Climbing The Ladder: Teen sensations

After a weekend full of great performances by teenage players, the future looks bright for young, exciting talent in MLS.

Most MLS goals by a teenager

  Player Goals
1 Eddie Gaven 20
2 Jozy Altidore 15
T-3 Freddy Adu 12
T-3 Danny Mwanga 12
T-5 Mike Magee 9
T-5 Santino Quaranta 9

The Revolution’s 16-year-old Diego Fagundez, who wasn’t born until after an MLS franchise was awarded to the New England area, captured the bulk of the headlines after his electric regular-season debut against Chivas USA.

It was quite the week for teenage goal-scoring, as four others hit the back of the net: Orr Barouch, Luis Gil, Gershon Koffie and Jack McInerney. That leads to the question: Who has scored the most goals in MLS before their 20th birthday? (See chart at right.)

Gaven, who scored his first in that memorable 2003 game where he was briefly a goalkeeper for the MetroStars, broke out as a 17-year-old and made the Best XI in 2004.

Danny Mwanga just turned 20 last month, so he finishes tied with Freddy Adu for third. Andy Najar, however, still has plenty of time to improve his ranking. That’s also true for McInerney (four goals) and Juan Agudelo (five goals), who should both finish in the top 10. McInerney will have until Aug. 5, 2012, while Agudelo and Najar will have the entirety of next season.

Dike’s Debut a long time coming

When he took the field for Jorge Perlaza in the 80th minute of last Saturday’s San Jose-Portland game, Bright Dike did more than just make his Timbers debut. It was the culmination of a long journey that saw him become the final first-round pick of the 2010 SuperDraft to see action in MLS.

Year Player Team Pick
1996 Mike Gentile COL 9
1997 Mike Fisher TB 2
1997 Mike Mekelburg TB 8
1998 Ben Parry SJ 3
1999 Andrew Mittendorf COL 8
2002 Mansour Ndiaye NY 7
2006 Leandro de Oliveira NE 11
2007 Bryan Arguez DC 11
2008 Josh Lambo DAL 8
2008 Dominic Cervi CHI 12
2009 Ryan Maxwell NE 15
2011 Zac MacMath PHI 5
2011 Eddie Ababio COL 18

It wasn’t easy by any means. This comes after getting cut by the Columbus Crew before last season began, going on trial to win a place with last year’s second-division Timbers side, and tearing his Achilles tendon early in this year’s preseason.

Dike assured himself of avoiding a place among the small group of first-round picks never to play a meaningful game for an MLS team. At right are the 13 first-round SuperDraft (and from 1996-99, college draft) picks that currently fit that description.

Eddie Ababio, Josh Lambo and Zac MacMath are currently with the teams that drafted them and are waiting for their opportunity.

Among the other 10, Bryan Arguez didn’t play in his rookie season and was sold to Hertha Berlin in the offseason. Leandro de Oliveira, Andrew Mittendorf and Ben Parry also were signed but cut during the season. Dominic Cervi didn’t sign with the league, while Mike Fisher and Mansour Ndiaye elected to continue their schooling instead.

Fisher is probably the most notable example, as the former University of Virginia star was one of only a handful of players to win the Hermann Trophy twice.

Two more players never took the field in the regular season, but did play in other competitions. They are Houston’s John Michael Hayden (2007, 12th) and New England’s Rob Valentino (2008, 13th).

MLS success leads to more games than ever

It was great to see FC Dallas, Seattle and Toronto all win their preliminary-round series in CONCACAF Champions League. That gives the league five teams in the group stage for the first time, but it also comes with a price, as those teams will find their depth tested down the stretch.

Most games played, all competitions

Year Team Games
2008 Houston 48
2008 D.C. United 47
2011 Toronto 46+
2011 FC Dallas 45+
2011 Seattle 45+

Already, last week’s three advancing teams have schedules that will place them among the busiest in the league’s history.

CONCACAF switched over to the current Champions League format in 2008, which made the Dynamo and United play in two continental tournaments in a single season. That plus the SuperLiga accounts for their high totals for that year.

With both Dallas and Seattle likely to make the playoffs and increase their totals, the US Open Cup semifinal between the two teams later this month could decide who ends up on top of this list, as well as who gets one step closer to the cup.

Barcelona and Manchester United leave their mark

By way of comparison, last year’s UEFA Champions League finalists FC Barcelona and Manchester United both played about 60 competitive games last season.

Speaking of those two, both just completed preseason tours of the United States as part of the World Football Challenge, and combined to set three new state attendance records for soccer matches over the course of two weeks.

First was Manchester United’s victory over Seattle on July 20. The total of 67,052 fans in CenturyLink Field set a new record for the state of Washington. It was previously held by the Seattle-Barcelona game from two years ago.

Then, it was time for the two to face each other in at FedEx Field in Landover, Md — 81,708 were in attendance on July 30, breaking the state mark set by Real Madrid vs. D.C. United in 2009.

Finally, Barcelona played against Chivas de Guadalajara on Aug. 3 at Sun Life Stadium in Miami, where 70,080 came out to watch. That’s a new Florida record, besting the totals from the 1994 World Cup games held in Orlando.

The largest crowd ever for a soccer game in the United States is the 1984 men’s Olympic final at the Rose Bowl, where France defeated Brazil 2-0 before 101,799.