve as a sort of catch-all for lower level prospects and/or “late bloomers” who don’t get noticed or picked up at the academy level. It seems to be producing right now, so hopefully it will continue to do so in the future while the academies do their part…

  38. Carl says:

    Balchan should be in there over Ethan White.

    White’s been pretty average and I think DC supporters are questioning whether he was ready. Balchan stepped in and was up to speed from the beginning.

    White is two years younger and maybe you could argue he’s the better prospect. But for their 2011 performances, you gotta take Balchan.

    (SBI-Balchan was a lock mid-way through the season, but completely fell out of the picture in Columbus during the second half of the season. Ethan White was the opposite, taking on a starting role when games were the most important.)

  39. george3000 says:

    Apparently I don’t read very well either – Judging Amy’s post says the exact same thing about college being a supplement to the academies. Bravo!

  40. hogatroge says:

    As a Dynamo fan, I think Sapong is more ready than Bruin, but Bruin looked pretty good last night and almost got a rookie-best sixth goal on a power header just over the bar (which is missing from the highlights).

  41. hogatroge says:

    I haven’t seen much of Valentin or Kitchen, but I think both Farfans have a shot and Sapong as well. I wouldn’t rule Bruin out, but I’d say he needs a lot of work and time. A solid season in Houston next year followed by a move to Scandinavia, and maybe…

  42. Justa Guy says:

    I’m confused about rules for who can play for whom in international. Is Nagbe eligible to play for the U.S.? Or just Liberia?

    As a Timbers fan, glad to see Nagbe on this list. He played most of the year as left winger, but his natural position is forward (possibly withdrawn striker/playmaker), which he played the last few games. Portland fans are talking about “building the squad around him” for next year.

  43. Salgado says:

    Good information/analysis!

  44. Valentin and Kitchen are the real class of this year’s rookies. Sapong has a bright future, too, in my opinion. I don’t think either Farfan is really of international caliber.

  45. hogatroge says:

    The problem is, most rosters aren’t deep enough and there is a lot of overlap between 1st team bench and reserve team roster.

  46. alex says:

    I wonder how the RBNY rookies would have fared on any other team. Making the bench should probably at least put them in the contention for the all-rookie team!

  47. Wayne says:

    I saw DC play several times late in season. Their D was just awful. Kitchen kept raising his arm on non-offsides..just awful.

    And what about that Chivas game.

    Lots of PT is not by itself a raeson to make all -rookie.

    Maybe this was just a real bad year!

  48. hogatroge says:

    Both Farfans showed well against Real Madrid early this summer. I know RM was in out-of-season form, but neither was starting regularly at that point in the season.

    Plus, anyone that can shut down Kaka while playing LB deserves a look with the current state of the USMNT’s fullbacks.

  49. RSLin208 says:

    CJ Sapong should be in the national team picture. Clear rookie of the year, for me.

  50. JohnC says:

    Ask Chris Rolfe and Michael Parkhurst how that path is working.

  51. Quakes2012MLSchamps says:

    Where is Simon Dawkins? Does he not count as a rookie? 6 goals and 2 assists as an attacking midfielder in 19 starts / 1773 minutes.

    (SBI-Having a contract with Tottenham disqualifies him. Pretty simple.)

  52. Brian says:

    Older? They’re effing twins!

    And neither of them have played in Mexico.

  53. Brian says:

    Err my bad. I thought you said older and not other. And I doubt being a youth player for Club America would disqualify him. He never played a match for the senior side.

  54. MJC-DC says:

    You probably saw Kitchen in one of his few bad games. As a rookie, stuck into an injured and undermanned defense (for most the year) he played extremely well. In his last two games DC fans finally got to see him in D-Mid (this may be his future position) and he showed well.

  55. From xbhaskarx on BigSoccer

    The most-vaunted college prospect in this year’s class, who didn’t make it in time to Baltimore for the event due to a technical snag in his recently-approved P-1 visa
    P visa:

    A P visa is a type of temporary employment visa of the United States,, granted to alien athletes, artists, and entertainers, and their spouses and children. The term “P” refers to 8 U.S.C. § 1101(P), Section 101 of the Immigration and Nationality Act.

