“I don't usually do what I did for younger players, subbing him off to let the crowd applaud. But I did because of the quality of that goal. That goal should be goal of the week for sure, and that's credit to the kid.”
Those were the words of Seattle Sounders FC head coach Brian Schmetzer in reference to Josh Atencio, after the 21-year-old homegrown bossed the midfield in his team’s 3-0 win over St. Louis CITY SC in Saturday night’s top-of-the-Western Conference clash at Lumen Field.
As much as we respect the gaffer for a default policy intended to keep his kids’ feet on the ground, Atencio deserved that ovation, and we’re inclined to believe that more youngsters around the league could use some of that, too. Here are a few contenders for such an honor on Matchday 7.
Atencio strolled into the Team of the Matchday presented by Audi, and both the numbers and the eye test show why.
In addition to scoring his first career MLS goal, which was both a game-winner and a beauty of a one-touch strike, he waded into a game-high 22 duels, winning nine of them, and posted 15 recoveries, seven interceptions and three tackles while completing 82% of his passes (including one key pass) and logging 98 (!) touches.
Atencio acted like he’s been there before, aside, perhaps, from his reaction to his goal: He later admitted he “definitely blacked out there a little bit” when it rippled the net. With an outing like that, you could easily forget that the guy Atencio was replacing, João Paulo, is arguably the top holding mid in the league.
“When Josh is playing well, he's going to continue to get opportunities,” said Schmetzer. “It was an easy decision for us to be conservative with JP.”
From one side of the continent to the other, and from one AT&T Goal of the Matchday nominee to another, we arrive in Foxborough, Massachusetts, where Borrero stroked a gorgeous curler into the top corner to draw first blood in a 4-0 trouncing of luckless CF Montréal.
Not a fan of short corners? Perhaps this hit will prompt a rethink:
The Colombian also played three key passes, completing 28/36 overall and connecting 3/6 crosses. He also contributed seven recoveries, won 3/4 duels and threatened on the dribble.
While it may have flown under the radar for many among the national audience, RSL set a new club transfer record – a figure reportedly somewhere approaching $4 million – to acquire Gómez over the winter via the league’s U22 Initiative.
We got our first long look at what prompted that investment in the Utahns’ much-needed 3-1 comeback win over Charlotte FC. Gómez clanged a left-footed drive off the crossbar before Pablo Ruiz’s piledriver equalized the score, and then the Colombian winger dropped a couple of absolute dimes to bag assists on RSL’s second and third tallies as the hosts victimized CLTFC with three goals in six second-half minutes.
We wrote about NYCFC’s 18-year-old Slovenian signing for the first time a few weeks ago, and on Saturday he took another step forward with his first contribution to an MLS scoresheet, assisting on Gabriel Pereira’s strike in the 1-1 draw with Atlanta United.
It was one of Ilenic’s three key passes on the night as the fullback covered plenty of ground along the Pigeons’ right touchline at Yankee Stadium, completing 30/40 passes overall and logging nine defensive actions.
NYCFC watchers sound increasingly bullish on the youngster, who appears to be ahead of schedule compared to his age cohort in MLS and other fullbacks with comparable toolkits around the league.
We know you’ve already read some version of these words for several editions of YPPOTW, but they’re still inescapably true in the seventh week of the campaign: The Crew are playing some of the best soccer in MLS and a great deal of it has hinged on the do-everything homegrown kid in the heart of the midfield.
No, he didn’t score this time around. But yes, he was instrumental in the 2-0 road win over D.C. United. A sample of Morris’ stat line: He tabbed 88 touches, passed at a 90% clip, completed three long balls, gobbled up nine recoveries, won 8/15 duels and picked up one shiner to go with the broken hand he’s already playing through:
As MLS Season Pass commentator Lloyd Sam approvingly observed during the Crew’s win over RSL last week, Morris has got that dawg in him, and now anyone who walks past him on the streets of Columbus will be able to recognize it that much more easily.
Brian Gutiérrez: Minnesota United are undefeated no more, and the Chicago Fire have a winning record, thanks to the Windy City side’s 2-1 win at Soldier Field, where Gutiérrez went 33/38 passing, 4/6 on dribbles, 5/7 on duels and should’ve notched an assist on a gorgeous late setup for Kei Kamara, who fired wide to miss out on a hat-trick.
Marco Angulo: With FC Cincinnati’s linchpin Obinna Nwobodo currently sidelined, we’ve got our eye on the U22 Initiative Ecuadorian center mid, who was unfussy but effective in his 62 minutes on the pitch in their hard-earned 1-0 win over Philadelphia. Angulo completed 97% of his 33 passes, no easy feat in the chaotic tone that the Union tend to impose on their matches.
Darren Yapi: The Colorado Rapids’ 18-year-old striker came off the bench to book his first career MLS goal contribution in the Mile High Club’s 1-0 win at Sporting KC, assisting on Diego Rubio’s 68th-minute winner, and was active and committed on both sides of the ball in his half-hour on the field at Children’s Mercy Park.