National Writer: Charles Boehm

Top 5 young-player performances in Week 4

As we swing into our fourth installment of this new series for 2021, hopefully the premise has become self-explanatory. And readers, please remember: You can chime in on this process! Just look for a tweet like this one on Monday morning or thereabouts.

Another good weekend for young’uns around the league made for another batch of tough choices. Let’s dive right in.

No, the New Red Bulls' wunderkind wasn't docked points for scoring a rare non-banger this week. Quite the contrary: On that close-range empty-net tap-in to ice their 2-0 win over Toronto FC, Clark had to be swift of both foot and mind to reach the loose ball before his teammate Cristian Casseres Jr., which hints at just how Red Bull-ish Gerhard Struber has these young Red Bulls playing.

One reason Clark slots in here ahead of his teammates Casseres and Frankie Amaya (more on him later) is the complete skillset he showed on RBNY’s opener, which was Amaya’s first goal for his new team and a decent microcosm of both Clark’s game and Struber’s vision. Keep your eyes on No. 37...

Can he keep this up? The way Clark continues to hone the finer points of his game leads me to believe he can. Note this snippet from his postgame media availability:

“In the Galaxy game, [I] wasn’t in the box enough, wasn’t being aggressive going forward, and [Struber] told me that, straight up,” said Clark. “I learned from that, and I think getting in the box has to be my job. Whether I’m at the 8, in the 10, it’s huge for my game to get in the box. You never know what’s going to happen.”

Over the winter, lots of us pondered how Philadelphia would compensate for the seven-figure sales of MLS Best XI honorees Mark McKenzie and Brenden Aaronson. The Union (so far) are answering those questions on the pitch pretty compellingly, and their 20-year-old newcomer from St. Pauli is one of the key factors.

Flach is German-American, but he’s been a Swiss Army Knife, filling multiple positions across their diamond midfield and at fullback, showcasing range, bite, timing and intelligence in all of them. It’s been particularly useful in light of his teammate Jose Martinez’s tendency to walk that dangerous edge between aggression and ejection.

The Venezuelan is currently serving a three-match ban after he crossed that line against NYCFC a week ago, and Flach took up his No. 6 role with aplomb in Chicago to undergird the DOOPers’ win over Fire FC, their first in league play this season. He’s looking like one of the steal acquisitions of the offseason – and he doesn’t even cost Philly an international slot.

After the Galaxy's El Trafico win, I wrote about the working-class mentality they – with the loud urging of their home fans – summoned to find another gear and outpace LAFC. No one – not Chicharito, not even Jonathan dos Santos – epitomized that all evening better than Araujo, their tough-as-nails right back.

This was a huge result for Greg Vanney’s Galaxy renovation project, and it was also big for Araujo, 19, on a personal level. As much as I rate the kid, he just didn’t make the most of his minutes during the US Under-23 national team’s Concacaf Olympic Qualifying tournament – and that makes it all the more important that he strings together some solid outings for his club like this.

My colleague Matt Doyle wrote lots of good words about the Mile High Club’s plucky comeback win over Minnesota in his weekend wrap, including these about Bassett, who helped change the game when he came off the bench after Younes Namli picked up a knock:

“Bassett hasn’t been much of a defensive presence in his career thus far, but he played like he’s been reading comments saying that he needs to be more of a defensive presence (you’re welcome, Rapids fans), and regardless, Namli’s defense makes Bassett look like prime Roy Keane.”

He was pretty good on the ball, too! Bassett alertly sniffed out the rebound to tap home Colorado’s equalizing goal after a Sam Vines cross pitched the Loons defense into chaos, and earlier crashed a gorgeous first-time volley off the woodwork. I expect he’s earned a spot in the starting XI when Houston visit Commerce City on Saturday (9 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+) … unless Robin Fraser wants to see more of him as a supersub.

It’s very simple: The Argentine striker keeps scoring important goals, so I keep slotting him into the top five. This time it was a calmly and clinically dispatched penalty kick to secure a road point for NYCFC at Orlando, which I suspect will be a hard-won achievement for many visitors to Exploria Stadium this year.

As the iconic Jon Champion noted on his goal call, that finish makes Castellanos just the fifth player in league history to score in the first four matches of a new season. That’s paced NYCFC’s climb to the top of the Eastern Conference standings, with the second-best goal differential (+6) in MLS.

Honorable mentions

Jack McGlynn: Earmarked by the YPPOTW politburo as one to watch at the start of the season, the 17-year-old became the youngest Union player in a decade when he made his first MLS start last Saturday, laying down lots of encouraging data points. Here's how his coach, Jim Curtin, framed it:

“We know that Jack will always, literally 100 percent of the time, make the right soccer decision with his brain. What will come with time is getting up to the speed of play and how quick things are happening on the field. But in terms of a soccer brain, soccer IQ, he is at as high a level as I’ve seen for a young kid.”

Frankie Amaya: Amaya flashed some of the reasons the Red Bulls plunked down real assets to extricate him from FC Cincinnati, combining nicely with Caden Clark and Fabio to lash home a tidy near-post strike amid harassing a tired-looking TFC midfield for 65 minutes ...

Dru Yearwood: … and it got worse for Toronto when Yearwood replaced Amaya and promptly took up a driving role in RBNY’s lead management. It’s taken far longer than they’d have hoped, but the 21-year-old Englishman is quietly raising his level with one promising substitute appearance after another, showing off his range of passing and instincts in transition.

Gianluca Busio: With his technique, versatility and increasingly relentless engine, Busio's importance to Sporting Kansas City is growing more obvious with each passing week. But if you need some numbers, here you go:

Marcos Lopez: With almost no fanfare, the young Peruvian has logged some very effective appearances at left back for the San Jose Earthquakes as they climb the table out West. Just as quietly, Lopez is in his third season with the club.


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.