MLS First Kick 2013 Countdown: 18 days - Will Nick DeLeon fall prey to the sophomore slump?

Jeff Zelevansky

As the 2013 MLS season approaches, we're counting down the days to March 2 and running the proverbial rule over each player on D.C. United's roster. Today's subject: last season's MLS Rookie of the Year runner up, Nick DeLeon.

How great of a draft pick was Nick DeLeon? Despite being panned by Taylor Twellman and Alexi Lalas during the 2011 SuperDraft, there's no doubt in anybody's mind now that the Louisville-by-way-of-UNLV product was basically a steal for D.C. United at the seventh pick. DeLo came on strong, scoring in his debut against the LA Galaxy and keeping Chris Pontius off the field for a short spell, but eventually succumbed to the infamous rookie wall. He suffered an injury and had fitness issues through the hot summer months and just wasn't the same player that we saw during his riotous start.

And then NDL came back to us. He got through the wall and earned his way back into the Rookie of the Year discussion, eventually finishing second. If the voting hadn't happened before the MLS Cup Playoffs, he might have won the sucker. He scored the series winner at Red Bull Arena and hit the series opener in the Eastern Conference Final first leg in Houston.

And, let us not forget that his go-to goal-scoring celebration is to run toward and pay tribute to the supporters. There's a reason Nicky very quickly became a fan-favorite around RFK Stadium.

So, what does Year 2 look like for the Phoenix native? He comes into camp as the presumptive starter at one of the Black-and-Red's outside midfield spots. Looking at him in practice and in preseason games, he looks more assertive on the field, looking to take on defenders 1v1 when the opportunity presents. He's looking for chances to get in behind the opposing back line at times and looking for combinations with teammates at others.

A big development this off-season has to do with DeLeon's national team aspirations. DeLeon is eligible for both the United States and Trinidad & Tobago, and has turned down call ups from the latter each of the last two winters, saying his dream is to represent the Red, White & Blue. We have to think that that opportunity could come as early as this summer, as many expect Jurgen Klinsmann to call in new players for the Gold Cup so that the established USMNTers can focus on the task at hand in the Hexagonal. Obviously, that's still a ways off, and DeLeon will have to have a successful early 2013 to make a U.S. call up a reality.

So, what do you think the odds of that - a successful 2013 - are? Will DeLeon avoid the dreaded sophomore slump? Should United be planning to be without #18 for a stretch of national team duty come July? You know where to let us know.

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