Over the past week, it seems like all discussions in MLS have shifted to end-of-season topics like the playoff race and individual awards. That includes Rookie of the Year, and for the third year running, DC United has a major contender for the award. Following in the footsteps of Chris Pontius (nominated in 2009) and Andy Najar (winner in 2010), Perry Kitchen is mentioned in the sidebar of this MLSsoccer column as the current top rookie. While I hadn't spent much time thinking about it at this point, the article gave me a reason to ponder the idea. Kitchen's prospects are strong, but it's hardly an open-and-shut case. Joao Plata and Darlington Nagbe have both offered up highlight reel goals, but have also been in and out of the lineups of struggling teams due to inconsistency. The Farfan twins have both looked useful in a variety of roles, but it's hard to win ROTY when you're a utility player. Gabriel Farfan might close the gap if he continues starting as the Union's left back, but as of now he's an outsider. Looking elsewhere, the other rookies that are as vital to their teams as Kitchen is to DC are Sporting Kansas City striker CJ Sapong, Columbus Crew defensive midfielder Rich Balchan, and Chivas USA defender Zarek Valentin. Sapong has kept Teal Bunbury on the bench, which is an accomplishment in and of itself. However, Sapong's goal total is low for a striker, and his role is more to provide space for KC's other attackers than to be a key player himself. Balchan was not an ideal fit at left back, but moved to an anchor role in midfield, he has been excellent. The knock on Balchan is that he's been out with an injury for awhile now; that's not his fault, but it takes luck to win individual awards. Finally we come to Valentin, who has been steady but unspectacular playing mostly right back for Chivas. Kitchen is definitely among that elite group at this point, but can he win? Being the youngest of the four will be a positive for him, as it was for Najar last season. However, he has few big, attention-grabbing highlights. His one goal was more a product of a clever set piece, and he plays right back pretty conservatively. Having the similar Valentin in the race also hurts. New York fans were awfully upset last season that Tim Ream didn't take ROTY, arguing that he was more consistent and a big part of a better team. We might see the other end of that equation this year if Plata or Nagbe bag a couple more highlight-reel goals. What's the general vibe out there? Do you see Kitchen as the favorite, or are you thinking that the race is still wide-open?