A Quick Rundown of Former MLS Rookie of the Year Winners & The Dreaded Sophomore Slump

Sporting Kansas City forward CJ Sapong appears primed for a big 2012 season. (Photo by G. Newman Lowrance/Getty Images)

I think it's safe to assume that many fans are looking for a big second season from Sporting Kansas City forward CJ Sapong. Sapong had quite the rookie year after being drafted 10th overall in the 2011 MLS SuperDraft. He was ultimately named MLS Rookie of the Year, after scoring five goals, and adding five assists in 34 matches during the 2011 regular season.

No doubt, I anticipate Sapong will have a very good year in 2012 as well, but as I was attempting to project just how well I think CJ will do this season, it did get me thinking about a certain dreaded term in the sports world.

"Sophomore Slump."

Wikipedia describes the term "Sophomore Slump" as " an instance in which a second, or sophomore, effort fails to live up to the standards of the first effort. It is commonly used to refer to the apathy of students (second year of college or university) the performance of athletes (second season of play), singers/bands (sophomore album), television shows (second seasons) and movies (sequels/prequels)."

While using the term sophomore slump for burnt out students, redundant TV shows, and less-than stellar movie sequels surely makes sense, I've most commonly heard the term used in reference to music, and to athletes.

Pop Culture Example (or just a poor excuse for me to insert music into the conversation): In 2003, rock band The Darkness released their hit record "Permission to Land," a record that still holds a place in my heart as one of the best (although over the top, and borderline pardody) rock records in a good long while. You probably remember them most by their song "I Believe In A Thing Called Love." The record was a huge success, selling over 1.3 million albums and launching the band into star status.

Which is why when the band released their second album, "One Way Ticket To Hell.. and Back" in 2005, expectations were running high. Needless to say, "One Way Ticket" failed to deliver on such lofty expectations, and the band subsequently fell apart not much later on (although the band is currently attempting a comeback).

Examples of the dreaded sophomore slump can be found in all of the major American sports. Players that had amazing rookie seasons only to have their second year in their respective sports fail to meet expectations.

But what about in MLS?

I decided to take a look back at the past winners of the Rookie of the Year award to see how each fared in their second season in Major League Soccer, and to see how many of the award winners might have went through their own sophomore slumps along the way.

Here's is a list of the former MLS Rookie of the Year winners, along with the statistics from their rookie campaign, and the following season.

2010 Rookie of the Year- Andy Najar, midfielder- DC United

2010 season statistics- 26 matches, 1,983 minutes played, 5 goals, 1 assist
2011 season statistics- 31 matches, played, 2,522 minutes played, 5 goals, six assists

In his second season, Najar once again scored five goals (same as '09), but this time added six assists (one assist in '09) for DC. He failed to be named DC's MVP or Golden Boot winner in 2011 (both of which he was awarded his rookie year), but I think he deserves a pass given the fact that MLS MVP Dwayne De Rosario plays on the same team.

2009 Rookie of the Year- Omar Gonzalez, defender- LA Galaxy

2009 season statistics- 30 matches, 2,672 minutes played, 2 goals, 1 assist
2010 season statistics- 28 matches, 2,520 minutes played, 2 goals

In his second season in MLS,Gonzalez was a finalist for MLS Defender of the Year . He was also named to the MLS All-Star team and the MLS Best XI, scoring three goals for LA and leading the Galaxy in minutes played and regular season games played.

Gonzalez has turned into one of the best young American center backs in MLS, having won the 2011 MLS Defender of the Year award. Gonzalez recently went on loan to German side Nurnberg but suffered a torn ACL during his first training session with the club. He's expected to miss a majority of the 2012 season.

2008 Rookie of the Year- Sean Franklin, defender- LA Galaxy

2008 season statistics- 27 matches, 2,385 minutes played, 1 assist
2009 season statistics- 13 matches, 1,125 minutes played, 1 assist

Franklin missed much of the 2009 season with a torn right hamstring. He featured in only 13 matches for LA during the regular season, but did manage to play in all three games for the Galaxy in the postseason.

Franklin is now LA's starting right back, and recently signed a new contract with the Galaxy. Considered one of the better right backs in MLS.

2007 Rookie of the Year- Maurice Edu, midfielder- Toronto FC

2007 season statistics- 25 matches, 2,180 minutes played, 4 goals, 1 assist
2008 season statistics- 13 matches, 1,104 minutes played, 1 goal, 1 assist

After a year plus with Toronto FC, Edu signed a five year contract with Scottish Premier League side, Rangers FC, where he has scored nine goals in 84 appearances. Edu has also featured for the United States Men's National Team, scoring one goal in 29 appearances.

