None of Major League Soccer’s three finalists for the 2015 Rookie of the Year award played for Sporting Kansas City.
That trio consisted of Orlando City FC striker Cyle Larin, San Jose Earthquakes midfielder Fatai Alashe and Chicago Fire defender Matt Polster, with Larin announced as the runaway winner on Tuesday.
But while Sporting Kansas City’s three rookies were spared individual recognition at season’s end, no group of college products played a larger collective role for an MLS team in 2015 than Connor Hallisey, Saad Abul-Salaam and Amadou Dia.
Manager Peter Vermes hit a home run in the first round of January's SuperDraft, selecting these players with the 10th, 12th and 20th overall picks, respectively, The rest, as the adage goes, is history. Consider the following milestones achieved by Sporting Kansas City’s rookies in 2015:
- A club-record 57 regular season appearances by first-year rookies (Abdul-Salaam 22, Dia 22, Hallisey 13).
- Most rookie regular season appearances (57), starts (29) and minutes played (2,907) in MLS.
- On Oct. 3 — a road win over the Portland Timbers — Sporting KC started three rookie draft picks for the first time since 2007.
- On Oct. 29, Sporting KC started two rookie draft picks in defense for the first time in the club’s postseason history.
- The trio combined for 13 of a possible 15 appearances in Sporting KC's run to the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup title.
Dia was quickest to make his mark in 2015, becoming the first Sporting KC rookie to start on opening day since 2011. The former Clemson defender made 27 appearances across all competitions, including four starts in the team’s triumphant U.S. Open Cup campaign. Dia was also one of two players (Graham Zusi) to record an assist in the regular season, postseason and Open Cup.
Abdul-Salaam started the season on loan with the San Antonio Scorpions, but by mid-May became a regular contributor along Sporting KC’s backline. The Akron product finished with 28 appearances in all competitions, played in every U.S. Open Cup match, and started four of the club’s last five MLS games, including his playoff debut against Portland.
Hallisey showcased his potential in his first MLS start on May 29, assisting Graham Zusi’s goal with a clever back-heel amidst traffic in the penalty box. The Cal midfielder played 17 total matches, four of which in the Open Cup, and boasted a 7-0-1 record as a starter. Two of those starts came on Sept. 27 against Seattle and Oct. 3 at Portland — a pair of results that yielded four points and ultimately proved pivotal in Sporting KC’s bid for a playoff berth.
As SportingKC.com’s Kurt Austin first chronicled last month, Vermes relied more on his 2015 draft class than any other head coach in the League.
TEAM-BY-TEAM: ROOKIE DRAFT PICK CONTRIBUTIONS IN 2015
Despite the club’s dependence on youth, Sporting Kansas City brought home its third major trophy since 2012, made a fifth straight appearance in the MLS Cup Playoffs and was in Supporters’ Shield contention for much of the year. It’s an outcome that bodes well for the future as Abdul-Salaam, Dia and Hallisey look to become mainstays in Sporting’s lineup.