The Fires playoff run may be over, but Mondays start of Major League Soccers awards began with two honors given to Chicago.
The Fire won the first two individual awards, with defender Austin Berry named Rookie-of-the-Year and captain-midfielder Logan Pause earning the Individual Fair Play Award.
Berry, out of the University of Louisville, beat out a former college teammate to become the third Rookie-of-the-Year in Fire history. Nick DeLeon of D.C. United was the runner-up, but wound up far behind Berry in the voting.
"Nicks a very special player," said Berry. "It was good to see a buddy do just as well in the league. We had a friendly competition."
Berry was the sixth player in Fire history to be a finalist for Rookie-of-the-Year, but the only two to win it before him were defender Carlos Bocanegra in 2000 and striker Damani Ralph in 2003. Bocanegra went on to play for some top clubs in Europe and captain the U.S. national team. Ralph moved to a Russian club after playing for the Fire, but his career has been hampered by injuries.
As for Berry, hes ready for a break with the Fire done with its brief postseason training period after the club was eliminated by the Houston Dynamo in the Knockout Round of the playoffs.
"Ill be taking a long break, maybe a couple weeks, but its up in the air as to when," said Berry. "As a rookie youre not ready for this many games. Basically a college season is three-four months."
With the Fire, though, the season started with preseason training in January and encompassed 34 MLS regular season matches, one U.S. Open Cup match and two international friendlies before coming to a competitive close on Oct. 31. Jalil Anibaba, a fellow defender and first-round draft choice in 2011, alerted Berry as to what his first professional season would be like.
"He gave me advice because he went through the same thing," said Berry. "With the season so long, it was mentally draining."
Berry figured to play behind two veterans with international experiences in Cory Gibbs and Arne Friedrich when the season started. Gibbs, however, was lost to season-ending knee surgery in the third game and Berry was thrust into a starting role. He immediately proved worthy of it, scoring a goal in his first start.
Finalists for the awards, which will be presented periodically leading into the MLS Cup final rematch between the Los Angeles Galaxy and Dynamo on Dec. 1, were determined by votes from media, MLS players and MLS club management based on regular season performance. Three rookies were finalists, with Berry and DeLeon going one-two and Vancouver forward Darren Mattocks finishing third. Berry garnered more than half the votes.
Berry was the third Fire rookie to score in his first start and he played every minute of his 28 games, breaking the club record for consecutive starts by a rookie set by Bocanegra.
Pause, meanwhile, took the Individual Fair Play Award, which was based on objective criteria such as fouls committed, cards received and games and minutes played as well as subjective evaluation of sportsmanlike behavior.
In his 10th MLS campaign, Pause was a starter in 31 of his 32 appearances. He committed only 11 fouls and had no cards. He missed just two matches after suffering two broken ribs and pneumothorax in a match against Philadelphia on Aug. 12.
The MLS Humanitarian-of-the-Year in 2009, Pause also served on the board of the directors for the Chicago Fire Foundation, the non-profit arm of the club.
Unfortunately, these will be the last individual awards the Fire will receive in 2012. The club had no other finalists in the other categories.