Jesus Ferreira goal celebration

The 2022 regular season is just about over, and with qualification for the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs a leading metric of success or failure around the league, the pressure is high for those chasing one of those 14 coveted slots.

It’s a time for big-game players, and here at YPPOTW our hearts swell with pride when it’s the young ones who step up – like the majority of this week’s list who also earned Team of the Week presented by Audi recognition.

Take note that we are now just a matter of days away from the 2022 edition of MLSsoccer.com’s 22 Under 22 presented by BODYARMOR list. And while some of our YPPOTW selection pool is a skosh bit too old for 22U22 eligibility, many of those we analyze in this space from week to week will be on that list. You, dear reader, can sincerely say you knew about them first.

Recurring reminder: You can participate directly in this process. Just look for a tweet like this on Mondays and share your observations.

Cincy got their head coach, general manager, a handful of players and plenty of ideological inspiration from the Philadelphia Union. And on Saturday they took a page from Philly’s 2022 beatdown book, too, mercilessly whupping the San Jose Earthquakes 6-0 at TQL Stadium – their most lopsided win ever, with their 22-year-old Brazilian striker essentially unplayable all night.

Brenner showed a poacher’s instincts on his first two strikes, then hammered a late penalty kick into the roof of the net for his hat trick, and actually had what would’ve been a fourth chalked off by a narrow offside decision. He also notched a pretty assist on the through ball expertly finished by Yuya Kubo, one of his two key passes, and posted an overall pass completion rate of 95% (37-of-39).

“World-class ability today,” said coach Pat Noonan afterwards. “It was a version of him that we want to see more often. And if we see it more often, the group will benefit because he’s a very talented player and he helps us win games with what he can do in front of goal.”

Remember when Brenner submitted a transfer request after the club-record signing’s rough start to life in MLS? It wasn’t even six months ago, but it feels like ages as FCC hunt a maiden voyage into the playoffs.

Trailing 1-0 to a 10-man opponent at home and looking rather frustrated in the process, FCD needed some inspiration against LAFC at Toyota Stadium. Their “Cheetah” duly provided it with two clever, clever goals in four second-half minutes to deliver a big, big 2-1 win.

Ferreira’s brace takes his season total to 18 goals, tying the FCD single-season scoring record jointly held by Jason Kreis and Kenny Cooper (not to mention his five assists). He also completed 81.5% of his passes, went 2/3 on dribbles and 2/2 on long balls, won 3/5 duels and posted four recoveries in a solid all-around display that underlined his steady development into a balanced frontrunner who can offer much more up top than just the whole ‘false 9’ thing.

That’s good news for both FCD and the US men’s national team, where, it should be noted, Ferreira was the starting No. 9 at the conclusion of World Cup qualifying. I wrote in-depth about his night here, with perspective from Dallas head coach Nico Estevez, and I’m going to share more of Estevez’s quote about him with you, my beloved YPPOTW audience:

“I think for him, changing the [deeper] position that he was playing last year to the position that he's playing, it’s normal that he has to adjust some things. Sometimes he comes too deep and then after, we analyze when he has to come and when not, and why, and when he’s too high,” said the Spaniard, an alumnus of Gregg Berhalter’s USMNT staff. “But he’s found his spot in between the opponent's back line and midfield, where it's difficult to mark him, and then either he can run in behind – and he’s really fast – or make a link-up play, come from behind and finish one touch from a cross.

“His improvement also goes to his teammates, because they're knowing him, his movements, better. I think they're knowing how and when he arrives to the box. In these two games that he had to be the captain, I've seen him with a different mentality and a spirit. He has carried the team. He has shown a lot of mentality with his effort. And I think he's a complete player. And he's getting in a spot where if we keep working hard with him, he will be a player that will leave here a lot of good memories for the club.”

If YPPOTW had a Hall of Fame, Cheetah would probably be a first-ballot shoo-in.

The 21-year-old Argentine’s $16 million price tag tends to follow him around like a ball and chain, swelling expectations, applying a harsh magnifying glass to his every move and drowning out the impact of his contributions for a high-profile team that’s been heavily critiqued for its underachievement this season.

