National Writer: Charles Boehm

Top 5 young-player performances in Week 2

Which young ’uns grabbed the spotlight in Week 2?

It’s a promising sign that it was much harder to narrow the list down to five selections in the second edition of this rundown than the first. So I’ve added some honorable mentions at the bottom to give a few others a nod.

Here’s who I’ve got as the weekend’s top performers among the ranks of players aged 22 and under.

Rather than wax poetic about how productive and influential the 17-year-old was in the Quakes’ 3-1 thumping of FC Dallas, let’s go straight to the tape:

Pretty impactful! Signed at age 15, Cowell has long been way ahead of the curve in terms of his power and athleticism. Up to now that’s mostly manifested itself in moments: specific plays that flash promise and get people buzzing on social media and whatnot. But the real struggle is the day-to-day labor of consistency and dependability.

During preseason, Cowell’s coach and teammates talked a lot about how much progress he’d made, and Matias Almeyda has started him up top in both of San Jose’s matches so far, which is half as many starts as he logged in all of 2020. If this continues – and for me, his passing was the real highlight – expect to see a lot more of Cowell on these lists.

The diminutive Argentine is already into his fourth MLS season – what an epic odyssey it’s been – but he’s only just turned 22. If there’s ever a walking case study in the promise and peril of paying big money (and thus incurring outsized expectations) for teenagers, it’s Barco. He's struggled mightily with that aforementioned consistency thing, some of it by his own hand and some due to circumstances out of his control.

With several other creative presences having left Atlanta United and Gabriel Heinze, a coach well-positioned to understand him, in charge, this should be Barco’s year to fulfill his potential – or at least get close enough to power the Five Stripes back into the MLS elite. Leading the way during an emphatic win in their 2021 curtain-raiser at Mercedes-Benz Stadium is a pretty good start.

The crown jewel of Sporting’s academy project is another who’s reached veteran status relative to his age (he turns 19 next month), and appears to be carrying a heavier load this year as a result. Busio was deployed as a false 9 from the start of Friday’s 1-1 draw with Orlando City and struck a goal that was both clinical and opportunistic in the dying moments of the first half:

... then dropped deeper once Alan Pulido entered for the second stanza and worked as a 10.

For much of his time in MLS, we’ve debated Busio’s ideal position as Peter Vermes shuffled him around the park. There’s a silver lining to that, especially in terms of the versatility it’s cultivated in the North Carolinian. How his coaches put that to use will make for interesting viewing in the months and years ahead.

Yes, it’s tempting to write off much of the Cityzens’ 5-0 romp over FC Cincinnati simply based on the visitors’ woeful set-piece defending. But this column took note when three of those goals arrived via alert plays by two 22-year-olds, Castellanos and Jesus Medina, who have (at times) not quite fulfilled their lofty expectations in NYC.

Castellanos notched a(n admittedly fortunate) goal, as well as an assist (by falling down after an aerial challenge and having a ball knocked off his prone body). They all count the same, mind you, and a useful surge of confidence will be pumping through his veins.

Brazil's Palmeiras are said to be hunting a transfer swoop, but the Argentine's one of the only real options for Ronny Deila at the No. 9 spot until Heber returns from a serious knee injury come summer. NYCFC need Castellanos to be a complete striker, or something close to it, until then. With 2g/1a in their first two matches... so far, so good.

Montréal’s all-action wingback very nearly got the YPPOTW nod ahead of his teammate Djordje Mihailovic in Week 1, and this time he’s in after banging home a deflected strike in their 2-2 road draw at Nashville SC, the first goal of his MLS career.

Brault-Guillard's surging runs into attack are a real weapon and he’s passing and tackling at very solid rates this season. With his pace and work rate up and down the right flank, he looks like a perfect piece for the three-back system Montréal and several others have made a trend across the league.

Points must be deducted for Brault-Guillard’s difficulties in containing winger Randall Leal, however, particularly on the cross that created Nashville’s first goal.

Honorable mentions

  • Cristian Cásseres Jr.: The New York Red Bulls’ box-to-box Venezuelan sniffed out a scrappy set-piece goal, played two key passes and generally got himself involved at LA Galaxy on Sunday.
  • Adam Saldana: Greg Vanney has entrusted a barely-19-year-old rookie holding midfielder to do the dirty work for the illustrious Jonathan dos Santos-Victor Vazquez duo in the LA Galaxy’s first two matches, and the homegrown kid is holding his own.
  • Jhohan Romana: One of the captures from Austin FC’s extensive shopping in Paraguay, the composed Colombian center back has been distributing and patrolling at high levels of efficiency for the expansionists.
  • Luke Singh: The Toronto FC II alum started TFC’s season on a sequence of short-term contracts in Concacaf Champions League before finally signing a long-term MLS deal after two impressive performances against Club Leon. On Saturday, he bagged his first goal for the Reds' first team.
  • David Ochoa: As Adrian Heath, Michael Boxall and thousands of other Minnesota residents will tell you, Real Salt Lake’s provocative young goalkeeper is far from the finished product. But all that gamesmanship helped book the 20-year-old his first career MLS win and many (in Utah, at least!) would say that’s worth a bit of dark arts.

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.