National Writer: Charles Boehm

Top young-player performances in MLS Week 27

An aggressive young newcomer helped lift the flagging fortunes of the league’s newest club, a homegrown extended his hot streak with some Hudson River Derby heroics and a new Earthquake rumbles out west.

All that and more in the Week 27 rundown of the top young-player performances of the week in MLS! Let's get underway.

“Having Moussa is extremely important. We haven’t had a striker since like Week 5, Week 6 … you can see what it means when you have a real striker who can occupy center backs, who has a physicality, who plays on both sides of the line. It’s very different.”

ATX’s 21-year-old No. 9 scored his first MLS goal on Sunday as the expansionists finally broke their winless streak and piled further misery on the LA Galaxy with a 2-0 victory at Q2 Stadium, and head coach Josh Wolff’s words explain Djitte’s value more succinctly than any I could conjure up.

Not only is the energetic young Senegalese attacker bringing his own qualities to bear, but his addition to the Austin XI also liberates his teammates from having to deputize out of position up top. It’s likely too late to get the Verde into the playoff race, but it might make them a slippery banana peel of a spoiler down the stretch.

Sunday’s 2-1 road win over Sporting KC was a massive result for the Sounders, a gutsy turning of the page from their Leagues Cup Final defeat to Club Leon that restores them to first place in the Western Conference.

And their 19-year-old homegrown’s legs and brain were essential to the victory, as he went 38/45 with his passing, completed three accurate long balls, produced 13 defensive actions and played a key role in the crucial opening goal by Cristian Roldan:

It’s easy to miss the impact of Atencio’s speed of thought here. The kid sniffed out an untimely error by Graham Zusi, then immediately set the scoring sequence in motion with a first-time pass – it’s not perfectly hit, but it’s quickly hit and that’s more important in this case – to Brad Smith, who delivers the decisive cross to Roldan.

The RBNY attacker makes YPPOTW for the second week in a row after helping the red half of New York assert itself in back-to-back HRD clashes with NYCFC. After logging 45 minutes in the last-gasp 1-1 draw at Red Bull Arena at midweek, Fernandez was the man on the spot to deliver a massive (and well-worked) match-winner against NYCFC at Yankee Stadium, which sits a short subway ride from his childhood home in the Bronx, on Sunday.

“All my friends were coming to the game. It’s a big moment,” Fernandez said postgame. “I don’t think people really understand how much it means to me how many people I know in this area and how many people actually came here to support me.”

It means a ton to his club as well: While still a long shot for the postseason, the Red Bulls aren’t out of the race yet and have a game in hand on most of their direct competitors for the last few slots in the East.

Teen phenom Cade Cowell casts a pretty big shadow in terms of the Quakes’ young talents. But now he’s got some company in that conversation as Kikanovic – a very much under-the-radar prospect who started his pro career with San Jose’s now-defunct USL affiliate Reno 1868 – finds his feet down the backstretch of his first MLS season.

The local kid came up big in the opening moments of their important 2-0 win over LAFC, exploiting space behind the backline after a turnover with a direct, well-timed run and finish that seems likely to earn him further minutes from Matias Almeyda.

It’s yet another rough week for Cincy, who have won just one game since the end of June and dismissed head coach Jaap Stam on Monday ahead of the anticipated arrival of a new general manager and likely subsequent rebuild. But amid all that gloom, their 22-year-old striker lit a candle in the dying moments of Saturday’s 4-2 loss at D.C. United.

The score was already 4-0 when Vazquez entered as part of an 80th-minute triple substitution that will go down as Stam’s last official action as FCC’s boss, the kind of situation widely (and uncharitably) known as “garbage time” to many players. To his credit, the former Atlanta and Tijuana man made the very most of those minutes, roping a firm lefty finish into the top corner for his first goal of the season before assisting on Luciano Acosta’s late strike.

Sure, you can say that United had taken their foot off the pedal, but Vazquez punished them for it. And that’s the kind of attitude FCC can use plenty more of in the months and years ahead.

Honorable mentions

Dru Yearwood: The English center mid is one of many Red Bulls who haven’t remotely lived up to their potential in 2021. This week’s rivalry double-dip provided some examples of why he was saddled with said expectations in the first place, though. Yearwood played four key passes across the two matches, staying involved in the attack, and bravely fought the midfield battles that usually decide these bruising showdowns – including the absorption of some bone-crunching challenges, namely the Keaton Parks scissors tackle that enabled RBNY to finish Wednesday’s game with a player advantage.

Gabriel Slonina: One of the few silver linings of the Chicago Fire’s rough-and-tumble 2021 is that Raphael Wicky is giving his 17-year-old goalkeeper some games, including two this past week. “Gaga” shrugged off the pain of Wednesday’s last-second 3-2 loss to New England to post a clean sheet against Nashville, making some decent stops in both matches.

Ranko Veselinovic: Stateside readers would do well to keep an eye on the surging Whitecaps, who have conceded just eight goals in their nine games since the start of August, going 5-1-3 in that stretch. Their increasingly dependable Serbian center back has been a big contributor, going the full 90 in seven of those matches and logging minutes in the others as well.

Marcos Lopez: As we discussed in our previous edition of YPPOTW, San Jose’s left back has the quality to be a weapon in their charge for an Audi MLS Cup Playoffs place and he followed last week’s goal with a calmly-slotted assist on Eduardo “Chofis” Lopez's game-icing strike against LAFC.


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.