So let this be a modest corrective from a youth-oriented perspective: Very, very few young players in MLS are providing what Almada has for the Five Stripes. He netted an absolute banger for the game-winner against Toronto FC (4-2) on Saturday, then assisted on Juanjo Purata’s third goal of the game to clinch a massive W in a six-point situation to keep ATL’s postseason dreams alive.

Almada is now up to 5g/11a in 2,016 league minutes. He's passing at 85.8% accuracy on the year, taken 66 corner kicks and played 65 key passes. Yes, he’s drifted out of some games and may have had too much responsibility piled on his shoulders too soon. But amid all the other sturm und drang in Atlanta, he hardly deserves to be scapegoated if they fall short of their ambitions next month.

Don’t believe me? Then ask the Argentina national team staff, who named him to their September camp’s preliminary roster, which might just open the door to a place in Qatar come November.

It was less than a year ago that Ochoa led Real Salt Lake on an unlikely underdog run deep into the 2021 postseason, making some big saves as the West’s bottom seed knocked off heavily-favored Seattle Sounders and Sporting KC. A severe falling-out with RSL leadership soon led to his exile, however, and subsequent trade to D.C. for relative peanuts.

Do you think the 21-year-old Mexican goalkeeper had this past weekend’s visit to Utah circled on his calendar for a while? Seems pretty likely. He certainly played like it on Saturday, making seven saves to stymie his former club in a scoreless draw that lands a significant blow to the Claret-and-Cobalt’s playoff outlook.

His postgame countenance was certainly that of someone making a proud homecoming, even if some of the home faithful directed boos his way:

The one-time RSL homegrown’s future is a bit hazy; he’s out of contract at season’s end and seems likely to explore options in Mexico or Europe. Whatever he winds up, it’s been a mutually beneficial linkup with United, considering how he’s seized the opportunity offered by the Black-and-Red: He’s allowed fewer than half the average goals-against of D.C.’s other ‘keepers in 2022.

Sure, it’s a mighty long shot. But at least the Fire still have a ghost of a chance to make the playoffs, thanks in large part to their 18-year-old Colombian striker.

With two goals in the Windy City side’s impressive 3-1 win over Inter Miami CF, Duran was key in making sure his team holds hope for at least a little while longer. The teenage No. 9 took six shots at SeatGeek Stadium, directing three of them on target, while completing 13/19 passes, 1/1 dribbles and 2/3 tackles, his brace showcasing both open-field pace and smart box movement.

It’s a bit trite – especially considering how long their supporters have been waiting for a return to glories past – to say that Duran gives Chicago something to build on for 2023. But it’s true: He is now up to 5g/3a in a modest 1,022 league minutes and an extension of his current trajectory of improvement would make for a dangerous spearhead next year.

Honorable mentions

Matai Akinmboni: Wayne Rooney said he’d play D.C.’s kids if they earned the chance. Sure enough, the Englishman handed an MLS debut to Akinmboni, a freshly-signed 15-year-old homegrown – 15! – who became far and away the youngest center back in MLS history, vs. RSL. Considering that, the kid did quite well, passing capably and contributing 45 minutes to United’s clean sheet, with the modest blemish of a yellow card on his only foul of the night, surely a factor in Rooney bringing him off at halftime to preserve his confidence and sidestep ejection peril down the stretch.

Aidan Morris: The Columbus Crew were angry and disappointed to allow a 2-0 lead to evaporate into a 2-2 draw in the final minutes of their visit to CF Montréal on Friday. We’re not allowing that to overshadow another rugged display from their young homegrown central midfielder, who remains quietly essential to the Ohioans’ pursuit of their best selves:

Cristian Casseres Jr.: The Venezuelan delivered the goods yet again as the New York Red Bulls bagged a valuable 2-1 comeback win over New England, scoring a goal, playing two key passes and working his tail off per usual at the heart of midfield.

Josh Atencio and Danny Leyva: Leyvencio? Atenva? Whatever your interpretation, shouts out to Sounders supporter @zxakari – we’ve taken the unprecedented step of grouping Seattle’s two young homegrowns here, because they were a veritable Gemini as the Sounders’ double pivot in the massive 3-0 win over Austin FC. They weren’t flashy or distinguished, just clean and efficient in protecting the back line and allowing the veteran stars in front of them to shine. It might just be the tactical solution that saves the Rave Green’s league campaign.

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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.