National Writer: Charles Boehm

Top young-player performances in MLS Week 19

We’ll begin this week’s edition with a confession, and an apology.

Week 19's selection process was a knock-down, drag-out brawl between somewhere close to 20 worthy candidates across the weekend’s matches. That’s just a small example of how many young players are earning minutes, and making good use of them, around MLS these days – as is the presence of five YPPOTW-eligible standouts in the Team of the Week presented by Audi.

More than 10 of them deserve a nod here. But we have to draw the line somewhere, and 10 is our max. So if you don’t see your pick here, there’s a good chance they were one of the unlucky contenders left on the cutting-room floor. And that’s a good sign for the MLS player development process writ large.

Go to Matt Doyle’s weekend wrap column and read the section about New York City FC, which is really all about their Argentine striker in the wake of his match-winning brace vs. Inter Miami. Castellanos has now bagged eight goals on the year, which actually vastly underperforms his league-leading 14.85 expected goals!

This gets back to a very old debate about whether attackers who leave goals on the table like that are profligate finishers, or actually highly effective frontrunners doing good things that will eventually pay off in statistical terms over the long run. In the short run, Ronny Deila is clearly thrilled that his No. 9 is playing AND producing with such obvious confidence.

What a homecoming for the kid from Brampton. With US-Canada border crossings restricted for more than a year due to the pandemic, Buchanan said postgame that he can’t remember the last time he played in front of his family and friends, who numbered somewhere close to 100 members of the BMO Field crowd for the Revs’ tight 2-1 win over Toronto FC.

Buchanan scored the opener and completed 17 of 19 passes, flashing the speed, range, directness and finishing nous that reportedly has him on the verge of a multi-million-dollar move to Europe. MLS audiences should catch a viewing of this talent in person while they still can.

Are we chronically underrating Bassett? Are we chronically underrating the Rapids as a whole, for that matter? I’m open to having conversations about both questions, although it might actually just be one conversation, because the 20-year-old midfielder is doing a bit of almost everything quite well for the Mile High Club, who currently sit sixth in the Supporters’ Shield race (and have games in hand).

Bassett was everywhere in their 3-1 road win over Houston, notching an assist, clanging a sweet strike off the post, covering ground defensively and passing and dribbling efficiently. While Colorado may want to keep him around long enough to see how high he and the rest of Robin Fraser’s group can fly in the postseason, I expect they’ll be tempted by a few seven-figure offers in the coming months.

NYCFC are just a hair’s breadth ahead of Colorado in the overall league table, and if you’ve been paying any attention you know that the steady Sands is a massive reason why. Against Miami, he did what he almost always does: Distribute cleanly and intelligently, all while anchoring the Cityzens' backline regardless of team shape or game states.

While we don’t factor performances from outside competitions into YPPOTW, it should be noted that Sands did all this after going 90 minutes against Pumas UNAM in Leagues Cup at midweek. He's also hardly missed a step since his return from a busy July with the US men’s national team, where they lifted the Gold Cup over Mexico.

A name once synonymous with promise unfulfilled and expectations unmet is now looking like a consistently dangerous standout for the resurgent Five Stripes. Perhaps no one has benefitted more than Barco from the confidence and joy interim boss Rob Valentino has brought to the table in Atlanta.

After bagging a brace in Columbus last week, the Argentine delivered the game-winning assist for Josef Martinez to edge past LAFC on national TV Sunday, one of his two key passes in addition to some incisive dribbling and two fouls won in the attacking third. Now let’s see if new coach Gonzalo Pineda can coax even more out of Barco.

Honorable mentions

Ranko Veselinovic: Sometimes the aspects of a 0-0 result that repel neutral watchers are signs of excellent center-back play, and I reckon that’s the case with Friday’s Whitecaps-Earthquakes stalemate. With five straight draws, Vancouver can be said to be plodding along, but a team that not long ago looked way too accustomed to losing has tasted defeat just once since the start of July. Their Serbian center back has been key in making them tougher to play against, and now they’re finally on the verge of returning to BC Place.

Julian Araujo: I’m conflicted about Araujo missing out on a top-five slot this week because he continues to post man-of-the-match-caliber outings on the LA Galaxy’s right corner, and last Saturday's 1-0 win at Minnesota was a massive result for his club. If recent reports in the Spanish-language press are accurate, we may also soon learn of his shift in international allegiance, with Mexico said to be closing in despite Gregg Berhalter’s high regard for him.

Sunusi Ibrahim: The 18-year-old Nigerian attacker was CF Montréal’s super-sub against the New York Red Bulls, coming on to score the equalizer – his first MLS goal – and push the tempo in a 2-1 comeback win. Ibrahim punched home a header that got things rolling.

Kevin Cabral: After an uneven start to his Galaxy career, the Frenchman is finding his feet. Cabral scored for the second time in as many games to deliver that big road win over the Loons, plus played two key passes. It’s his third goal of the season and I suspect we’re just seeing a partial glimpse of the former Valenciennes forward's full potential.

Ralph Priso: We’re sending Toronto FC's talented young center mid our best wishes for good news and a speedy recovery after he went off with what looked like a painful injury against the Revs. Amid a trying year overall for the Reds, the 19-year-old homegrown has quietly produced quality performances on both sides of the ball as he grows into Michael Bradley's heir apparent.


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.