MLS's rookie class: Latecomers make noise

Playing time never comes easy for MLS rookies, and it was especially true of top SuperDraft picks in 2017. But one player is making the most of his chance late in the season: No. 3 pick Jonathan Lewis with back-to-back winning goals for New York City FC.

The consensus top rookies are German Julian Gressel, taken by Atlanta United with the eighth pick of the first round, and Englishman Jack Elliott, selected with the 75th pick overall, taken so low teams were starting to pass.

Like Gressel with Atlanta United, the rookies to watch are those playing now on teams making playoff drives. That would include right back Jake Nerwinski at Vancouver but especially No. 3 SuperDraft pick Jonathan Lewis, who has scored winners in back-to-back games for NYCFC, second in the overall MLS standings.

After Lewis' stoppage-time winner against New England on Sunday, he earned praise from NYCFC coach Patrick Vieira for the energy he brought off the bench and from NYCFC star David Villa for his fearless attitude.

"He plays the same way he trains," said Villa, "so that’s a good point for us, he is a great player but he needs to play games because he has only played five or six games as a professional but the most important is that he is not afraid.”

Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Here are the top 10 rookies ranked based on their individual performances and impact on their teams.

1. Julian Gressel, Atlanta United (1,391 minutes, 3 goals, 6 assists).
The German is on the old side for a rookie -- he'll be 24 in December -- but the Providence product has fit in nicely in the Atlanta United midfield on the right side, playing in every game. He is tied for the most goals by a rookie and leads all rookies in assists.

2. Jack Elliott, Philadelphia (1,812 minutes, 1 goal)
The 6-foot-5 Englishman was taken in the fourth round of the 2017 SuperDraft out of West Virginia and quickly stepped into the starting lineup alongside Oguchi Onyewu in the Union backline. Elliott had his first goal of his MLS career in the Union's 2-2 tie at San Jose on Saturday.

3. Nick Lima, San Jose (1,745 minutes, 2 goals, 1 assist)
The Homegrown product out of Cal has displayed his versatility, playing at right back under Dominic Kinnear and moving to a wing-back position when Kinnear's replacement, Chis Leitch, went to three in the back. A thigh injury picked up in training last week has sidelined him.

4. Ian Harkes, D.C. United (1,664 minutes, 2 goals, 1 assist)
It's been baptism of fire for the son of former D.C. United star John Harkes, who started all but three games before being sidelined with an ankle injury. He still ranks fifth on United in minutes and is being counted on being a key piece of its youth movement it will take into its next stadium next season.

5. Jake Nerwinski, Vancouver (897 minutes, 1 assist).
A product of the Trenton area that produced such great American defenders as Bobby Smith and Glenn Myernick, Nerwinski was another player that flew under the radar heading into the 2017 draft. He's gotten eight starts in the last two months at right back for the Whitecaps, who are quietly solidifying a hold of a playoff spot.

6. Jonathan Lewis, NYCFC (247 minutes, 2 goals, 1 assist). The Generation adidas signing out of Akron played all of 23 minutes for the first four and a half months of the season but has come into his own in the last month with the game-winning goals in NYCFC's last two games.

7. Abu Danladi, Minnesota United (792 minutes, 3 goals, 2 assists).
The No. 1 pick in the SuperDraft didn't start his first game until two months into the MLS season but responded with a goal and assist in a 2-0 win over Sporting KC. He has been in and out of the lineup since then but his two other goals came in the Loons' only two wins since Memorial Day.

8. Alex Crognale, Columbus (1,062 minutes, 1 assist).
Crew coach Gregg Berhalter has been careful in terms of the minutes he's given the Homegrown product out of Maryland, but the 6-foot-5 has been part of some key wins as the Crew transitioned to three in the game.

9. Jackson Yueill, San Jose (499 minutes).
Yueill didn't get his first start with the Quakes until Leitch replaced Kinnear and he then started five of the next six league games. He was also a key part of the Quakes' run to the semifinals of the Open Cup, pairing with fellow American Tommy Thompson.

10. Brooks Lennon, Real Salt Lake (1,177 minutes, 1 goal, 1 assist).
Another player who has a bright future on a team that's been rebuilding, assuming RSL makes a move for Lennon, who is on a season-long loan from Liverpool. His start on Saturday against Montreal was his first since June, though.

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