Spending an early first-round pick on a defender usually isn't the most popular move, but it paid off handsomely for the Chicago Fire when they selected Louisville's Austin Berry with the No. 9 pick of the 2012 MLS SuperDraft.
His season started out slowly, as he didn't even appear in the Fire's six matches. But once he broke into the starting lineup on May 5, he never relinquished it, starting more games (28) than any other rookie. He also managed to play every minute of every game he started, something else no rookie could claim.
The Fire's defense improved from allowing 1.33 goals per game before he joined the starting lineup to 1.18 goals per game to finish out the season, as the Fire went back to the playoffs for the first time since 2009.
The 24-year-old promises to be among the pillars of the Fire for the foreseeable future.
How they voted: Berry was the runaway winner with 20 of 34 first-place votes and appearing on all but three ballots. That gave him a total of 51 points by our counting system, nearly twice as many as runner-up Nick DeLeon (27 total points). Darren Mattocks (14 points) was the only other rookie to receive at least two first-place votes. Matt Hedges (8), Luis Silva (2) and Kelyn Rowe (1) were the only other players to receive points.
What the blogger's say: Austin Berry has been an incredible addition to the Chicago Fire. He got his chance after the season ending injury to Cory Gibbs, and never looked back. He has shown an incredible amount of poise and skill considering he is a rookie and still learning the league. He has also had the added benefit of learning from German International Arne Friedrich beside him.
Berry provides a big, strong, and physical presence along the back line. He isn't afraid to mix it up with anyone. He provides an offensive threat as well, especially on set pieces as his 3 goals this past season demonstrated.
Berry is also a very good header of the ball, which provides a nice target on offense and a welcome clearance tool on defense. Berry was incredibly consistent in 2012, which is even more impressive when taking into account this was his first year in the league. Chicago Fire fans are very happy that we have someone that can be a rock at CB for years to come. He is certainly a player we can build the defense around.
- Ryan Sealock, Hot Time In Old Town
About the voting: Any writer for SB Nation's MLS blogs was eligible to vote, with 34 submitting ballots. On the individual awards, two points was given for each first-place vote and one point for each second-place vote. Voting was conducted after the regular season and was not meant to include any post-season performance.