Analysis

Rosenberry's rapid rise: Stats Zone shows rookie's dominance

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Why all the fuss about a rookie fullback? Paul Tenorio breaks it down.

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Fullbacks don’t often get a ton of love in the press.

Stellar center backs usually stand out on the defensive end. In the final third, it’s the goal-scorers and playmakers that gain the most recognition. Goals change games, after all.

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That’s why it’s so interesting that Philadelphia Union rookie Keegan Rosenberry has such fervent support in a Rookie of the Year race that features a forward (Jordan Morris), attacking winger (Jack Harrison) and playmaking midfielder (Tsubasa Endoh).

Rosenberry, a Georgetown product, was named an MLS All-Star in his first season with the Union, and his steady play and featured role in Philadelphia has him as a lock in the top-three discussion for rookie of the year.

Let’s take a deeper look at Rosenberry’s play and what’s made him so successful in Philadelphia, using the Stats Zone app:

One-on-one defending

Early in the season, Rosenberry had a tendency to get sucked in when play developed in the middle of the field. It opened up a lot of space on the left wing in transition, and teams went after it. They don’t as much anymore.

Why not? Well, Rosenberry started to get a better understanding for positioning and his one-on-one defending has been much better. For many, it was back-to-back games against the LA Galaxy and Montreal Impact in May that first started to earn Rosenberry some attention.

Rosenberry played lights-out against Montreal’s Ignacio Piatti and against the Galaxy’s left side of Mike Magee and Robbie Keane. Against the Galaxy, he led the Union in tackles, interceptions and clearances. Take a look at how he fared against the Impact, and Piatti’s relatively quiet night considering how effective the Argentine has been this season.

Balanced game

As much as Rosenberry brings on the defensive end, he can also be a menace going forward.

Rosenberry’s overlapping runs have become a staple of what Philadelphia does best, and you can see how effective he was against Chicago getting forward and looking for balls cut back across the middle of the field. It’s a nice balance for his defensive work rate.

Rosenberry picks his moments well, and his forward movement helps to create overloads on the right with Ilsinho. That movement opens up pockets in the middle of the field for Tranquillo Barnetta and Roland Alberg to exploit. The strength isn’t in Rosenberry’s crossing or in the final pass – he still has work to do there – but rather in his ability to combine with those midfielders and find them in the pockets in front of the back line. Rosenberry keeps things simple, but effective.

Big part of the gameplan

When studying Rosenberry’s play through the first half of the season, what stands out most is how often he is a crucial part of what the Union does on the field.

In almost every game this season, Rosenberry has been one of the most active players on the field. He is second on the team in passes per game, and his influence on the right wing is always among the leaders for the Union.

This example from the Galaxy game may be one of his best outings of the season, but it’s not far off from what the influence chart often looks like for Philadelphia (the larger the name, the more influential in the match).

Rosenberry has become a vital part of what the Union like to do, and his steadiness as a rookie has made him stand out both in the league and within his class of newcomers.

As he grows more comfortable in the league, Rosenberry’s next step may be in his influence in the final third, but for now he’s a big part of why the Union sit near the top of the Eastern Conference.

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Paul Tenorio is a reporter for FourFourTwo. Follow him on Twitter @PaulTenorio.