For five Crew rookies, their first season in Major League Soccer has come and passed. Along the way, the Black & Gold's 2012 rookie class had its fair share of learning experiences, growing pains and triumphs throughout year one.
THE LEARNING CURVE
Ask any rookie in MLS, the League is much faster and more physical than college play. Some rookies adapt quickly, while others struggle to keep up and endure the aggressive, hard-nosed nature of MLS.
"Just trying to adapt to the speed of play, it's a lot different than college," forward Aaron Schoenfeld said. "It's not even close to the same level. I'm just trying to keep adjusting to the style of MLS."
For a lot of rookies, sitting the bench or watching from outside the gameday 18 comes as a shock after being a centerpiece on their college teams. For Crew rookies, they see this as an opportunity to learn from more experienced players.
"I think I made strides, for sure," winger Ben Speas explained. "Just learning from the other guys, especially while I was out and I was just watching. Getting back into it, adjusting to the speed and style of the League-- I feel like I've learned that. I'm still trying to adapt and use what I do well to my advantage."
Added midfielder Kevan George, "I feel like I matured a lot mentally. I was used to playing a lot, and now you just have to take a back seat and learn from the guys ahead of you.
"I didn't come in and expect to start right away. I love the challenge. It makes you wake up every morning and want to be better and do the little things that you see all the other guys doing."
BUMPS AND BRUISES
Like most other players on the Crew roster, the Black & Gold's rookie class felt the effects of various injuries during the course of the grueling ten month-long MLS season. First Round SuperDraft pick Ethan Finlay dealt with concussion issues and an oral infection, Aaron Schoenfeld missed several matches with a foot injury, Kevan George missed some early action due to a concussion and Ben Speas spent the first two months of the season rehabbing from sports hernia surgery.
In coming back from injuries, it was a struggle for the rookies to find themselves back in Robert Warzycha's gameplan.
"Everyone's always flying," Shoenfeld explained. "That's the difference at this level, you come back [from injury] and everyone is so sharp every day. You come back from injury and you're rusty, it's sometimes hard to gain confidence when you're coming back. It's a long grind. You have have to keep grinding."
Moving onto their second season in MLS, the Crew's 2012 rookie class will look to build consistency in 2013 and play larger roles in Robert Warzycha's plans going forward.
"I felt myself grow in maturity and understanding the game at the next level," Finlay explained. "The competition is that much more fierce, but it makes you that much more focused. You have to be focused and consistent every day throughout the year. It's a ten month-long season, so it's a long time to stay focused. It's difficult. I've learned that this year, and I can work on it going into my second season."
The First Round SuperDraft pick continued, "With consistency, I think I can offer something to this team that can be productive going forward in the 2013 season -- doing things consistently in practice, and then translating it to the field to put a good product onto the field as well."
Homegrown goalkeeper Matt Lampson saw action in three matches due to injury to first stringer Andy Gruenebaum. Through those matches and helping the Crew to its second consecutive MLS Reserve League title, Lampson felt he made strides.
"I've been learning from a valuable experience just being in a relief role," Lampson said. "Getting as many games as possible, especially with the Reserve League, as a goalkeeper you want to play as much as you can and I think that's where you really get better. I think my decision making that comes with playing at a professional level needs to improve. Once I get more games, that will happen.
"Other than that, I think I've adapted pretty well to the next level and I'm happy with my process. I think my consistency needs to improve. It's one thing that I took pride in at the collegiate level, but the collegiate season is three months and [MLS] is ten. I held myself to a standard for three months, and now I've got to for ten months. My inconsistency is not to nice to think about to myself, but there's a lot of room for improvement next year."
GONE, BUT NOT FORGOTTEN
The sixth member of the Crew's 2012 rookie class is midfielder Kirk Urso. Urso passed away tragically on August 5 due to arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy at the age of 22.
Selected tenth overall in the 2012 MLS Supplemental Draft, Urso was a surprise starter in the Crew midfield in the season opener at Colorado. He started the first five matches of 2012 for the Black & Gold, contributing one assist in a career cut far too short.
Urso is survived by his parents Mike and Sandy Urso, his brother Kyle and lives on through the Kirk Urso Memorial Fund.