National Writer: Charles Boehm

Who were the best young-player performers in MLS Week 26?

John Tolkin RBNY

It was another busy six days of MLS action with youngsters making a difference across the league. Here we go...

The relentless left back put in work across RBNY’s double-game week, earning a spot on the MLS Team of the Week presented by Audi after going the full 90 in both the 2-1 road win at Atlanta United and Saturday’s 1-1 home draw with FC Cincinnati.

And he tallied his first goal of the season in the former, the game-winner off a corner-kick routine, to boot:

Tolkin also completed 75% of his passes vs. the Five Stripes and minded his defensive duties as usual. He might have been even better against Cincy, playing two key passes, making a game-high five tackles, winning eight of his 10 duels, posting seven recoveries and drawing three fouls.

On the season, he’s tabbed 41 tackles, most on his team and among the top 10 in MLS. Only two Red Bulls have played more key passes than Tolkin’s 27, and he also ranks third in terms of league minutes played at this point in the year.

If John Tolkin isn’t on your favorite pundit’s 22 Under 22 presented by BODYARMOR list later this fall, questions should be asked.

The MLS summer transfer window is chock-full of rumor, bluff and bluster, with high prices always a concern, urgency about short-term results prone to drowning out big-picture thinking and real challenges for newcomers to adapt to the league quickly. Struggling teams rarely find silver bullets, and usually have to pay dearly for them.

Yeah yeah, that’s all well and good, BUT ALSO… there’s the case of William Agada.

The Nigerian striker has been water in the desert for SKC since arriving from Israel’s Hapoel Jerusalem, racking up five goals and an assist in his first four MLS starts. Agada absolutely shredded the Portland Timbers on Sunday, sniffing out a poacher’s finish to bag the opener, then laying off an inviting ball for Erik Thommy to rifle home for KC’s third before turning on the jets to stab home his second in the latter stages of a 4-1 thumping.

All in all he played three key passes, distributed at 85% accuracy and delivered sky-high levels of joy and hope to a Sporting fanbase that’s gotten all too resigned to painful results in 2022, sauntering into the MLS TOTW. It’s probably happening too late to salvage this season, but any Audi MLS Cup Playoffs-chasing sides visiting Children’s Mercy Park had best be on their toes.

As odd as the idea of a predictable hat trick might sound, we probably should’ve expected the latest supernova performance from Philly’s Argentine striker – earning his second MLS Player of the Week presented by Continental Tire honor this year.

On Saturday night Carranza became the first Union player to score multiple hatties for the club as he sliced and diced D.C. United yet again, matching his goal total (and adding an assist) from their 7-0 win over the Black-and-Red on July 8 as D.C. got DOOPed again to the tune of 6-0, this time in their own house.

Does Carranza love taking United in particular to the chopping block? We at YPPOTW are inclined to attribute these outbursts to his aggressive pressing and swift exploitation of errors – D.C. are a mistake-prone team, as their position at the foot of the table suggests, and he’s just the type of forward to punish the slip-ups like the Rafa Romo howler that handed Carranza his hat trick.

The former Inter Miami CF man is now on 12g/7a in league action as his impressive chemistry with Mikael Uhre and Daniel Gazdag adds explosiveness to the Union’s well-established defensive ruggedness.

The Black & Gold’s seven-game winning streak is over – thanks to the San Jose Earthquakes, of all teams – but they remain six points clear atop the Supporters’ Shield race, and their young Ghanaian winger contributed significantly this week with goals in both of their matches.

Mahala came off the bench to make the difference in Tuesday’s narrow 1-0 win over D.C. United, completing 11/12 passes (92%) and breaking the visitors’ impressive resistance with a calm finish of Chicho Arango’s lovely pass:

That earned him a start vs. the Quakes on Saturday, where he passed at a 93.3% clip, played a key pass, earned two free kicks, won the majority of his duels and scored his seventh league goal of the season with this intelligent angled run and gorgeous chip over JT Marcinkowski:

After sliding down the standings due to a brutal 1W-5L-3D summer swoon, the Lions have now picked up two consecutive road wins against Eastern Conference adversaries, and their Uruguayan holding mid was a rock once again in the 2-1 victory at Charlotte FC.

Araujo barely put a foot wrong at Bank of America Stadium, completing a perfect 40/40 passes, winning 6/7 duels and 3/5 tackles, making seven recoveries and committing nary a single foul. The intensity and simplicity of his game might get lost in the shuffle at times, but he’s already a foundational piece for Oscar Pareja at just 21 years of age. 

The U22 Initiative signing reportedly cost Orlando $2 million when acquired from Montevideo Wanderers last winter, and that’s looking like good value at the moment. That said, it remains to be seen whether his attacking teammates can produce the goals needed to stay above the playoff line in a crowded East.

Honorable mentions

Santiago Rodriguez: After an ugly home loss to Charlotte at midweek, New York City FC secured a timely 2-0 road win over Chicago Fire FC in Bridgeview, Illinois, with the Uruguayan pulling the strings to the tune of a goal and an assist. Rodriguez completed 77% of his passes, went 3/6 on dribbles and banked five recoveries en route to a bench spot on the MLS TOTW.

Cristian Casseres Jr.: The Venezuelan’s engine-room work is so central to RBNY’s hopes of maximizing their collection of young talent, and so it was in their four-point week. Casseres assisted on both goals in the win over Atlanta and kept his level high against FCC, doing plenty of dirty work against the ball while passing efficiently in both matches. 

Cade Cowell: The 18-year-old homegrown forward helped produce the week’s most surprising result, playing the supersub role via a game-winning goal to lead the Quakes past LAFC. After good work by Tommy Thompson down the right channel, Cowell met his delicate cross with a thunderous volley into the roof of the net:

Esmir Bajraktarevic: Here’s a kid to keep an eye on. The New England Revolution’s 17-year-old homegrown made his MLS debut as a sub in the 2-2 midweek draw at Toronto FC and showed enough to earn a start for the shorthanded Revs on their weekend trip to CF Montréal. Bajraktarevic proved a bright spot amid a rough 4-0 loss north of the border, completing 32/40 (80%) passes, going 2/3 on dribbles, making six recoveries and perhaps most importantly, pulling off this nasty nutmeg on Gabriele Corbo:


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.