Chicago’s Austin Berry for Rookie of the Year? … Almost ready to call it

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Failure to properly recognize the critically “dirty” work in our game has long been a trouble spot for domestic soccer media at large.

In the big picture, Shalrie Joseph was probably the best player in Major League soccer through the middle of the last decade. How he got through his best years with so little MVP recognition is Exhibit A of the condition.

Joseph, productive and destructive as he was through all those great years in New England (in a good way, that is) was an MVP finalist only once.

That was in 2009 when Joseph almost singularly drove the Revs into the playoffs. But we love our scorers and Landon Donovan won that year. No offense to Donovan – but 12 goals and six assists? Is that really league MVP stuff?

So, yes, sometimes the fans and media at large sometimes need to dig deeper than stat sheets to find our beloved.

On the other hand …

We’ve never been shy about recognizing work along the back line. Especially when it comes to our rookies.

Of 16 previous MLS rookies of the year, 7 have been defenders. Most recent back-line winners were Omar Gonzalez in 2009 and Sean Franklin in 2008. Trace the titles a tad further and you find the deserving likes of Jonathan Bornstein and Michael Parkhurst.

Which brings us back to Rookie of the Year in 2012:

I am almost ready to call it for Austin Berry, the Chicago Fire rookie center back who has partnered so comfortably with German veteran Arne Friedrich.

Berry has done his part during the Fire’s steady rise up the Eastern Conference standings. He’ll be front and center in matters during the weekend’s marquee match, the 1-v-2 meeting between Sporting Kansas City and Chicago. The NBC Sports Network crew will be at Livestrong Sporting Park for that one (8:30 p.m. Friday).

Adding to Berry’s case: Most of the high-octane rookie attackers have fallen like leaves in Autumn or just haven’t done enough through the course of 2012 (Nick DeLeon, Kelyn Rowe, Luis Silva and Antoine Hoppenot, most notably).

Some defenders and midfielders deserve a look, but not much more (Conor Lade, Matt Hedges, Raymon Gaddis, Andy Rose and Alex Caskey, for instance). A summer injury smashed chances for surprisingly adept Red Bulls rookie goalkeeper Ryan Meara.

Darren Mattocks, with seven goals for Vancouver, is the one man who could still upend Berry’s bid. If Mattocks scores two or three more goals (which would probably be enough to lift the ‘Caps into the playoffs as a second-year club), the old American regard for high-scoring strikers may just strike, and could be enough to carry the day.