National Writer: Charles Boehm

Top 5 young-player performances from MLS Week 6

Temperatures are rising, international call-ups are rolling in and everyone’s just about gotten acclimated to the weekly grind.

Summertime has almost arrived in MLS.

All of the above are factors influencing the opportunities offered to young players around the league, as well as challenges for said young players to navigate. While early June’s international break brings a significant respite in the calendar, the tempo cranks up again soon after, with a bevy of midsummer tournaments further complicating matters.

These, of course, are all considerations to keep in mind in the ongoing YPPOTW discourse. Here we go …

A fun battle is developing at SKC’s right back slot between their talented young homegrown from Charlotte and 34-year-old icon Graham Zusi, who recently returned from a long-term foot injury only to be sidelined by a quad issue as Sporting jetted out to San Jose over the weekend.

Lindsey took advantage of that circumstance by producing his best performance of the season and maybe even his MLS career, completing 88% of his passes, making 17 defensive actions and winning most of his duels, then capping it all off with his debut professional goal in a solid 3-1 win. His goals added number was 0.30, one of the best among young players this weekend.

Lindsey’s first-team progression has been kind of a slow burn compared to, say, his fellow academy import Gianluca Busio. His skill set is not quite as head-turning to the naked eye. But the 21-year-old has everything needed to succeed as a modern fullback and this might be the year he makes the jump.

A mea culpa of sorts is due here: This probably shouldn’t be the first time Sosa is getting YPPOTW love, considering how quickly and impactfully he’s settled in the ATL and made himself a central cog in Gabriel Heinze’s Five Stripes. And Sunday’s hard-fought 1-1 draw at Seattle might not even be his best Atlanta performance to date – though we do prioritize league play here, as opposed to, say, Concacaf Champions League.

But he’s rapidly become something close to irreplaceable, and snatching a road point off the league leaders is a pretty good time to recognize it. Whether anchoring the midfield or slotting into the center of a three-player back line, the intelligent Argentine is already establishing himself as one of MLS’s top long-range passers and he can get stuck in as well. The ultimate compliment to Sosa? Opponents are already deploying bespoke tactics in hopes of minimizing his influence.

He posted 14 defensive actions against the Sounders, sprayed the ball all over the place as he orchestrated the buildup, completing 65 of his 77 passes, and even flashed a skill check or two:

Ding dong! At last, there are no more winless teams in MLS 2021. And leaky FCC have their new center-back pairing of Geoff Cameron and Vallecilla to thank for much of Saturday’s vital 2-1 win over CF Montreal (even if it was technically a trio on the day, as midfielder Caleb Stanko dropped into the back line as part of Jaap Stam’s shift to a 5-3-2).

Beyond their defensive work, Cameron assisted on Jurgen Locadia’s leveler and the lanky Vallecilla thumped a powerful set-piece header past Clement Diop for a dramatic late winner. The two were rushed into the XI for the debut of TQL Stadium last week and while far from perfect in either match, they’ve showed signs of why Stam would do so, with the US veteran’s communication and organization dovetailing well with Vallecilla’s athleticism and passing range.

I suspect Vallecilla’s arrival has gotten lost amid all the other moves Cincy splashed out on to improve their roster, and he’s been hit with a steep learning curve from the jump. But this is a 21-year-old Ecuadorian international with all the tools to become an elite MLS defender sooner or later.

On the other side of the pitch in Fort Lauderdale, Mihailovic logged another influential outing for Montreal, something he’s making a habit out of – highly encouraging for a player considered prone to inconsistency with his hometown Chicago Fire.

Mihailovic masterminded the sequence that culminated in CFM’s goal. He assertively carved open FCC in transition with a long, surging dribble at their backpedaling back line, then played through Romell Quioto – and alertly continued his run to slam home the Honduran’s return pass after his own path to goal was blocked.

Mihailovic also played a key pass, went 4/4 on dribbles, drew four fouls (three of them in the attacking half) and roamed all over the pitch, keeping involved on both sides of the ball. CFM lost this one, and find themselves in a 1W-3L slump, but their showcase offseason acquisition is doing the right things to spark their attack.

FCD have been a cipher this season, and it’s landed them at the foot of the Western Conference standings. On balance, the North Texans were disappointed with the weekend’s rain-soaked 2-2 home draw with Real Salt Lake, but coach Luchi Gonzalez got at least one thing right: Empowering Tessmann as a do-everything holding mid so Bryan Acosta could go play the roaming destroyer role.

The 19-year-old homegrown from Alabama threw himself into a team-leading 18 duels (though he committed just one foul) and posted an 87.8% pass completion rate (including one key pass), most of them in shepherding the buildup.

At his best, Tessmann plays like a veteran far beyond his years, and after plenty of tactical tinkering this season, Dallas would do well to let him build a rhythm with a run of matches in that assignment.

Honorable mentions

Gianluca Busio: Another week, another solid engine-room outing for Sporting’s No. 10. Might just start cut-and-pasting this entry if the Sporks keep climbing the table.

Kaveh Rad: Here’s a name to file away for the future. Making his second career MLS start, SKC’s 19-year-old rookie homegrown center back adeptly handled the unique challenges posed by the Earthquakes, completing 92.3% of his 52 passes and generally keeping things simple.

Paxton Pomykal: The YPPOTW politburo is closely watching Dallas’ cautious handling of their fragile wunderkind, who came off the bench to notch an assist and some other lively contributions vs. RSL. The big question: Is he physically ready to step back into the starting XI yet?

Franco Ibarra: Like Sosa, Atlanta have handed Ibarra more responsibility than your average 20-year-old in a new environment and the hard-tackling Argentine is showing his versatility as he comes to grips with different assignments from game to game.

Leon Flach: The German-American keeps grinding all over the park as the Philadelphia Union work their way above the .500 mark. He brought his typical hyperactive pressing to bear in their diamond midfield as the DOOPers gutted out a 1-0 road win at D.C. United.


Audi Goals Drive Progress

MLS Academies have been identified as one of the most important resources for building on-field talent in North America. Through the Audi Goals Drive Progress initiative, Audi has committed $1 million per season in an effort to advance academies league-wide, and to drive progress for the sport. For every goal scored in the regular season, Audi will contribute $500 into the Audi Goals Drive Progress fund to directly support each MLS Club Youth Academy.