MLS Countdown 2015: In search of next rookie phenom

DAY 15: MLS is not like the NFL or NBA, where rookies come in with multi-million contracts, can't-miss labels and loads of publicity following their college careers. The MLS rookies begin at the bottom of the ladder. Few have so far seen significant playing time in preseason.

That's nothing new. Just four rookies -- Eric Miller (Montreal), Tommy McNamara (Chivas USA), John Berner (Colorado) and Patrick Mullins (New England) -- started on opening day in 2014, and that number will likely drop in 2015. Tesho Akindele, the 2014 Rookie of the Year, did not even play the first month of the season for FC Dallas.

Here's a look at three long shots who have stood out so far ...

MIGUEL AGUILAR (D.C. United). The Mexican-born midfielder out of the University of San Francisco scored a spectacular goal from distance in D.C. United's 2-0 defeat of host Austin Aztex at last week's ATX Pro Challenge, and he's been rewarded with a pro contract. He had a strong adidas MLS Combine and was drafted with the 17th overall selection. In four seasons at USF, the 5-foot-9 Aguilar scored 15 goals and registered nine assists.

Aguilar had moved nine times by the time he was 11 and dropped out of school for a while after moving from Mexico without documentation as a child. He says he dropped out of school for a while but earned a degree in finance at USF in just three and a half years.

Says D.C. United general manager Dave Kasper, “He’s a player with very good attacking qualities, and he has a very strong desire to make an impact in Major League Soccer.”

DOMINIQUE BADJI (Colorado). The Rapids have a record of giving rookies a chance. Dillon Powers and Deshorn Brown started in 2013 and Marlon Hairston and Jared Watts both saw lots of playing time in 2014. The surprise of preseason training has been Badji, who has been starting up front for the Rapids and scored in Wednesday's 2-2 tie with Sporting Kansas City in Tucson.

He graded out as the top athlete in the fitness tests at the Combine but was not taken until the fifth pick of the four round of the draft out of Boston University, where he was the 2014 Patriot League Offensive Player of the Year. The Senegalese native is just the latest player to come out of the pipeline to the pros from Zimbabwe via Virginia's Episcopal High School after Schillo Tshuma and Lucky Mkosana.

A Peace Corps volunteer in Senegal became Badji's legal guardian, and he moved with her, first to Tanzania and then to Zimbabwe, where she worked at the U.S. embassy, and then back to the United States when she moved to the State Department.

CAMERON PORTER (Montreal). A few Princeton graduates have played in MLS -- Jesse Marsch, now the Red Bulls coach, and Antoine Hoppenot come to mind -- but not many in the league's first 19 seasons. Porter wasn't selected by the Impact until the third pick of the third round of the draft, but it quickly signed him to an MLS contract.

"Cameron is a young player who has shown potential during camp and has impressed us," said Impact head coach and director of player personnel Frank Klopas. Cameron, who scored 15 goals in 17 games for the Tigers to tie for first nationally in goals scored in 2014, had two goals and two assists in Wednesday's 6-0 Montreal win against a third division Mexican club.

"The chemistry is building between the group and things are progressing as we get closer to the first Pachuca game," said Porter after another strong showing of next week's Concacaf Champions League match. "I'm still trying to get my feet under me at the pro level and adjust to the much higher level, but today was good both for myself and the team."
2 comments about "MLS Countdown 2015: In search of next rookie phenom".
  1. Rick Wilcox, February 19, 2015 at 5:38 p.m.

    Very excited for Dom Badji, who grew up in Senegal, Tanzania and Zimbabwe before coming to Episcopal High School. Dom's father is a French teacher and soccer coach at Harare International School. Schillo Tshuma and Lucky Mkosana are both from Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. Schillo went to Episcopal in VA and was HS and club teammates with Badji, but not Mkosana. Lucky Mkosana went to Kimball Union in NH before Dartmouth.

  2. beautiful game, February 19, 2015 at 7:29 p.m.

    I can't remember a rookie phenom since the MLS started. Some good players, but no phenoms.

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