National Writer: Charles Boehm

Who were the best young-player performers in MLS Week 15?

MLS finally returned to full flow this weekend after a three-week lull. But not quite everyone is back.

Literally dozens of players – nearly 30 on the Canadian and US teams alone – from across the league’s various clubs and developmental tiers are in Central America right now, representing respective nations at the Concacaf Under-20 Championship. At stake are spots at not only next year’s FIFA U-20 World Cup, but also the 2024 Summer Olympics.

That thins the ranks of YPPOTW-eligible candidates considerably in Week 15. It’s a testament to the league’s youthful trend that so many standouts pushed themselves into contention just the same. As always, remember you too can contribute to this rundown; just find a tweet like this at the start of a new week and share your nominations.

Another note: Jackson Ragen is a few months too old for YPPOTW consideration. But the Seattle Sounders center back is one of MLS’s biggest developmental stories right now as he logs regular minutes for the freshly-crowned Concacaf Champions League title-holders. And his winding road through academy ball, college soccer, the SuperDraft and a USL Championship second team to finally reach an elite first-team squad is a testament to the importance of diverse pathways – and patience and vision in talent identification.

We recommend keeping stories like his in mind at all times when perusing these pages.

The lanky Brazilian teenager is strolling into YPPOTW about as often as anyone in 2022, most recently via his man-of-the-match outing in the Pigeons1-1 home draw with Colorado in the Bronx. He completed passes at a 92% clip, played three key passes, dribbled defenders repeatedly, stylishly and impactfully, and oh yeah, also lashed home this acrobatic worldie:

Can we add this one to the AT&T 5G Goal of the Year shortlist yet? Watch it a few more times if you’re really quibbling with its bona fides – the imagination and athleticism here are superb.

The kid they called “Talles Magico” at Vasco da Gama now has six goals and four assists across all competitions this season. In barely a year, he’s come to grips with MLS and life in North America and blossomed from intriguing prospect to consistent game-changer. Europe is already taking notice.

“I think my joy can be contagious for the team.”

Those were the 20-year-old Colombian attacker’s words as he joined the Revs last month from Atletico Mineiro in Brazil. They’re looking pretty visionary now that he’s produced a goal and an assist in his first few games, including his first career MLS strike in Sunday’s 2-1 win over Minnesota United FC, and other lively work on both sides of the ball.

Sure, that finish had some luck about it. It still found a way past Dayne St. Clair, the league’s top goalkeeper so far in 2022. If you want a play to ooh and aah over, check out his first Revs assist, a clever scooped dime to the feet of Gustavo Bou against Sporting KC:

Bruce Arena’s side has badly missed the explosiveness of Tajon Buchanan since his winter move to Club Brugge. So credit to the scouting department for securing a near doppelganger to offer a similar spark, which looks like just what’s needed in New England.

We fixed our focus on the Five Stripes’ win over Inter Miami with one of his teammates in mind (see below), only for us to be wowed by Campbell’s performance in Sunday’s 2-0 result at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

The 20-year-old center back passed at a startling 98% (60/61), two of them key passes, was nearly flawless with his tackling, won most of his duels and tabbed more than a dozen defensive actions overall as ATL held 10-man IMCF to 0.9 expected goals.

It’s been a difficult road from much-anticipated academy prospect to first-team regular for the homegrown, who made a few costly errors earlier in the season. But the outstanding toolkit is still there, and afternoons like this one remind us just how high the ceiling is for a defender rated by many to be a step ahead of where Miles Robinson was at his age.

Any readers in the South Bay region hassled by a constant thumping sound emanating from the vicinity of Dignity Health Sports Park can blame the young Serb, who is knocking at the door relentlessly – and it seems Galaxy head coach Greg Vanney is just about the only one not ready to let him in and grant him a place at the table.

Joveljic has tallied four goals, two assists and five key passes in the Gs’ last three games across all competitions, all of them off the bench and all showcasing a budding chemistry with Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez. He played the savior again on Saturday, conjuring up a late equalizer (in addition to two key passes and some solid work off the ball) to salvage a 1-1 home draw vs. Portland that keeps LA in the top 10 in the overall MLS table.

“When we have played together, in every game, we have scored,” noted Joveljic, who increasingly sounds like a master of droll understatement, afterwards. “So I think that works.”

Vanney remains hesitant to play a 3-5-2 or similar formation to get both of his top strikers on the pitch together for longer periods. He’s got some valid points considering how his squad is constructed, yet in spite of all that, Joveljic might just be showing the way forward every time he steps on the pitch.

Are VWFC the league’s hottest team? That’s probably debatable considering their 4-0 midweek humbling in Seattle. Still, the Caps’ sudden 3W-1L-0D run has rather dramatically lifted them out of the basement and brightened the mood in British Columbia, with their diminutive Colombian creator a key factor.

Vancouver’s 2-0 road win at FC Dallas was one of the most surprising results of the weekend and Caicedo’s free-kick golazo just before halftime was the dagger that effectively decided it. It’s worth your time:

He also completed 90% of his passes, earned three free kicks, went 3/3 on tackles and chipped in other defensive work to boot, making three recoveries and winning most of his 10 duels. This is the kind of contributor the Caps sought when they paid Deportivo Cali a reported $2.5 million for him 18 months ago.

Honorable mentions

Obed Vargas: Rest assured even if Seattle’s prized teenager isn’t in every single edition of YPPOTW these days, he’s in serious contention just about every time with his incredibly steady engine-room work. Over the past week Vargas started against both Vancouver and LAFC, taking him past the 1,000-minute mark in 2022 with playing time across all competitions. At just 16, he’s valued enough by both the Sounders and the US U-20s that the two sides reached a compromise agreement for him to join the national team for the latter stages of their Concacaf qualifying tournament next week.

Aidan Morris: Amid the fervor of the Columbus Crew’s record-breaking transfer move for Watford’s Cucho Hernandez, try not to sleep on their 20-year-old transplanted homegrown’s return to form in the engine room. Morris passed at a 91% clip against Charlotte FC, completing four accurate long balls and a key pass and making a team-high six successful tackles.

John Tolkin: The 19-year-old logged his first assist of the season in the New York Red Bulls2-0 win over Toronto FC, a good near-post corner-kick delivery to Lewis Morgan for the game-winner, and as usual got after it on the defensive side as well.

Caleb Wiley: With decent passing, dependable defending and constant ventures forward to probe from wide areas and drift into dangerous channel spaces, Atlanta’s 17-year-old left back was impressive in the defeat of Miami, even if the Herons made things much simpler with Jean Mota’s first-half red card. Long-term, we suspect he’s a US men’s national team candidate in the making.

Julian Araujo: The right back stepped straight back into the Galaxy XI after his return from a busy international window with Mexico and barely missed a beat, serving up the cross for Joveljic’s leveler vs. the Timbers and notching nine recoveries on the other side of the ball.


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.