The penultimate week of the MLS regular season has come and gone; Decision Day awaits.
Whether powering a playoff push or playing spoiler, young players came to grips with pressurized environments across the league, many of them in match-winning style. Here’s the best of the best from Weeks 33 and 34.
Real Salt Lake needed all three points from their home matinee vs. San Jose on Saturday, and of course they recognized the importance of denying space to the fastest teenager in MLS when Matias Almeyda inserted him into the starting lineup for the first time in nearly three months, right?
Not so much! Somehow RSL allowed the endearingly chaotic Quakes to lure them into a track meet and Cowell duly prospered, skinning Justen Glad to set up Carlos Fierro for the first-half equalizer, then scampering some 70 yards with the ball at his feet before humbling the Salt Lake defense again with a superb solo golazo.
Cowell is still raw in key areas – he turns the ball over a lot with his aggressive dribbling and passing choices – but he’s got that special spark that makes game-defining plays, and he certainly gave Almeyda the best possible rejoinder for his weeks upon weeks of sub duty as San Jose’s season slipped away.
The YPPOTW cabinet is keenly aware of the risks of distorting and dehumanizing the evaluation process by obsessing over physical attributes like speed, size and strength. That can be a real danger with an early bloomer like Cowell, so let’s talk about another 18-year-old with a significantly different skill set who nonetheless might turn out to have an even higher ceiling.
“Pax10” is actually a few weeks older than his powerful Quakes counterpart, and at a different juncture in his development. He too scored over the weekend, and was for my money man of the match in Philly’s win over FC Cincinnati, showcasing the range, bite, quick feet and even quicker thinking that makes him such a great fit for the Union’s system, just like his big brother Brenden.
The younger Aaronson distributed incisively, including two key passes, covered the necessary ground at Subaru Park and capped it off with a clinical left-footed finish he improvised after his fellow homegrown Jack McGlynn (more on him later) smacked him with a pass intended for their teammate Kacper Przybylko.
Ricardo Pepi’s partner in crime has been playing at a consistently high level for some time now, enough for him to become a constant YPPOTW contender even as FCD’s season sputters towards a sad, quiet end. And there are ample data points to demonstrate why.
He’s now at 8g/8a in 2,161 minutes this season, a combined g+a number tied with Pepi’s (13g/3a) and behind only Djordje Mihailovic (4g/15a) among players 22 and under. And his output of “big chances created” ranks him on par with veteran playmakers like Johnny Russell and Luciano Acosta.
With the eyes of so many overseas scouts focused on Pepi these days, don’t be surprised if a few of them linger on Ferreira and eventually lead to serious transfer offers.
It’s been an up-and-down season for Orlando’s battering ram, who remains a Lion despite widespread expectations he’d be sold in the summer window after his English Championship loan exploits at Barnsley.
Whatever the factors at play there, Dike has been streaky in MLS play and he’s now on one again, scoring in three straight games – including vs. Columbus and Nashville this past week – despite his team’s struggles to lock down an Audi MLS Cup Playoffs berth.
As Matt Doyle pointed out in his weekend wrap, the chemistry among Orlando’s frontline has left something to be desired and it’s an open question as to whether they can mend it in time to make a deep postseason run, provided they even qualify. But I wouldn’t blame that on Dike, who’s surpassed his league scoring total from last year with a game to spare as he keeps cranking along in his watershed 2021:
While too little, too late for their 2021 hopes, TFC have made themselves a tough out in recent weeks, snatching points off playoff chasers in their last three games – and Okello’s engine-room work has been a significant factor.
With Michael Bradley having to deputize at center back, the 21-year-old has spent lots of time in the No. 6 role and looks the part. Okello has been completing passes at high volume and accuracy rates, putting in hard graft on both sides of the ball and logging an assist, his first of the season, against Philly.
The towering homegrown also scored in the 4-0 Canadian Championship win over York United last month and could yet help the Reds redeem this rough campaign with a domestic cup trophy and the resulting Concacaf Champions League berth. And with European suitors having followed him for years – reported six-figure bids have already been declined – his name will probably be on the lips of many this winter.
Caden Clark: New York Red Bulls coach Gerhard Struber had lots of nice things to say about Clark in a recent interview with Transfermarkt, calling him “a lad massively close to my heart” and “a great talent” for whom “it's essential that he gets playing time every week.”
Yet RBNY’s brightest prospect since Tyler Adams has seen precious little of the pitch lately. Even Clark admitted that he was “absolutely pissed off” not to start in the must-win home game vs. CF Montréal, but he channeled that frustration successfully, nodding the game-winning assist to Fabio in injury time to sustain the Red Bulls’ amazing late charge up the standings.
Jack McGlynn: Another set of highly promising outings for the midfield metronome. The aforementioned Armchair Analyst compared Philly’s young maestro to Mesut Ozil after his performance vs. FCC and while YPPOTW prefers to shovel just a tad less hyperbole on our hype trains, we’re nonetheless priming the furnace:
Javain Brown: Completing 92% of his 39 passes and defending well even in another deployment on the less-familiar left flank, the Jamaican contributed to the midweek win over Minnesota that keeps Vancouver on course for previously-unthinkable playoff qualification. Strangely, he was still left off the Reggae Boyz roster for their November World Cup qualifiers, with the likes of Alvas Powell – who’s started just one match for Philly over the past two months – preferred by Tappa Whitmore.
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.