A busy midsummer schedule packed with double-game weeks for rosters shorn of key international absences?

Those ear-splitting sirens you hear are the #PlayYourKids klaxon, and a hefty crop of talented youngsters are stepping up to shine under its flashing red lights. After another competitive cycle of evaluation and consideration, here are our top young-player performances of MLS Weeks 14 and 15.

Saturday’s demolition of the LA Galaxy defense – a jaw-dropping exhibition of finishing efficiency – made Pepi the youngest-ever player to score an MLS hat trick at 18 years and 196 days of age, amplifying the European transfer chatter around him. It also underlined the conundrum on FCD coach Luchi Gonzalez’s hands.

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Having now bagged eight of Dallas’ 18 goals this season (44%), Pepi is fifth in the Golden Boot presented by Audi race. The El Paso kid has scored four times as much, in both raw and per-90-minutes terms, as FCD Designated Player Franco Jara, who costs a heck of a lot more than his homegrown colleague.

Jara’s 2020 arrival from Liga MX side Pachuca was a statement signing, a personal priority for club president Dan Hunt. But Pepi’s unquestionably The Guy in Frisco right now.

Pepi strolled into the MLS Team of the Week presented by Audi, and so does his even younger clubmate Che, who seems to be surging from strength to strength with every passing match as he becomes a fixture on FCD’s right corner.

Is the 17-year-old’s biggest long-term upside at center back, as many had believed? Or could he blossom into an even more useful wide man, with his high-output engine and slick swagger on the ball? Che came very close to a permanent transfer to Bayern Munich earlier this year, and reports suggest he remains squarely in the Bavarian giants’ crosshairs – with good reason.

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If YPPOTW gave out team or coaches’ awards, Brian Schmetzer and his Rave Green would have hoisted hardware this week. Shorthanded Seattle fielded a starting XI barely old enough to drink a beer, much less rent a car, for Thursday’s visit to Austin FC, and the five teenagers in it helped post a 1-0 clean sheet. Raul Ruidiaz came off the bench to snatch all three points with a Goal of the Year-level worldie, a pretty good illustration of how well-rounded clubs provide the support that helps young players succeed.

Atencio, 19, gets the nod ahead of his fellow Soundlets (Soundlings? Tough Kids?) both here and in the MLS Team of the Week by virtue of the steel, composure and versatility he showed in both their matches this week, starting the first match as a center back and the second in midfield.

That Gianluca Busio-sized hole that looks likely to open up in Sporting Kansas City’s midfield at any moment? Duke, 20, flashed his credentials as the homegrown heir apparent this week. The do-everything center-mid began by shining against San Jose on Wednesday, his first start of the season:

Then he came off the bench to clinch Sporting’s big 3-1 win at Seattle with a classy, instinctive finish, the first MLS goal of his career. That milestone was celebrated with a mid-interview water dousing from his elder teammates as the Lumen Field visitors made enough noise to be heard in Schmetzer’s postgame press conference.

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It’s hard to get a firm handle on how to evaluate New York City FC’s 22-year-old spearhead. There’s a data-driven point of view that he’s acutely underrated and consistently does good and important things at high levels even when he appears ineffective or anonymous. But when you embark on a nine-game scoring drought almost immediately after signing a new multi-year contract, well… questions are asked.

But the Argentine chipped in a goal and assist in the 5-0 rout of Orlando at the weekend. And even if his marks weren’t the romp’s most eye-catching contributions, they’ll surely send a dose of confidence through his veins. Maybe it’s Yankee Stadium he likes: Castellanos’ goal-less skid coincided with the Cityzens’ lengthy time away from their Bronx home.

Honorable Mentions

Jose Cifuentes: It’s year No. 4 of Bob Bradley’s LAFC project, and I suspect we’ve come to take for granted how much complexity and clinicality the system demands from its central midfielders. Shouldering a heavy load with the now-traded Mark-Anthony Kaye away at the Gold Cup, “Cifu” played four key passes in Wednesday’s last-gasp loss at Portland, then added another one vs. Vancouver and laced this brilliant – and clutch – volley to boot, his fifth goal of the season.

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Andres Perea: Before it all went pear-shaped for Orlando City at Yankee Stadium on Saturday, Perea showed a nice sampling of his well-rounded skill set in the 2-1 midweek defeat of Philadelphia. The Colombian-American flicked home a pinpoint angled header for the winner, completed 41-of-47 passes (including one key pass) and won 80% of his duels en route to Team of the Week presented by Audi honors. Perea posted a goals added number of 0.23 across the Lions’ double game week.

Robbie Robinson: Inter Miami fans are going through it right now, so kudos to their young attacker for regaining what appears to be full fitness and form and giving them something to feel good about. Robinson has arguably been their best player of late, providing the pace and directness needed to make the most of the Higuain brothers’ vision, as on his goal vs. Philadelphia.

Kevin Paredes: D.C. United’s precocious 18-year-old keeps making things happen on both sides of the ball. Paredes’ lefty strike (note the defense-torturing lack of backlift in his mechanics) on Wednesday started the sudden late fightback that allowed the Black-and-Red to rob Chicago of three points at the death.

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Reed Baker-Whiting: He’s not the youngest of Seattle’s NKOTBs, he just looks like it. And “RBW” has technical abilities and bravery on the ball that belie that baby face. His performance against Austin was striking above all for his assurance, even urgency, to pass progressively and break lines.

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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.

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