Early Season MLS Rookie of the Year Contenders Face Off
There will be plenty of experienced players featuring in Sunday’s Week 7 rivalry match between the New York Red Bulls and D.C. United, but it’s a couple of 21-year-olds that catch the eye. Red Bulls goalkeeper Ryan Meara and D.C. United’s attacking midfielder Nick DeLeon have hit the ground running in their rookie seasons. Both players are early season MLS Rookie of the Year contenders, making for a fascinating encounter.
Red Bulls goalkeeper Ryan Meara is gaining confidence week-after-week, and his teammates already feel the Bronxite has the qualities to excel at the highest level.
This past January, Meara was selected 31st overall in the SuperDraft out of Fordham University, and since his professional debut at FC Dallas Stadium on opening day, he’s been making big stops.
Meara cemented himself as one of Fordham’s all-time greatest keepers after setting school records in total shutouts (31) and save percentage (.804).
In his senior season for the Rams, Meara had an impressive 0.65 goals against average letting in only 12 goals the entire season, making 75 total saves. Particularly, two shutout victories over ranked opposition (#23 Xavier and #10 Charlotte) were highlights of his final year before coming to the Red Bulls. Meara left an indelible mark at Fordham by being named to the second team Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference (ECAC) all-star team and the National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA) All-Mid-Atlantic Region team.
Meara So Far
Currently, Meara is near the top of the saves table with the likes of veterans Kevin Hartman and Donovan Ricketts with 22 saves so far. Coming into last Saturday’s home match against San Jose, Meara led the league in total saves. New York’s rookie goalkeeper has played every minute of the Red Bulls season so far.
His performance against Dallas saw him make his way on the Week 1 Save of the Week list.
What They’re Saying
“The kind of character he is, I think and hope that he’s our keeper for the future. He’s looked very composed. He’s a low-key guy, but a hard worker. Fingers crossed now, I think definitely he has a future.” – Hans Backe
“Since the beginning of the season he’s been brilliant, and we haven’t been able to give him a clean sheet. It’s up to us. It’s been proven that he can be our goalkeeper; I think it’s time to give him something back.” – Thierry Henry
D.C. United’s major acquisition in January was Nick DeLeon, the seventh overall pick in the MLS SuperDraft out of the University of Louisville.
After transferring to the University of Louisville from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, DeLeon started every match from 2010-11. In his two seasons with the Cardinals, he tallied 14 goals and nine assists, making the All-Big East first team both seasons.
DeLeon is not the first in his family to play on a regular basis at RFK stadium. His father, Leroy, a Trinidad and Tobago hall of fame inductee, plied his trade with the NASL’s Washington Diplomats from 1974-1977.
DeLeon So Far
DeLeon has taken no time adjusting to the league. Twelve minutes into his MLS debut at the Home Depot Center against the holding champions, the LA Galaxy, he scored, albeit a consolation goal.
Ever since scoring D.C. United's first goal of the MLS regular season, the left-sided midfielder has been an instrumental fixture in United’s attack, starting four of the team’s five matches. In their most recent win, his floated corner led to the team’s equalizer against New England. Along with Red Bulls forward Kenny Cooper, his performance earned him a spot on the Week 6 Team of the Week on MLSSoccer.com and SI.com.
The Arizona-native has a healthy dose of scoring goals (2) and providing assists (3) this season. In a commanding 4-1 home victory against FC Dallas, DeLeon scored a goal worthy of a Week 4 Goal of the Week nomination. After receiving a diagonal ball inside the 18-yard-box from Maicon Santos, DeLeon took a neat touch before slamming home past Hartman.
What They’re Saying
Upon his signing with the club, head coach Ben Olsen had this to say to The Washington Times about his rookie:
“Nick [DeLeon] has very good soccer instincts for a young kid. "Physically, he has all the tools," Olsen told the Washington Times at the time. "I think this kid is going to be a gamer, and I know he's excited to join the guys and get moving."
They made just be 21, but Meara and DeLeon are already showing promising signs of becoming dynamic players in the future. The rookies will go head-to-head when the New York Red Bulls visit D.C. United Sunday on ESPN2 at 6:00pm ET.
Watch Meara’s Save of the Week clip from opening week:
Watch DeLeon’s Goal of the Week clip from Week 4: