Back in preseason, MLS all-time goals leader Chris Wondolowski hyped up how much homegrown forward Cade Cowell was progressing heading into his third year with the San Jose Earthquakes. The 38-year-old may have been onto something.

Cowell made a statement in Saturday’s 3-1 win over FC Dallas, turning provider on Cristian Espizona’s game-winner and scoring himself 10 minutes later to cap a second-half outburst in the Quakes’ home opener.

The 17-year-old has started at center forward early into San Jose’s 2021 season, showing more dimensions than the raw athleticism that helped him become the youngest goalscorer in club history a campaign ago.

For one, head coach Matias Almeyda is most impressed by the US youth national teamer's mentality and determination.

“He has something fundamental, which is his humility and his desire to keep learning,” Almeyda said through a translator. “We have to take him calmly, he's really young. And for those of us who have debuted at a young age, your head is fundamental to not believe other things. In that sense, I see that he's doing really well.

“That's why I highlight his humility and I just wish that he enjoys playing football without pressures. Football, time is what makes everybody's career, but for that you have to work on many aspects. He's going on the right path.”

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Cowell signed with San Jose ahead of the 2019 season, though most of his professional minutes as a rookie occurred while on loan at now-defunct USL Championship side Reno 1868 FC. His role increased in 2020, resulting in one goal and one assist across 17 matches and 466 minutes played. Then 16 years old, there were glimpses of a youngster who, both physically and tactically, possessed high upside.

While it’s just one game, Cowell's performance against FC Dallas suggests that he's poised for a major step forward. He set up Espinoza’s scooped finish in the 49th minute with an outside-of-the-boot through ball that most No. 10's would envy, then showed his 1-on-1 prowess to tuck home a left-footed curler in the 59th minute.

Those moments give San Jose winger Carlos Fierro belief that Cowell has what it takes to one day join the list of MLS homegrowns excelling in Europe.

“He's one of the best players, in my opinion, on the team,” Fierro said through a translator. “He's very young, he has lots to learn, but I think we're here to help him out. You can tell that the more he plays, the more confidence and growth becomes part of him.

“I'm very excited to have him and we now see that he's contributing to the team on goals and assists, so I can definitely see him becoming a player that can make that jump to Europe soon.”

Key for Cowell will be tuning out the buzz that comes from his Man of the Match performance. San Jose goalkeeper JT Marcinkowski said that won’t be an issue, citing the teenager’s work ethic.

“His improvements over the past three years have been leaps and bounds, and I think as you saw today, there's so much there and there's so much potential still,” Marcinkowski said. “He's nowhere close to how good he can be, which is great for us because he's going to keep getting better. 

“Even in the past two months, I would say, and especially this offseason, his improvements have been huge. He's a really great kid and we're all so happy for him. Really just looking forward to more.”

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