The Audi 2020 MLS Cup Playoffs have consisted of seven thrilling games over the course of three days. There’s been epic penalty-kick shootouts and stoppage-time stunners, but one of the biggest takeaways was: Play your kids, they will score.
Jozy Altidore remains the youngest player in MLS history to score a playoff goal when he did so as a 16-year-old with the New York Red Bulls in 2006. But the next three youngest players were established over the weekend.
It is the latest example of the impressive youth movement throughout the league this year, which includes Homegrowns Brenden Aaronson and Mark McKenzie at the heart of the Philadelphia Union’s Supporters’ Shield title.
Let’s take a look back at each of the teenagers goals over the weekend.
Caden Clark, New York Red Bulls
Clark already put himself in the record books by becoming the youngest player to score in his first two league appearances after signing with the Red Bulls on Oct. 10. On Saturday, the 17-year-old midfielder became the second youngest player ever to score in the playoffs with his left-footed first-time strike after claiming a failed clearance to give the Red Bulls a 1-0 lead in the 24th minute.
Ricardo Pepi, FC Dallas
With his team moments from playoff elimination, Pepi slipped behind the Timbers defense and fired home the equalizer after collecting his own rebound off the post in the 93rd minute. The 17-year-old Homegrown attacker came on for John Nelson five minutes from full time.
"It's natural. It's not forced," Luchi Gonzalez said of Pepi at his postmatch press conference. "He's a young man that's worked really hard through the youth program, the academy. He's always been humble, but really hard-working, and his natural talent — he doesn't depend on his talent. He tries to show a great mentality, to learn and to be patient and to give everything at his opportunity. So tonight was a product of that and I know he's still going to learn a lot going forward, he has a great future. But he certainly showed that he can step in on the biggest the stage, in a pressure moment when we need it most, and deliver. So I think it's just the beginning for a player that's going to support this club and have a career in the league.”
Gianluca Busio, Sporting KC
The old man of this trio at the golden age of 18, Busio scored in the first minute of second-half stoppage time, an apparent winner before Chris Wondolowski leveled six minutes later in a match that would be decided on penalty kicks. Busio was the recipient of a sensational back heel layoff by Khiry Shelton and the Homegrown midfielder took a settling touch before firing past goalkeeper JT Marcinkowski.
“When he came into the locker room after the game, I said to him, ‘I can’t say enough about your effort tonight.’ Everybody always looks at the goals and the assists, but the work that he put into the game and understanding what I asked him to do,” SKC coach Peter Vermes said after the match. “He did it for almost 120 minutes. The kid is something special. I’m happy for him because he works really hard and he deserves to make the kind of contribution he did tonight. He’s an excellent player and I really appreciate the way he goes about his business every day. I really do.”