National Writer: Charles Boehm

Who were the best young-player performers in MLS Week 14?

One more week; now catch your breath.

Right as engines were starting to redline, the 2022 MLS season has veered into the June international break, bringing crucial national-team camps for some, and a timely dose of downtime for others. 

The players who helped their clubs produce quality performances in Week 14 left their coaching staffs with a good impression to marinate on over the coming fortnight or so, and those ranks included several young ones. Here’s a rundown.

The 22-year-old Serb has Chicharito planted firmly ahead of him on the No. 9 depth chart in LA’s preferred 4-2-3-1 system. His head coach, Greg Vanney, appears to want to bring him along at a slow and steady pace. And thanks to the apparently irrepressible cocktail of skill, swagger, ambition and youthful vigor pumping through Joveljić’s veins, he’s nevertheless insisting on a much bigger role in Carson. 

At least that’s what Joveljić’s performances are saying. After scoring in the Galaxy’s 3-1 U.S. Open Cup knifing of LAFC in midweek, he came off the bench to spark a four-goal comeback against Austin FC on Sunday, scoring two of them and assisting on the others. Thus he became the first sub in MLS history to produce four goal contributions, and the MLS Player of the Week.

The latter were probably prettier than the former, especially that unreal bicycle-kick dime to set Efra Alvarez loose on a breakaway. As Armchair Analyst Matt Doyle put it, the kid “seems really, really determined to play his way into the XI.” As Vanney noted, it wasn’t just about end product, either. 

“In the locker room I also gave him a lot of credit for just the defensive work he put in when he came on the field,” said the coach, who must now ponder whether the system needs to be adjusted to accommodate Chicharito and Joveljic playing together on the regular. “His off-the-ball running, just trying to harass the defenders, make it difficult on them, was outstanding. So this is the young man that we thought we were getting.”

Your early 2022 MLS Golden Boot presented by Audi leader got some company atop the scoring charts this week, as a Saturday brace by Jeremy Ebobisse drew the Quakes’ red-hot striker level with Ferreira on nine goals this season. You might say FCD’s spearhead responded in trademark fashion: By doubling his 2022 assists total in their impressive 3-1 comeback win at Orlando City.

What I’m saying is that as clinical as Ferreira has been in front of goal, there’s a case to be made that his passing touch in the final third is his real superpower, and this game was a case study. The homegrown drifted deep before setting up Paul Arriola for the equalizer, then even deeper to serve a lovely delivery to Franco Jara for the game-winner. 

In all, "Cheetah" tabbed three key passes, two accurate long balls and 10 defensive actions, helping to turn around what had theretofore looked like a rough night for the North Texans in muggy central Florida.

Amid all the feverish speculation about the US men’s national team’s urgent need for a striker as they play their first of four June matches this week, it might just as easily turn out to be Ferreira’s moment to lock down that starting role for himself.

The Black & Gold got humbled yet again at Dignity Health Sports Park on Wednesday as the Galaxy extended their head-scratching mastery over their crosstown rivals. A few days later they found themselves in danger of even deeper woes when the San Jose Earthquakes roared back from a 2-0 first-half deficit to equalize at 2-2 in their league meeting on Saturday. 

That’s not how Steve Cherundolo & Co. wanted to head into the international break, and Rodriguez made sure to avert that unsettling possibility with an ice-cold far-post finish just after halftime. It’s the second goal of the season for “Rayo,” and a just reward after he showed selflessness and awareness in the Quakes’ box to set up Ryan Hollingshead for LAFC’s second goal.

Rodriguez’s agent Pablo Bentancur had made some waves earlier in the week with a few outspoken quotes about how young prospects like him get “no development” and too much money in MLS, capped by a come-and-get-us plea to Serie A clubs. They didn’t exactly sound like the most helpful statements for a player whose eventual move to Europe has mostly been a question of when and not if. 

So the speedy young Uruguayan’s determined performance against San Jose was the perfect remedy to turn the page on all that.

For too much of the 21-year-old Argentine winger’s year-plus in Cincy, his name has been shorthand for under-performance and untapped potential. That finally seems to be changing in recent weeks as the Pat Noonan-Chris Albright rebuild project advances.

Barreal was one of FCC’s most productive players on their trip to Montréal, where these two teams played out their second 4-3 goalfest of the season. First he served up the corner kick that led to Cincy’s opening goal, then in the second half he met a lovely Lucho Acosta centering pass with a firm first-time finish to halve the deficit after CFM had surged ahead 3-1 with the help of some defensive miscues.

Overall Barreal completed 74% of his passes, created three chances, connected on four of his seven crosses, made a handful of tackles and won most of his 11 duels. He's now racked up three goals and an assist in FCC's last four games across all competitions, hinting at the abilities that led his club to spend seven figures on his acquisition in 2020.

While Saturday’s loss was surely frustrating, Barreal and the Knifey Lions have reasons for optimism as they enter June in a playoff spot, sitting 12th place overall.

With one of the oldest squads in the league, the Coyotes haven’t exactly been #PlayYourKids all-stars. Maher, their first-ever SuperDraft pick back in 2020, is the prominent exception, even if his contributions as a sturdy central defender are often easy to overlook. 

The Indiana product was his best, most rock-solid self as NSC broke the Colorado Rapids’ 23-game regular-season home unbeaten streak over the weekend – and on their first-ever visit to Commerce City, no less.

Working in his usual spot on the right side of Nashville’s three-man defense, Maher completed 89% of his 44 passes, went 6/7 on long balls and contributed nine clearances and three recoveries. He was particularly dominant in the air, winning six of his eight aerial duels and thumping away five headed clearances.

Honorable mentions

Owen Wolff: The silver lining in ATX’s painful trip to Los Angeles? Wolff bagging the first assist of his professional career, as he recovered from his own poor first touch with a snapping tackle to dispossess Derrick Williams and center for Diego Fagundez. You can just see the 17-year-old homegrown learning and growing with every appearance, and clearly others have taken notice, based on his call-up to the US Under-19 national team. 

Santi Rodriguez: The Uruguayan was one of New York City FC’s best performers in their stout 1-0 road win over Minnesota United, assisting on Alex Callens’ match-winner, creating five chances overall and covering plenty of ground in midfield to keep the Pigeons in control of the tempo per usual. 

Julian Araujo: The Galaxy’s 20-year-old right back posted another laudable performance against Austin, notching an assist on Chicharito’s equalizer, one of two key passes on the day. He also completed 87% of his passes and hit double digits in defensive actions.

Will Sands: After earning his first start for the Columbus Crew in Open Cup play last month, James’ twin brother got his longest runout in MLS play at Atlanta on Saturday, playing 66 minutes in relief of the injured Pedro Santos at left back. Sands shook off some early nerves to help the Yellow Football Team bank a vital away win, completing 75% of his passes and doing diligent defensive work.

Obed Vargas: Another week, another steady-Eddie outing from the Sounders teenage homegrown. He’s rarely doing anything overly eye-catching to the casual viewer, just fighting the engine-room battles and setting the stage for his more renowned teammates as Seattle continue their slow climb up the table after their slow start in league play.


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.