Rookie Rundown: One player's bad luck is another's opportunity

Akpan, Schilawski and others could replace vets on the DL

Andre Akpan, Colorado Rapids

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To fans and coaches, a starter’s injury is a sour moment. But
to a guy riding the pine, it’s a little more bittersweet. No one wishes harm on
a teammate, but the reality of the professional game is, one man's tough break
is another man's chance to break out.

Thanks to some early season injuries, we've already seen a few
rookies make premature debuts in 2010.

New England's Seth Sinovic has deputized well in Steve Nicol's
decimated backline, while fellow draftee Zack Schilawski looks comfortable
filling in for Edgaras Jankauskas up top. On Saturday, Chicago's Kwame
Watson-Siriboe replaced a banged-up Wilman Conde in central defense.

In Dallas, a rookie could benefit from any lineup shuffle in
the wake of defender Kyle Davies' broken arm. Eric Alexander debuted in FCD's
1-1 tie with Houston on March 27, subbing on at holding mid while Daniel
Hernandez dropped back to replace Davies, and head coach Schellas Hyndman was
happy with Alexander's effort.

“I think he was a little surprised that we put him in, but we
really liked him in preseason," Hyndman told MLSsoccer.com. "I
thought he did fine. He distributed the ball well. He played simple. He was
winning balls.”

However, the mix-up to Dallas' starting XI is a little
convoluted, and rookie Zach Loyd, rather than Alexander, could be the one
smiling when the kick off comes.

Stay with me on this one.

Though regular starter Ugo Ihemelu should return to the
backline on Saturday, Hyndman has been experimenting with left winger Brek Shea
at center back. With that, Hyndman has the option to move Heath Pearce into the
midfield, which would free up a right-back position for Loyd.

Hey, it's a stretch, but rosters are thin in MLS and coaches
are continually moving folks around to provide cover. The more versatile your
core, the shorter the season's going to feel come October. Loyd is very
comfortable at right back, and played alongside stand-in center back Shea
during a recent scrimmage, even tallying a late goal.

Brian Ching's latest hamstring injury could also have a
far-reaching impact on another highly rated rookie who has yet to play: Andre
Akpan.

Again, stay with me.

Ching will miss up to six weeks, making him a doubt to be with
the U.S. in South Africa. National team boss Bob Bradley needs to submit a
preliminary roster by May 11. Would he risk picking a hamstrung Ching?

Ching’s natural replacement on the U.S. squad is Colorado's
Conor Casey.

Now take a look at the Colorado forward line. It's Casey and
Omar Cummings, and not much else. At least not until this past week. The Rapids
have brought in Claudio Lopez and Quincy Amarikwa to provide attacking options.
But the truth is, Akpan shares the same physical attributes as Casey, making
him the more natural replacement as a target forward.

The Harvard grad has yet to make his MLS debut, but he did
score this past week in a scrimmage against the University of Denver. And the
Rapids were impressed with Akpan during preseason.

“We want to find minutes for Andre and take that leap of faith
with him,” club technical director Paul Bravo told MLSsoccer.com.

Over in Kansas City, Teal Bunbury should be the benefactor of
Zoltan's torn ACL (it just seems wrong to say something like that, doesn't
it?). Bunbury already saw minutes as a second-half substitute ahead of Zoltan
in the season opener.

“It was one of those situations where we just felt it would be
good to give the younger guys some experience in a situation where we were in
the driver’s seat,” Wizards head coach Peter Vermes told the Kansas City Star.

The Wizards began the season brightly but have a slew of mild
injuries to contend with. Bunbury, who often plays as a withdrawn forward,
could provide cover for attack-minded teammates Davy Arnaud, Kei Kamara and
Josh Wolff, who are all nursing various ailments.

Around the league

Chivas' penchant for playing two holding midfielders should
mean minutes for rookie duo Ben Zemanski and Blair Gavin. Both are well versed
at that position, and Gavin played a full 90 minutes alongside Marcelo Saragosa
in last week's SuperClasico.

“Overall, I thought I did pretty well,” Gavin told
MLSsoccer.com. “I still have a lot of improvements to make, but I’m proud of
the way the guys kept fighting until the end.”

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Philadelphia rookie Toni Stahl, who was ejected in his debut
on March 25 in Seattle, could be the first Union player to, well, get sent to
the minors. He is ineligible to play for the Union on Saturday but will
reportedly suit up for Philly's USL affiliate, the Harrisburg City Islanders,
in a friendly on Thursday night.

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And finally, Columbus' top SuperDraft pick Bright Dike,
jettisoned by the club during preseason, has landed a contract with the
second-tier Portland Timbers.