Whew. The Young Player Performances of the Week kaffeeklatsch is still catching its breath after MLS returned with a bang via 26 matches – many of them drama-laced – in six sultry days. Yes, technically it was two matchweeks, but we’re going to keep things consistent and consider both of them for our latest rundown.
With summer temperatures rising and a short turnaround between fixtures for most of the league, plenty of kids got their chances to impress, forcing us to make some of our toughest cuts yet. (So apologies to the likes of Justin Che, John Tolkin, Tajon Buchanan and Alvaro Barreal, who narrowly missed out on a mention here but will surely get love soon if they keep up their good work).
With his gorgeous brace vs. Eastern Conference-leading New England Revolution, the El Paso kid became the youngest player in FC Dallas history to bag a double – that’s three goals in three games since the international break. And while we try to be selective with our use of the F word around these parts, the quality of the finishes and Pepi’s overall performance was, yes ... filthy:
If you can do it in the English Championship on cold nights in Barnsley, surely you can hack a muggy Tuesday in central Florida, right? Well, Dike hacked the hapless San Jose Earthquakes right to pieces on his return to MLS, showcasing that size, strength, mobility and menace that has so many big clubs so interested.
While he was a good deal more subdued under heavy defensive attention at Inter Miami on Friday, the Oklahoma Ibra has earned this spot just the same.
What’s in the water down in San Diego? First Landon Donovan’s tutelage helped Rubio Rubin regain his best form, and now Maher has racked up a goal and an assist in his first two games back in Music City after being recalled from a loan stint at San Diego Loyal.
I’m sorry if these constant selections of the Sporting Kansas City wunderkind are monotonous to some readers. But he’s earned it with his consistency and quality at the heart of the XI of one of the league’s early leaders, who enjoyed a six-point week on home turf. Busio’s multi-million-dollar transfer to a European club still TBD is increasingly a question of when, not if, and in the meantime he’s doing the business with nary a trace of distraction or impatience.
It will be shocking if he’s not given a long look by US men’s national team boss Gregg Berhalter at the Gold Cup next month. And Busio’s strengths have by now been so well illustrated that tiresome pundits like yours truly are already shifting expectations upward, and nitpicking on the finer points that he can address to advance to the next level:
The Union handed the 17-year-old his first MLS start as they visited Chicago Fire FC over the weekend. He responded with an absolute stunner of a bicycle-kick golazo that earned an AT&T Goal of the Week nomination and a share of the points in a wild 3-3 draw, and set tongues wagging around the world.
Still want more? Don’t overlook the teenager’s two key passes and 94% pass completion rate.
Isaac Atanga: The Ghanaian winger was one of the offseason’s more intriguing signings when he arrived at FC Cincinnati from FC Nordsjælland, and his game-winning assist vs. TFC suggested that he’s finding his feet in MLS.
Efrain Alvarez: With his 19th birthday arriving earlier this month, I and many others – Chicharito included, it seems – are still trying to gauge just how high Alvarez's ceiling is. The mercurial Mexican-American just got a notable endorsement from Tata Martino, though, and the composure, placement and quick release of his injury-time winner vs. Vancouver was something to behold:
Moses Nyeman: D.C. United encountered some frustration this week, yet no one should allow their results to overshadow the pristine ping their teenage midfielder placed on Nigel Robertha’s foot for Sunday’s opener.
Michael Halliday: Orlando City’s 18-year-old homegrown fullback was composed and capable for the Lions as logged the full 90 against Miami and played the second half vs. the Quakes. One to watch in the coming weeks.
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.