Danny Mwanga continues to lead the pack. (Getty Images)

We know this year’s rookie class has been solid but now the time has come that things get a little tricky. For most of the rookies a 30-game season is a longer one than their really used to. Throw in clubs with extra games along the way and this is about the time of year the rookies hit a bit of a wall.

The Rookie of the Year race has heated up lately though. Several players are still in the mix for the running and others are starting to come on strong late, which of course is the best time to do so for the minds of the voters.

Below is how I see the order of the race going right now:

1. Danny Mwanga (Philadelphia Union) – So much production on the field (7 goals, 3 assists) in such limited time (15 games, 914 minutes). This kid is no bust like some thought he would be earlier this year. I think Peter Nowak has done an excellent job bringing him along on the right pace. Right now I see this award as his to lose.

2. Michael Stephens (LA Galaxy) – His production has dipped since the World Cup ended and Landon Donovan and Edson Buddle returned but he’s still clearly been one of the best rookies this season. You can’t deny that his seven assists on the season isn’t a big deal either. A late surge from the UCLA product could help seal the deal for him.

3. Tim Ream (New York Red Bulls) – As the Red Bulls improve so will his status in this award. Some will likely give him votes just for playing in New York but look at his steady play of late and you’ll see why he deserves a look. He’s been shaky at times this season but then again so has his team.

4. Andy Najar (D.C. United) – Still the lone bright spot on the D.C. roster. Najar (along with fellow academy star Bill Hamid) give the club some glimmer of hope for the future.

5. Blair Gavin (Chivas USA) – There hasn’t been too many good things in Chivas-land this season but Gavin certainly has been good. I still can’t get over clubs passing over this guy and him landing with Chivas.

Just off the path

1. Ike Opara (San Jose Earthquakes) – Just like in races in the past, an injury has hurt his chances big time for this award. Still the future looks really bright for this kid once he returns to action. San Jose is a much better defensive team with him on the pitch too.

2. Tony Tchani (New York Red Bulls) – He has a lot of competition in the midfield right now but he’s slowly finding his way into the lineup and is making a difference like we all thought he would back in January.

3. Teal Bunbury (Kansas City Wizards) – Just like Tchani, it took him a little while to break into the starting lineup but now that he has the Wizards are much better for it offensively.

4. Eric Alexander/Zach Loyd (FC Dallas) – Maybe its me seeing both of these kids more times than the other rookies in the league but maybe its also that both are very good. With more playing time for each we’re seeing exactly why FC Dallas took these two kids back in January.

5. Sean Johnson (Chicago Fire) – He had a couple really good starts and then one pretty bad start. That should be expected out of a rookie keeper but he still has all the makings of being a big time starter in this league for years to come.

6. Zach Schilawski (New England Revolution) – Aside from the hat-trick earlier this year he hasn’t done a whole lot for the Revs. Then again what New England striker has this year?