2006 Rookie of the Year- Jonathan Bornstein, defender - Chivas USA

2006 season statistics- 32 matches, 2,878 minutes played, 6 goals, 4 assists
2007 season statistics- 23 matches, 2,070 minutes played, one goal, one assist

Bornstein appeared in 23 matches for Chivas in 2007, scoring one goal, and adding an assist. He was named to the MLS All Star game, the first Chivas USA player to ever do so.

After the 2010 MLS season, Bornstein joined Tigres de la UANL of the Primera Division in Mexico, where he played in seven matches in 2011.

2005 Rookie of the Year- Michael Parkhurst, defender- New England Revolution

2005 season statistics- 32 matches, 2,880 minutes played
2006 season statistics- 30 matches, 2,700 minutes played

Parkhurst was a part of a Revolution defense that allowed only 35 goals in 32 matches in 2006. Was named to the MLS Cup Playoffs Best XI, and was named MLS Humanitarian of the Year.

Parkhurst would go on to win the MLS Defender of the Year award in 2007, before signing with Danish side FC Nordsjaelland in 2008, where he has made 94 total appearances for the club.

2004 Rookie of the Year- Clint Dempsey, midfielder- New England Revolution

2004 season statistics- 24 matches, 2,024 minutes played, 7 goals, 1 assist
2005 season statistics- 26 matches, 2,319 minutes played, 10 goals, 9 assists

In 2005, Dempsey featured in 26 matches for the Revolution, scoring 10 goals, and adding nine assists. New England would make it to the MLS Cup Final where the Revs fell 1-0 to the LA Galaxy.

Dempsey would go on to score eight more goals for New England the following season, which would end up being his last in MLS. Dempsey transferred to English Premier League side, Fulham, where he has now scored the most goals by an American in Premier League history (36).

2003 Rookie of the Year- Damani Ralph, forward- Chicago Fire

2003 season statistics- 25 matches, 1,982 minutes played, 11 goals, six assists
2004 season statistics- 26 matches, 2,249 minutes played, 11 goals, three assists

After scoring 11 goals in his rookie season, Ralph repeated the feat the following year, while also adding 3 assists for the Fire.

After the 2004 campaign, Ralph went on to play for Russian side FC Rubin Kazan, where he only scored twice in 25 matches for the club.

Ralph attempted to make a comeback to MLS in 2010 with the New York Red Bulls, but he was never offered a contract.

Demaniralph_medium
Damani Ralph: More proof that the grass isn't always greener on the other side of the pond.

2002 Rookie of the Year- Kyle Martino, midfielder- Columbus Crew

2002 season statistics- 22 matches, 1,455 minutes played, 2 goals, 5 assists
2003 season statistics- 22 matches, 1,765 minutes played, 2 goals, 4 assists

Martino had a somewhat disappointing season in 2003, scoring two goals and notching four assists while featuring in 22 games for the Crew.

Martino played with the Crew until 2006, when he was traded to the LA Galaxy, where he would play in 35 matches and would score three goals.

Martino retired in 2008 due to numerous injuries.

2001 Rookie of the Year- Rodrigo Faria, forward- Metrostars

2001 season statistics- 21 matches, 1,344 minutes played, 8 goals, 2 assists
2002 season statistics- 28 matches, 2,285 minutes played, 12 goals, 5 assists

After scoring 8 goals in his rookie campaign, Faria would go on to net 14 total goals in 2002, while adding five assists.

Faria was sent to the Chicago Fire as part of compensation to bring head coach Bob Bradley to New Jersey, and was never the same. Faria would not score at all in 2003, although he did win a championship with the San Jose Earthquakes that year, after being dealt from Chicago.

2000 Rookie of the Year- Carlos Bocanegra, defender- Chicago Fire

2000 season statistics- 27 matches, 2,402 minutes played, 1 goal, 1 assist
2001 season statistics- 15 matches, 1,250 minutes played, 1 goal, 2 assists

Bocanegra would miss 12 games in 2001 with a sprained ankle, and would only play in 15 total matches for the Fire. He still managed to score a goal, and add two assists.

Bocanegra would go on to win the MLS Defender of the Year award in both 2002 and 2003 before signing with Fulham in 2004 where he played until 2008. He would also play for Rennes, Saint Etienne, and is currently with Rangers FC.

