National Writer: Charles Boehm

Who were the best young-player performers in MLS Week 16?

Even with the likes of Obed Vargas, Ben Bender and Thiago Almada sidelined, it was a good weekend for young players across MLS. Several of them scored or set up crucial goals and another produced arguably the best goalkeeping performance of Week 16.

In fact, let’s start there, at BC Place in downtown Vancouver.

Matt Turner’s successor is off to a pretty solid start with the Revs. With Sunday’s 0-0 draw vs. the Whitecaps, the 22-year-old Serbian ran his MLS record to 2W-0L-2D – he’s also logged a win and a loss in US Open Cup play – and earned a spot in the MLS Team of the Week presented by Audi.

Defying VWFC’s 1.2 expected goals, Petrovic made six saves on the day en route to his first clean sheet in a Revolution kit, drawing what counts as rave reviews by Bruce Arena’s standards.

“He played very well,” said the Revs' head coach afterward. “He might have been the player of the match. He made a couple of big saves in the second half. He’s doing very well. He’s going to be a very good goalkeeper.”

Going to be? With all due respect to the dean of MLS coaches, we’re ready to shift that to the present tense.

While most of the Black & Gold ecosystem was freaking out about the sudden recruitment of Gareth Bale, current members of Steve Cherundolo’s squad had to keep their blinders on and handle Sunday’s nationally-televised visit from the New York Red Bulls.

Chiqui” did that about as well as anyone in a match-winning display at Banc of California Stadium. The Ecuadorian left back made three tackles and nine ball recoveries, won 82% of his 12 duels and went 4/6 on dribbles.

He topped it all off by racing nearly the length of the pitch in support of Brian Rodriguez on a late counterattack, coolly sitting down a defender before slotting home the victory-icing goal in such clinical fashion, you’d never guess it was his first goal in 58 MLS regular-season appearances. He, too, strolled right into the Team of the Week as a result.

Regular readers of YPPOTW will recall that we value both quality and quantity around these parts, and you’ll rarely find a greater bang for your buck than Miami’s back-again loanee from Aston Villa provided at DRV PNK Stadium on Saturday.

In just seven minutes of play plus added time, the 21-year-old from Georgia struck for two goals, his first scoring contributions since he rejoined the Herons last month – and timely finishes they were, considering that the home side had been trailing Minnesota United 1-0 after conceding a rather soft opener.

“The one thing I said to him [before the match] is that your goals will come,” head coach Phil Neville said postgame. “Just compose yourself a little bit more. He's had three, four, five chances in games and just snatched at it. He's getting more and more tense, the more games he doesn't score. I said, 'Look, you'll get your chance today and you've just got to compose yourself.'”

Mission accomplished, boss.

“It just clicked today,” said Vassilev. “The first one went in and then the second one probably wouldn't have gone in if I didn't score the first.”

The Icelandic rookie has been one of H-town’s under-the-radar success stories so far in 2022, and made the most of his 30 touches to help La Naranja snap a two-game losing skid with Saturday’s home win over Chicago Fire FC.

Ulfarsson scored the opener, his second of the season, completed 88% of his 16 passes (including one key pass), drew three fouls and stayed active on the defensive side as the Fire wilted in the south Texas heat.

A 21-year-old Scandinavian out of Duke University isn’t quite what most of us would have penciled in as a promising attacking foil to Darwin “the Goal Scientist” Quintero, but it’s a funny old game like that.

A game-tying assist in a 2-1 comeback win, 44/59 passing including five chances created, 3/4 on dribbles, two tackles, 9/14 ground and aerial duels won, five recoveries and two free kicks earned.

Some might venture to assert that this is the stat line befitting a Designated Player, or at the very least a battle-hardened regular who has earned the trust of his coaches and teammates the hard way.

In this case, however, we’re talking about Duke’s performance vs. Minnesota, another impressive data point for the 21-year-old from Arizona who continues to make the $100,000 in allocation money Miami paid LAFC for him look like a steal.

He’s now up to 1g/3a in 663 league minutes this season for a rebuilding team that, let’s be honest, is not quite as easy a stage to shine as the ones other youngsters in Seattle, New York and Los Angeles enjoy. The YPPOTW illuminati are watching Duke’s progress with great interest.

Honorable mentions

Talles Magno: New York City FC walked away from Sunday night’s wild visit with the Philadelphia Union on the losing side, yet their Brazilian magician continued to shine, passing at an 87% clip, going 7/8 on dribbles and even getting stuck into three tackles.

Jayden Nelson: Things are looking up for Toronto FC as Lorenzo Insigne finally touches down in The Six. The young Reds did well to ambush Atlanta United 2-1 at BMO Field and Nelson was centrally involved, serving up a nice assist to Jonathan Osorio on their opener and putting in some decent work on both sides of the ball. As poor as they’ve looked at times this year, they’re still just five points below the Eastern Conference’s Audi MLS Cup Playoffs line.

Ralph Priso-Mbongue: How could we leave out Nelson’s fellow 19-year-old after he came off the bench to thump home the game-winner with a lovely first-time strike from just outside the ATL penalty box? As dismal as some Canada supporters may feel after their U-20 national team struggled at the Concacaf tournament, TFC’s rising academy ranks offer reasons for optimism about the CanMNT’s future.

Sean Zawadzki: Only two of the eight league visitors to Rio Tinto Stadium have taken anything home for their troubles thus far this season, and one of them is the Columbus Crew. And they did so with their rookie homegrown in the heart of midfield – making his MLS debut, no less. Zawadzki completed 42 of his 47 passes (89.4%), made four interceptions and two clearances, with head coach Caleb Porter calling him “very comfortable” and “excellent on the day.”

Brenner: Are the Brazilian striker’s days in Cincinnati numbered? Can anything turn around his mostly miserable time in MLS and keep him in FCC colors for the longer term? We confess that such questions remain a mystery at this point, but it’s good for all parties that he finally scored his first goal of 2022 to make the difference in Friday’s 1-0 win over Orlando City SC, an all-around encouraging outing for the 22-year-old.


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.