Union's Jack Elliott shows again that he's a top MLS Rookie of the Year contender

The defining image of the Union’s 2-2 draw at the San Jose Earthquakes late Saturday night will be of defender Josh Yaro standing on the end line with his hands to his head and his mouth agape after conceding the last-minute penalty kick that blew what should have been a win.

But in the long term, what matters most will probably be the continued development of the player who stood next to Yaro all night: rookie centerback Josh Elliott.

Yet again, the West Virginia product — a fourth-round draft pick this past winter — gave an outstanding performance. He registered his first professional goal, assisted on another, and recorded eight clearances and two blocked shots.

“It’s a good start for me, and hopefully there’s many more to come,” the 21-year-old Englishman said Saturday night. “It felt good to get a first goal, get off the mark.”

Elliott has played in 23 of the Union’s 27 games this year, including starting the last 22 consecutive games. He has proven himself to be not just a solid defender, but a clean one. He has drawn just four yellow cards this year, and no red cards. Just as importantly, he has shown himself to be an impressive passer of the ball. That is a key trait as soccer tacticians increasingly value a defender’s ability to pass the ball out of the back.

All of those accomplishments have earned him a catchy nickname as “the Morgantown Mertesacker,” for his resemblance in looks and style to Arsenal defender and former German national team stalwart Per Mertesacker.

“He’s been one of our best players this year — for me, he’s the Rookie of the Year,” Union manager Jim Curtin said. “He’s been a real rock back there for us and he’s been a leader. For a young guy who was drafted 77th overall, he’s really achieving some things right now, he’s playing well in every game, and [is] a guy we really trust.”

Curtin isn’t the only observer in MLS who thinks Elliott has Rookie of the Year potential, and most are more objective than he is. Right now, the leading competitor for the honor is Atlanta United midfielder Julian Gressel. Coincidentally, he’ll be at Talen Energy Stadium this coming Saturday for the first-ever game between the teams (7 p.m., CSN).

Before then, the Union head to Toronto to face Toronto FC, MLS’ best team by quite some distance, on Wednesday (8 p.m., TCN). Over the weekend, the Reds became the first team in MLS this year to reach the 50-point mark with a 3-1 win at the Chicago Fire. Led by big-money stars Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley, and and Sebastian Giovinco, Toronto is undefeated at home this year, with a 9-0-3 record.