National Writer: Charles Boehm

Running down the top 5 young-player performances in Week 3

By now you’re probably familiar with the format here, and you’ve also probably had no trouble sniffing out which youngbloods are in the mix this week due to the simple, powerful magnetism of…


Yes, scoring gorgeous and/or important goals is a great way to fast-track yourself into the YPPOTW conversation, and lately that means the bicoastal teenage hype train I’ve taken to calling Cade’n Caden.

But it’s not the only way, not by far! We value both style and substance around here, so let’s start with one that might be a bit counterintuitive for those still ooohing and aaahing over Caden Clark’s latest golazo.

Yes, I’m giving Casseres the nod over his younger Yank teammate this week, even though Clark is the name on everyone’s lips after RBNY bagged their first victory under Gerhard Struber. Both scored on tempting layoffs by striker Fabio (that’s two goals in two weeks for Casseres). Both were active defensively. Both were committed in the midfield battle, and impactful beyond the numbers.

The 21-year-old Venezuelan gets the nod this time because of the hard graft he contributed on both sides of the ball in the right-side shuttler role in the Red Bulls’ 4-4-2 diamond, a deceptively difficult job he seems to be embracing. For me, it’s also a necessary corrective to the natural temptation in the social-media era to let highlight-reel goals overshadow the balance of play.

He’s an Argentine youth international playing in the league’s largest media market who’s already scored three goals this year, the most recent of which was an absolutely cold-blooded death blow by rabona to beat Supporters’ Shield holders Philadelphia Union 2-0 in their own house. In that game he rang up an xG+xA number of 1.81 and dared to tangle with the ferocious Jose Martinez on the play that drew the game-changing red card for “El Brujo.”

So why aren’t we talking more about Taty Castellanos? Is it because he’s not a domestic homegrown? Is it his propensity for gamesmanship and the occasional moan and groan on the pitch? I really don’t know, but it’s past time to recognize he’s one of the hottest strikers in MLS – and the Cityzens sound determined to hang onto him in the face of heavy interest out of Brazil.

GOAL: Valentín Castellanos, NYCFC - 65th minute

San Jose’s manchild is moving from strength to strength and now sits atop the league’s assist chart with three in three matches after bossing D.C. United in every conceivable way in Saturday night’s chaotic, highly-entertaining, press-everyone-and-everything #MLSAfterDark finale. I still want to see Cowell dominate games away from the friendly confines of PayPal Park, but there’s time to litigate that in the months ahead.

Herculez Gomez was on ESPN+’s Spanish-language commentary team for this match, and he dropped in a quick impression of Looney Tunes’ Road Runner during the replay of Cowell zooming past Fred Brillant (the unfortunate Wile E. Coyote in this scenario) in the open field before beating Chris Seitz for the Quakes’ second strike.

“Beep beep” about sums it up!

GOAL: Cade Cowell, San Jose Earthquakes - 26th minute

Some of you might be asking, “who?” And that’s OK. It’s part of the reason this column exists.

Lucas Maciel Felix is a 21-year-old Brazilian central midfielder, a product of Botafogo’s academy who the Revs quietly brought into their USL League One side last year, started in all 16 of their matches and signed to an MLS deal in March. Those paying close attention to New England’s preseason were impressed with his performances – and the substantial trust placed in him by Bruce Arena, whose faith is not easily earned.

Maciel got his first MLS start against Atlanta and completed all 33 of his passes, including one key pass, in a composed performance next to Matt Polster at the base of the Revs midfield. He wasn’t a talking point after the 2-1 win, and that’s kind of the point. But that precision and ball security gets plenty of love from the YPPOTW politburo.

I’ll keep with the usual first-name-surname format for now, though we might soon be on a one-name basis with FCD’s 22-year-old goalkeeper, a loanee from Gremio who stepped in for the injured Jimmy Maurer and notched his first MLS win on Saturday.

A modern GK in terms of his comfort with the ball at his feet, Phelipe only had to make one save in the 4-1 win over Portland – yet he did notch an assist, no simple feat for a ‘keeper, and it even turned out to be a game-winner, as his long ball sent in Jader Obrian for the North Texans’ second of the night. Something to watch: He is a Brazilian youth international and looks to be in the mix for a place on the Selecao’s Olympic squad this summer.

GOAL: Jáder Obrian, FC Dallas - 14th minute

Honorable mentions

Dante Sealy: The son of former MLS strike standout and Trinidad & Tobago international Scott Sealy, this FCD homegrown just turned 18 a couple weeks ago and marked his 2021 MLS debut with a lovely finish to cap the win over the Timbers.

Zan Kolmanic: Here’s a new face to keep an eye on – Austin FC’s on-loan left back from Maribor. The Slovenian youth international performed well in his first MLS start as the Los Verdes knocked off Minnesota United and should continue to get plenty of minutes in the wake of Ben Sweat’s unfortunate ACL injury.

Caden Clark: He only scores bangers! … And presses, and passes, and gets USMNT fans more and more hyped with every passing week.

Paxton Pomykal: Injuries are the only thing keeping him from becoming Dallas’ crown jewel and his work off the bench vs. Portland provides some encouraging data points on his return to full fitness.

Hunter Sulte: OK, so the Timbers’ 19-year-old homegrown ‘keeper got shellacked a bit in his first-team debut. But the club is high on their young Alaskan – a rare professional talent from the Last Frontier – and it represented a high compliment that he got the nod as part of their Concacaf Champions League-imposed lineup rotation.

Moses Nyeman: The 17-year-old provided one of the few bright spots from D.C. United’s trip to San Jose, as he more than held his own against the Quakes’ withering pressure in an often-ferocious engine-room battle in his first start under Hernan Losada.


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.