National Writer: Charles Boehm

Who were the best young-player performers in MLS Week 5?

As is so often the case, a few streaks of rust and some sore legs could be detected in some places around Week 5 as MLS returned to full activity following a very consequential international break. What’s the quickest remedy?

To play your kids, of course.

Some of the weekend’s most impressive results were directly impacted by the contributions of young players, either from the start or off the bench. That is just our kind of party. Let’s dive in.

It’s hard to think of a more striking contrast, at least in MLS, to the club Carranza left over the winter and the one he joined on loan when rebuilding Inter Miami shipped him out to Philly on what is undoubtedly a discount deal, and what may eventually come to be regarded as an outright steal.

The 21-year-old Argentine opened his Union account emphatically on Saturday, finishing off a piece of DOOPishly direct play to push visiting Charlotte into an early hole at Subaru Park en route to a 2-0 win for the undefeated Union. Carranza also completed 19 passes, played one key pass, got stuck into a few tackles and showed flashes of menace on the dribble.

“I don't like to compare players in-league, but his ability and what he should try to aspire to be is [Taty] Castellanos from New York City,” head coach Jim Curtin said afterwards. “He has that in him. They're similar body types, they're similar in the way they move in the box, they're similar in the way they can hold the ball up. He's that good. And I'm talking about a Golden Boot winner. So that's as high of praise I can give. He is really special.”

Carranza also already notched two assists and is surely earning every minute of play given Philadelphia’s sudden abundance of front-line depth, which suggests that he’s made his way to a daily environment that’s challenging and enriching him as a player.

We’re going to have a lot of Quakes talk this week, because the kids are basically the best thing going on by the Bay. The West’s early strugglers have developed a nasty habit of falling behind in games, which is a big reason why they’ve taken just two points from their first five. Meanwhile, US men’s national team prospect watchers have been nonplussed to see Cowell, who signed a hefty new contract via the U22 Initiative in February, log relatively modest minutes thus far.

But that exhilarating AlmeydaBall chaos remains, and their youngest, freshest legs are – perhaps unsurprisingly – looking like the best candidates to execute it. Cowell finally got his first full 90 of 2022 under his belt against Austin FC, and while he was imprecise at some key moments, he willed his team into a share of the points after a 2-0 deficit via some hard running, including several lung-bursting solo dribbles (he went 4/5 in that department) and a scrappy equalizer off a broken play after a San Jose corner kick.

Even in his third season in MLS, there’s a bull-in-a-china-shop quality to the Quakes’ teenage manchild, which is both a compliment to his dynamism and an acknowledgment of the upside contained within his rougher edges (five turnovers vs ATX). He needs games and rhythm to get that filed down and honed.

Matias Almeyda, we (the royal, editorial YPPOTW we) are begging you: Jot Yung Cade into your XI with a felt-point Sharpie and let him get cooking.

Bob Bradley has been tagged with some nicknames over the decades, and the YPPOTW high command are now ready to dub TFC’s head coach “Bob the Baptist” as he just keeps blooding one teenage homegrown after another into the Reds’ first-team rotation.

This weekend it was Thompson who earned his first MLS start, and the 19-year-old Vaughan Azzurri alum looked up for it, even in a less-familiar right wingback tasking, as Toronto knocked off the defending champs.

Thompson had to sweat out an early penalty-kick decision whistled against him for a clip of Talles Magno that was rescinded by Video Review, but later classified by PRO as a poorly-applied decision. He kept his nerve and started the sequence that led to Jesus Jimenez’s opening goal while also contributing plenty of defensive actions, including several tackles, aerial duels and interceptions en route to a 2-1 TFC victory over NYCFC.

“Bob doesn't really care if you're young, if you're 18, 19, if you're 45, he doesn't care. If you're playing well you're going to play,” said Thompson postgame.

“And he trusts us, that's the biggest thing. He really does trust us and we need to trust ourselves. The atmosphere for young guys is amazing; the atmosphere for everyone is amazing.”

Five weeks in, the art-deco half of MLS’s Southern California couple has raced to the front of the Supporters’ Shield race, and in a fashion that makes their sleek Uruguayan forward one to watch in Saturday’s El Trafico clash with their crosstown antagonists the LA Galaxy (7:30 pm ET | FOX, FOX Deportes).

Yet another young’un who got off the mark with a goal this weekend, “Rayo” hustled to the right spot at the right time to complete a devastatingly fast and fluid move from Carlos Vela to Chicho Arango and on to the back post for the Black & Gold’s opening strike in the wild 4-2 win at Orlando City. It was a glimpse of LAFC at their most dangerous, and they’ll hope it’s Rodriguez’s cue to hit his stride in 2022.

I have a suspicion that Rayo, like some other talented young South Americans to arrive in MLS in recent years, is often perceived to be older than he really is, because the academies of his country and its neighbors are such well-evolved finishing schools. He’s still just 21, though, and with the rest of his squad firing on all cylinders around him, we may finally get to see his full potential unfold this season.

We agonized over which of the Quakes’ young supersubs should occupy this slot, before giving Tsakiris the nod over his (slightly) older teammate Ousseni Bouda by effectively using age as a tiebreaker.

Both entered Saturday’s match at the same time, the 62nd minute, and both contributed to earning the penalty kick that sparked San Jose’s comeback from a 2-0 deficit vs. Austin, with Tsakiris’ classy inswinging delivery from the right channel goading Nick Lima to tug down Bouda before he could meet it at the back post.

Tsakiris, however, is a mere 16, which makes him one of the youngest players in MLS earning regular minutes at present, and he’s doing a sight more than just keeping pace. The homegrown kid completed nine of his 10 passes against ATX and posted a team-high expected assists number of 0.39. That wand of a left foot bears further monitoring in the weeks to come.

Honorable mentions

Ousseni Bouda: A native of Burkina Faso who’s already traversed an incredible life journey from Ouagadougou to Ghana’s Right to Dream Academy to a private prep school in upstate New York, then on to Stanford, Generation adidas and now the Quakes, Bouda has made good use of his 50 minutes off the bench thus far. As mentioned above, he led San Jose’s two-goal comeback by earning a penalty kick and playing with urgency and speed (8/10 passing, 1 key pass).

Bongokuhle Hlongwane: Don’t look now, but notoriously youth-skeptic Minnesota United have an exciting young attacker climbing the ranks and making things happen. A winter U22 Initiative signing from South Africa, Hlongwane made a positive impact off the bench in the home loss to Seattle, passing well, wading into an outsized number of duels and generally brightening up the Loons.

Brian Gutierrez: Chicago Fire FC look likely to be without Xherdan Shaqiri for a game or three due to a calf issue the Swiss international picked up in Saturday’s 0-0 draw with FC Dallas, which could open up a starting slot or additional minutes for Gutierrez. US youth international “Guti” was solid in relief of Shaqiri at Soldier Field, completing 79% of his passes, going 4/5 on dribbles and winning most of his 12 duels.

Obed Vargas: The Alaskan wonder came off the bench at halftime to help his Sounders safeguard their 2-1 road win in Minnesota, a 16-year-old completing a perfect 17-of-17 passes in yet another composed central-midfield performance beyond his years. That said, “completed pass” only tells a fraction of Vargas' story in moments like this:


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.