By Jack McCarthy, Special to the Tribune
7:10 PM CST, November 19, 2012
Austin Berry was featured on a Life cereal box this fall as part of the Fire's campaign for Berry to be named Major League Soccer's rookie of the year.
The public-relations push may have helped, but it was on-field performance that sealed the deal for the Fire defender.
Berry was a landslide winner for top rookie honors, while teammate Logan Pause earned the league's Individual Fair Play Award for clean play and sportsmanship. Both awards were announced Monday.
"I'm very happy to win it, and I can't thank enough my fellow teammates, especially someone like Logan and a lot of the older guys," Berry said during a Monday conference call. "(They) helped me tremendously through the season. It's a reflection on the great season the whole team has had."
The Fire's top draft pick in 2012, Berry easily outdistanced D.C. United midfielder Nick DeLeon in voting by players, team management and media.
The Cincinnati native seemed destined for a backup role in 2012 but was thrust into the starting lineup when Cory Gibbs went down with a season-ending knee injury.
"I tried to improve ... every single day," Berry said. "So if there was an opportunity to play, I was going to be ready."
Berry debuted May 4 and went on to make 28 consecutive starts, helping the Fire defense hold opponents to 41 goals all season.
He's the Fire's third rookie of the year, joining Carlos Bocanegra (2000) and Damani Ralph (2003).
Pause became the Fire's first Fair Play winner.
"I'm very honored and blessed to win an award like this," the Fire captain said. "I try to play the game the right way and with respect ... (and) think I've always tried to represent the team well."
Selection was based on criteria that included fouls committed, penalty cards received, games and minutes played and evaluation of sportsmanlike behavior.
Pause, who just completed his 10th season with the Fire, appeared in 32 matches and committed only 11 fouls with no red or yellow cards. He missed two matches after suffering broken ribs and a collapsed lung in mid-August.
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