1. NICK LIMA (San Jose). Lima was signed as just the Quakes' second Homegrown signing out of Cal, where he was converted by Golden Bears coach Kevin Grimes to right back early in his college career.
And he has looked right at home there for the Quakes, playing all 540 minutes (the most by any rookie) in their first six games. Lima showed off his attacking skills by scoring in the 3-2 comeback win over Vancouver.
“We are encouraging him to get forward," said Quakes coach Dominic Kinnear after the Vancouver game, "because we think that’s a good part of his game."
2. JULIAN GRESSEL (Atlanta United). In an otherwise all-South American (when healthy) front six that includes two Argentines, one Chilean, one Paraguayan and one Venezuelan, the 23-year-year German from Providence College (No. 8 pick in SuperDraft) has started all six matches and earned the trust of Atlanta coach Tata Martino.
“The first time we saw Julian was at the draft, and we thought he was a very good player,” Martino said. “He understands the concepts of the game really well, he’s dynamic, he’s good on the ball, and he’s been very important for us.”
3. ALEX CROGNALE (Columbus). Ghanaian DP Jonathan Mensah was supposed to stabilize the Crew backline after the departure of captain Michael Parkhurst, but Crognale, a 6-foot-5 center back out of Maryland, has been one of the big reasons for the Crew's turnaround after missing out on the playoffs in 2016.
The Homegrown signing leads the Crew in clearances (6.4 per game) and is a threat on set pieces, contributing an assist on Justin Meram’s game-winning goal against Toronto FC that kept the Crew in first place in the Eastern Conference after seven games.
Crognale has been reunited with former Terrapin teammate Zack Steffen, starting for the first time in goal, and fellow rookie Niko Hansen and Brazilian midfielder Arturin the Crew youth movement.
4. IAN HARKES (D.C. United). The 2016 Hermann Trophy winner out of Wake Forest has started all but the first D.C. United game, playing alongside Argentine Luciano Acosta to form one of the youngest central midfields in MLS.
D.C. United got off to a rough start, going without a goal in its first three games before beating Philadelphia and NYCFC in back-to-back games.
“Ian is growing before our eyes, and that’s a lot of fun for a coach to watch,” said United coach Ben Olsen after the NYCFC games. “He still has moments where he needs to get better. The good thing about that is he takes information on very well, and he’ll fix it.”
5. BROOKS LENNON (Real Salt Lake). The 19-year-old winger grew up in the RSL Arizona academy program but left RSL AZ in 2015 to join Liverpool. He never broke into the Reds' first team so they loaned him to RSL for the 2015 season.
Injuries forced RSL to put Lennon and Sebastian Saucedo after their return from the Concacaf U-20 Championship, where they helped the USA win its first championship. Lennon capped the 2-1 comeback win against Colorado on Saturday with a rocket into the bottom corner in the 88th minute for his first MLS goal.
"That all came down to Brooks," said RSL coach Mike Petke, who gave Lennon a peck on the cheek after the game. "I was set to bring on an offensive sub and move Brooks over to the other
side and he looked at me and said: 'I got this guy.'"
6. MARCO FARFAN (Portland). The Timbers' first academy signing and first Oregon native has been revelation at left back, starting four games while filling in for injured Vytas. The amazing thing is he's still in high school, attending Centennial High School.
7. Niko Hansen (Columbus). The New Mexico product, taken with the ninth pick in the first round of the SuperDraft, had a memorable MLS debut, coming off the bench to score the winning goal in the dying minutes of the Crew's 3-2 win over Portland. Made first start on the wing Saturday in 2-1 win over Toronto FC.
8. Josh Smith (New England). No. 75 pick in SuperDraft out of San Francisco had a man of the match performance in debut April 4 at Portland and has kept job at center back since then.
9. Daniel Johnson (Chicago). Made name for himself with strong Combine and ended up being taken by the Fire with No. 11 pick. He's only played 58 minutes but looked very good and should get more playing time.
10. Abu Danladi (Minnesota United). Back spasms sidelined the No. 1 pick in the SuperDraft for the Loons' first two games, but he was used in their next four games. United coach Adrian Heath says Danladi will make it hard on him to keep him out of the lineup if he stays healthy.