FEATURE: Game-winning strike blasts Nick Lima back into Rookie of the Year contention

Any conversation around the 2017 Major League Soccer Rookie of the Year should include Earthquakes Homegrown defender Nick Lima.

Lima, 22, has been everything the Quakes could have asked for and then some. Widely considered one of the most intriguing MLS prospects in the nation as a senior at Cal in 2016, few could have predicted the impact he would have in San Jose so early in his career.

Lima has started 17 matches so far this season, making 19 overall appearances. In addition to his defensive responsibilities, he has also been a steady contributor on the offensive end and has been a key part of the Quakes attack in nearly every game he’s featured in. Last Saturday, Lima checked another box when he recorded the first game-winning goal of his young career – sending a half-volley past the Rapids keeper from 20+ yards out.

The MLS Rookie of the Year is more or less a four-horse race at this point between Lima, Atlanta United midfielder Julian Gressel, D.C. United midfielder Ian Harkes and Philadelphia Union defender Jack Elliott, barring a sensational late run by someone else (Jackson Yueill perhaps?). All have made their fair share of contributions to their respective clubs and are fully deserving of their inclusion in talks for the award.

Lima, the lone American-born player on that shortlist, has not only had a strong first half of the season, but is primed for an even stronger second half. Gressel, part of a very talented offensive core in Atlanta, may struggle to maintain playing time when Josef Martinez returns from his most recent injury. Case in point, from June 24 to July 4, Gressel got just 49 minutes over three games with Martinez in the lineup. Lima has established himself as the team’s premier option in his role and has started nine of 11 matches since May 17. In the two matches he didn’t start, he entered as a halftime substitute on May 27 and served a one-game suspension on July 1. He has also played all 90 minutes in every one of his starts this season, save for a 71st minute ejection against RSL on June 24 (hence the one-game suspension).

Lima continues to be a vital two-way player for San Jose and a strong second half of the year could see him collect some end-of-season hardware.

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