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Aug 24, 2006

Bornstein almost a lock for award

August is the time of year when, for most MLS rookies, the lazy, hazy days of summer more closely resemble a fog. The heat, travel and frequency of games can combine to turn the excitement of a rookie campaign into a long, hard slog that saps both mind and body. In 2005, one only had to witness the late-season flameouts of D.C. United defender Bobby Boswell and Kansas City forward Scott Sealy to see the toll the MLS season can take on first-year players.

But as the 2006 campaign heads into its final months, there have been several rookies who appear to be overcoming such obstacles. Some, such as the Chivas USA duo of Jonathan Bornstein and Sacha Kljestan, have been doing the business since Day One. Others, like Chicago defender Dasan Robinson, have taken longer to emerge, but emerge they have, making for a rookie class that might end up being deeper than the 2005 edition.

So here is the rookie Who's Hot and Who's Not list as the season begins to wind down.

Who's Hot:

1. Jonathan Bornstein, D-M-F, Chivas USA

At first glance, the letters "D-M-F" look like a line from an eye chart. But to Chivas, the sequence shows just how valuable Bornstein has been. During the first months of the season, the UCLA product showed his ability to adapt to a new position at left back. But recent months have seen Bornstein show off his versatility, lining up in midfield as well as up top. As a result, the goals have begun to flow, so much so that Bornstein tops the rookie scoring charts with five tallies. The goals haven't been cheapies, either, with his late blast against Kansas City on Aug. 19 the latest in a line of quality strikes.

With the ranks of the Chivas walking wounded beginning to heal, chances are Bornstein will return to the back line, but at this stage of the season, the Rookie of the Year award appears to be his to lose.

2. Sacha Kljestan, M, Chivas USA

While Bornstein has gotten plenty of ink, Kljestan has continued to do an effective job in the Chivas lineup, continuing his development as a prototypical two-way midfielder.

Although the first months of the season saw Kljestan sharing his attacking duties with Jesse Marsch, such has been the progress of the Seton Hall product that coach Bob Bradley has increased Kljestan's offensive responsibilities. That means the Chivas midfielder is likely to add to his tally of six assists, and he should break through for his first league goal sometime in the near future.

3. Dasan Robinson, D, Chicago

Given that Robinson wasn't selected until the second round of the supplemental draft, he looks set to succeed Boswell as this year's "Out of Nowhere" award winner. Inserted into the lineup when veteran defender Jim Curtin went down injured, Robinson has delivered some steady play for the Fire, providing a solid aerial presence as well as giving Chicago good speed in the back.

Robinson struggled against Real Salt Lake on June 3, conceding an own goal as well as getting worked over by RSL striker Jeff Cunningham. But since that match, the Dayton product has improved his man-marking and reading of the game. And with Curtin healthy again, Robinson has played well enough to give coach Dave Sarachan the kind of selection plight most coaches prefer to have.

4. Willis Forko, D, Real Salt Lake

In 2005, RSL could have stood for "Really Sieve-Like," so bad was the defending on the Wasatch Front. 2006 has seen a considerable turnaround, with Real conceding about half a goal per game less than a year ago, and Forko's contribution has been one of the bigger surprises.

Forko originally entered the lineup when Eddie Pope left for the World Cup, but with Danny Torres hobbled by a right foot sprain, Forko kept his place and has delivered some solid performances. The UConn product has had his share of rookie moments, like when he conceded a penalty against Columbus back on Aug. 15, but those have been rare occurrences.

5. Mehdi Ballouchy, M, Real Salt Lake

Although his stats (1 goal, 1 assist) don't dazzle the eye, Ballouchy has contributed to RSL's resurgence in other ways, often making the quick, possession type passes that don't appear on the scoresheet.

Ballouchy has squandered his share of chances in front of goal, and his recent trend of being subbed after 60 minutes or so might be an indication that his legs are beginning to get heavy. But such is the Moroccan's skill on the ball that he'll continue to log significant minutes for RSL.

6. Marvell Wynne, D, New York Red Bulls

Back in preseason, Wynne's former coach, Mo Johnston, predicted the UCLA product would win the Rookie of the Year award. Although that appears unlikely, Wynne has enjoyed something of a resurgence in recent months, returning to the starting lineup after a brief spell on the bench.

New York's return to a four-man back line was key to Wynne's reinsertion to the lineup, but this year's No. 1 pick has repaid that faith, using his athleticism and man-marking abilities to make the right back position his own.

Who's Not:

1. Jason Garey, F, Columbus

When the Crew finally ended their 13-game winless streak last weekend against New York, coach Sigi Schmid was singing Garey's praises for his holdup play and movement off the ball. But the fact remains that Garey has struggled to put the ball in the net all season, notching just a solitary goal in almost 12 games' worth of playing time.

Injuries have played a part in Garey's dry spell, but some are beginning to wonder whether his college reputation of being completely dependent on quality service might have been deserved. Fortunately for Garey, the Crew's nearly complete ineptitude on offense means he likely will get plenty of playing time down the stretch.

2. Kei Kamara, M-F, Columbus

If there were a poster child for hitting the "Rookie Wall," Kamara would be it. Although the Cal-State Dominguez Hills product showed some early flashes, his questionable decision making on the ball has landed him on the bench, with little indication that he'll see much more time this season.

Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPNsoccernet. He can be reached at eljefe1@yahoo.com.