Yesterday I read a good article about FC Dallas rookie Matt Hedges and where his season ranks in regards to other Dallas rookie seasons. I decided to take a look at this myself for Sporting KC. Obviously this seasons isn't looking like a stellar year for KC's rookies, in fact currently the 2012 rookie class for KC is set to finish the season with the fewest minutes played of any rookie class in KC's history. Dom Dwyer is the only rookie to appear in a competitive game for Sporting this year totaling 49 minutes in one league and one US Open Cup appearance. Unless he appears over the last two games, this rookie class will finish below the 2003 class that featured Taylor Graham and Jack Jewsbury making a combined 4 league appearances for a total of 71 minutes their rookie year.
Back to the top rookie seasons in KC's history. The first thing I did was disqualify any player who had played professionally previously (the MLS drafts used to allow you to draft players from the lower divisions as well as college players), so that means no Kerry Zavagnin, Brandon Prideaux, or Ryan Tinsley on this list as all played professionally in the US lower divisions before being drafted by KC. I wanted this to be about straight rookies, just out of college. I looked mainly at their contributions ONLY in their rookie season trying to avoid looking at how the rest of their careers has shaped how they're viewed.
So who just missed out on the list? Two players that just missed that are currently on KC's roster, Matt Besler (2009), Chris Brown (1999), and Diego Gutierrez (1996). All 3 had solid rookie seasons, Besler appearing in 28 of the 30 league games, Brown scoring 4 goals and assisting on 3 more while appearing in 28 games, and Gutierrez appearing in 28 games recording 5 assists in the leagues first season, but I think they both just miss out on making this list, but it's not by much. So here's the top 5.
Number 5 - Teal Bunbury 2010
The Generation Adidas, University of Akron product became the first son of a MLS player to be drafted into the league, following in the footsteps of his dad, Alex Bunbury, who also played for Kansas City. Under Peter Vermes, Bunbury was brought along fairly slowly his rookie year, now earning his first league start until about 8 games into the season. He scored in the US Open Cup qualifier against Colorado early in the season, but it was July before his first league goal. Bunbury finished the season appearing in 26games, starting 13, scoring 5 goals, 2 of which were game winners, and 2 assists.
Since that time, Bunbury has been a bit of a polarizing figure for KC. Some fans of grown tired of his perceived lack of hustle, especially compared to KC's rookie the next year CJ Sapong. But Bunbury has still played quite well, scoring 19 league goals, 24 in all competitions, he tied for the team lead in goals in league play last season with 9, and led in all competitions with 12. He was having another solid year this year before he tore his ACL vs New York.
Number 4 - Michael Harrington 2007
Over the course of his rookie year, Harrington, a UNC product supplanted the team's reigning MVP and MLS Best XI defender Jose Burciaga Jr at the left back position. Granted some of that was Burciaga's own undoing, but Harrington played a role in it and definitely made Burciaga expendable after the season. Harrington played in 29 of KC's 30 games that year starting 27 of them. He contributed 3 goals and 4 assists, including what at the time was the fastest debut goal, although it was topped by CJ Sapong 4 years later.
Since his rookie year, Harrington has been a solid contributor to KC, appearing in over 150 league games for the club. Most of that time has been at the left back position, but he's seen himself around the wingback and win positions especially under Curt Onalfo. The last season and a half though his playing time has decreased as Seth Sinovic and Chance Myers have emerged successfully at the wingback positions.
Number 3 - Scott Sealy 2005
Sealy is the rookie record holder for most goals in a rookie season. The Wake Forest product scored 9 goals and assisted on 2 more in his rookie season. That was good enough for second on the team, 1 behind Josh Wolff. He appeared in 28 of the 32 games that year for KC, starting 20 of them.
Sealy continued to be a fairly solid contributor for KC over the next few years, leading the team in scoring in 2006 with 10 and added another 7 in 2007. In 2008 though he found his time with the team slipping away and was traded to San Jose around midseason. After a few seasons in San Jose he moved abroad to Israel before coming back to San Jose. He's now with Dallas, mainly playing as a reserve.
Number 2 - CJ Sapong 2011
Last year's MLS rookie of the year and James Madison product comes in second on my list of the top rookies. Sapong was forced into the starting lineup at the very beginning of the 2011 season due to the elbow injury to Teal Bunbury. Sapong made the most of that opportunity scoring in only the second minute of the game. Sapong went on to finish the season with 5 goals, good for 4th on the team and 5 assists, good for 2nd, all in league play. In all competitions he added another 4 goals to his total. He also made the most appearances for the club in the season, playing in 40 of the teams 41 games in all competitions, including all 34 league games.
This season Sapong has continued to play well, with little sign of a sophomore slump. He's scored 8 more league goals this year, second on the team behind Kei Kamara and has hit double digits in all competitions with 10.
Number 1 - Nick Garcia 2000
It's hard to have a season that tops one that won rookie of the year, but that's my feelings on Nick Garcia's 2000 season. Garcia was part of a 3 man back line that set records left and right for defensive ability in the 2000 season. The Indian University, Project-40 graduate (precursor to Generation Adidas) was the second overall pick in the 200 draft, played every single minute of every single game that KC played in the 2000 seasons. Him and Peter Vermes started all 40 games in all competitions, amassing over 3,600 minutes. He missed out on rookie of the year, finishing second to future US national team captain, Carlos Bocanegra.
Garcia became a staple in the KC back line for the next 7 seasons, and left as the team leader in appearances and in minutes played (he's since been passed in both by Kerry Zavagnin and by Davy Arnaud in appearances). Garcia was traded to expansion San Jose for the first overall pick that KC used on Chance Myers. Garcia played a couple season with the Earthquakes before being traded to Toronto. He played two more seasons there before note being selected in the Re-Entry draft.
So do you agree? Disagree with my list of the top 5? Does Sapong's rookie of the year trump Garcia? Should Besler, Gutierrez, Brown, or another rookie have made the top 5 instead? Let me know.