He is currently the USMNT"s team captain, and has earned over 100 caps in his international career, one of only 12 US players to do so.

1999 Rookie of the Year- Jay Heaps, defender- Miami Fusion

1999 season statistics- 29 matches, 2,511 minutes played, 3 goals, 1 assist
2000 season statistics- 29 matches, 2,625 minutes played, 5 goals, 6 assists

Heaps was named an MLS All Star in 2000, scoring five goals and adding six assists for the Fusion, but was traded to the New England Revolution before the 2001 season.

Heaps would eventually become the all-time leader in appearances for the Revolution at 243 games over his eight year career with the team. Heap played on all four New England teams that made the MLS Cup Final in 2002, 2005, 2006, and 2007. Remarkably, they would fail to win the championship in any of the four finals.

Heaps was hired as the new coach of the Revolution in November of last year.

1998 Rookie of the Year- Ben Olsen, midfielder- DC United

1998 season statistics- 31 matches, 2,107 minutes played, 4 goals, 8 assists
1999 season statistics- 28 matches, 2,292 minutes played, 5 goals, 11 assists

After scoring 4 goals and adding 8 assists in his rookie campaign, Olsen would improve his 1999 numbers with 5 goals and 11 assists. United would win the MLS Cup that season.

Olsen would finish his MLS career (all with United) with 29 goals and 49 assists. Olsen retired from soccer in 2009. He was hired as head coach of DC in 2011.

1997 Rookie of the Year- Mike Duhaney, defender- Tampa Bay Mutiny

1997 season statistics- 27 matches, 2,205 minutes played
1998 season statistics- 30 matches, 2,361 minutes played, 1 goal, 3 assists

Duhaney was originally drafted in 1996, but missed the entire season due to a knee injury, so 1997 was actually considered his rookie season.

Duhaney was traded from Tamba Bay to the MetroStars in the middle of the 1998 season after playing in 16 games for the Mutiny. Duhaney scored a goal and three assists that year between the two clubs.

Duhaney would also play for the Columbus Crew from 2000 to 2001, and then German second side FSV Mainz 05 from 2002 to 2003.

1996 Rookie of the Year- Steve Ralston, midfielder- Tampa Bay Mutiny

1996 season statistics- 31 matches, 2,762 minutes played, 7 goals, 2 assists
1997 season statistics- 29 matches, 2,493 minutes played, 5 goals, 11 assists

After winning the first ever MLS Rookie of the Year award in '96, Ralston scored 5 goals and added 11 assists for the Mutiny the following year. He would spend six seasons with the Mutiny, and would end up being Tampa Bay's all-time leader in games played at 177.

After Tampa Bay was retracted after the 2001 season, Ralston moved on to the New England Revolution where he would go on to score 42 goals, and notch 73 assists in his nine seasons with the club.

Ralston is Major League Soccer's all-time leader in career assists (135), appearances (378), starts (372), and minutes played (33,143).

After his time with MLS, Ralston briefly played for AC St. Louis, a USSF Division 2 club. He returned to the Revolution in 2010, but suffered a dislocated elbow that ended his playing career.

Internationally, Ralston appeared in 36 games for the USMNT, scoring four goals.


  • Out of the 15 ROTY winners before Sapong, none appear to have regressed too much from their rookie seasons. Bocanegra, and Franklin missed quite a bit of time in their second seasons due to injury, and Edu moved on from MLS, but statistically, no one fell off of the map. If Sapong follows in the path of his fellow ROTY recipients, he should be just fine.
  • Sapong played in more regular season matches (34) than any other ROTY winner. He didn't play as many minutes (2,096) as some of the others, but he did play in more games.
  • Parkhurst logged the most minutes (2,880) his first season out of all of the ROTY winners. It's the same number of minutes Sporting KC defender and iron man, Matt Besler, played in 2011. Quite an impressive feat from a rookie. Bornstein was right behind him with 2,878.
  • The list features 13 Americans, 1 Honduran (Najar), 1 Brazilian (Faria), and 1 Jamaican (Ralph)
  • Rookie of the Year winners break down by position: defenders 7, midfielders 6, forwards 3
  • MLS teams with the most ROTY recipients: 2-Chicago Fire, DC United, Los Angeles Galaxy, New England Revolution, and Tampa Bay Mutiny
    1-Chivas USA, Columbus Crew, MetroStars, Miami Fusion, Sporting Kansas City, and Toronto FC

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