    P-1 applies to individual or team athletes, or members of an entertainment group (P-1B) that are internationally recognized. A maximum of 25,000 P visas are issued annually.

    So he doesn’t even have a green card yet? And he wouldn’t become a US citizen for 4-5 years after getting his green card?

  56. ChrisTheLSUTiger says:

    You could also ask Alejandro Bedoya, Clarence Goodson, and pre-injury Charlie Davies.

  57. hogatroge says:


    Beat me to it.

  58. marco says:

    Interesting that the Sounders with 6 picks could have picked up Ives’ all stars Anibaba or Soares or both (trading away their last four to move up) but instead traded away their top two picks. Sounders GM Hanauer said there was no one they liked in top rated ten. Sounders, although a top notch organization have done poorly in draft but very well in international signings. They need to look at how they perform in the draft.

  59. fischy says:

    I agree with Wayne. Kitchen ain’t a defender. We’ll see if he develops as a midfielder. I also have a lot of issues with Ethan White. Dude had his fair share of mental lapses and his passing is horrible. I can see why Cirovski was stunned that White even thought to go pro when he did. He wasn’t ready. That said, they’re both young kids and should improve a lot. They certain have a lot of room for improvement. If they’re on the All-Rookie team, it must’ve been slim pickings.

  60. abc says:

    I definitely see Kitchen as a D-Mid long term, not as a CB.

    Both he and White were very questionable all year at CB…

  61. fischy says:

    Glad to see I’m not the only massive CJ Sapong fan. I admit I didn’t see KC play much — barely at all, in fact. But Sapong’s highlight reel was seriously impressive.

  62. abc says:

    Well, they did quite well with Zakuani, but overall yeah…

  63. Juan from L.A. says:

    Uhmm why hasn’t this been reflected in our Youth teams. Mexico just for an example and with Chivas Guad has a very young talented team (many who debuted this season) with one yank who would be on top of this list (Ponce), meanwhile we have NY Redbulls who only lines up one American. So to answer your question…no!

  64. Tom says:

    No Paolo Cardozo…blasphemy

  65. Judging Amy says:

    Agreed. I think that’s an essential point (that colleges need to continue to improve the way they prepares players for the pros).

  66. will says:

    Some nice american girl needs to take one for the team, and marry him. Almost automatic green card and only 3 years to citizenship.

  67. Max says:

    No Plata??? Even more outrageous

  68. Rocky says:

    Vancouver is an up and coming team….They will be a force next season

  69. Noni says:

    It shouldn’t. Dawkins is a good piece to buy and build around. Injury problems tho.

  70. Bopa says:

    Cardozo over Brovsky….no doubt

  71. mlser says:

    seriously missed the boat on Plata…

  72. Annelid Gustator says:

    Ives explicitly noted that he was ineligible as having been previously under pro contract.

  73. jim b says:

    Sapong for ROY is an absolute no-brainer. Any other outcome would be beyond comprehension

  74. Bakasama says:

    Already in the works. He got engaged this year and I believe the wedding is this Winter.

  75. Cavan says:

    It also reflects that the league has been around long enough where the kids out there now are being coached by ex-MLS players rather than dads who never played the game.

  76. Cavan says:

    Completely agreed. College is part of the solution, not part of the problem. We need the academies, of course, but there are plenty of late blooming stars and future MLS role players (very important to win championships in a salary-capped league, in some ways the quality of the league is determined by the quality of the role players as there are more of them) coming from college.

    College used to be a place that was mostly brawn rather than skills and ball movement. That is still often true outside the top 25 or so. However, the college game for the national championship contenders is looking more and more like the BCS to the MLS’s NFL. There are more and more soccer coaches out there who played in MLS who are producing more and more fundamentally sound talent.

  77. VADCUfan says:

    It depends on how you look at DC’s season. The middle third of the season they were one of the better defensive teams in the league. But in the first and final thirds they were really inconsistent with multiple goals given up in games followed by shutouts. The potential for excellence is clear with both of them, but they lacked the consistency to carry the team’s D throughout the season.