National Writer: Charles Boehm

Who were the best young-player performers in MLS Week 6?

From the MLS Player of the Week presented by Continental Tire to the author of the Olimpico heard ‘round the South to the teenage duo scoring their first career MLS goals to help Toronto FC earn a road point, it was another weekend of big MLS performances from young players.

Here’s our take on the best among them. As usual, here’s a reminder that you can join in this process – just find the week’s tweet like this one and share your thoughts on who deserves YPPOTW consideration.

The 21-year-old Ecuadorian strolls leisurely onto this list thanks to his hat trick – and a perfect hat trick, no less, scored with his left and right feet and his head – against New England. That 3-2 result marks Miami’s first W of the season – and a substantial upset even in light of the Revolution’s flatlining form – and ended the Herons’ four-game losing skid.

There was both poor defending and efficient exploitation of space at work on all three of Campana’s strikes. We’re dwelling more on the latter, considering the awareness and opportunism he displayed in the Revs’ penalty box as well as his decent link-up and defensive work: Campana played two key passes and completed 80% of his passes overall.

Soccer can be a funny old game, as they say. Just a few weeks ago Campana was causing Gonzalo Higuain to grimace after he failed to convert a couple of inviting chances his elder teammate served up for him. On Saturday Higuain, who was an injury scratch for this one, had a different, blanker sort of look on his face as he watched Campana deliver IMCF that long-sought victory. 

Does this mark a changing of the guard for Miami? Should the Ecuadorian’s display keep his more famous teammate on the bench for a while longer? Or can Phil Neville find a way to make good use of both halves of his May/December No. 9 pair at the same time? These are not easy questions for IMCF, though they’re a welcome dilemma in the wake of the three points.

After bagging a brace in FC Dallas’ 3-1 comeback win over Colorado, Ferreira, on five goals and counting, is in a three-way tie with Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez and Brandon Vazquez atop the MLS Golden Boot presented by Audi race. And we’re here to tell you that he eminently deserves to be considered a nose ahead of those two, considering that he’s done his scoring in fewer minutes played and fewer starts, and has also chipped in more key passes and more tackles, among other metrics.

The character of his goals against the Rapids underlined Ferreira’s diverse and growing skill set.

His first was a classic 9’s strike, as he quickly sniffed out space in Zone 14 after Marco Farfan picked up a loose ball in midfield, then smoothly received Farfan’s pass, turned and fired a pinpoint low finish past William Yarbrough in the blink of an eye. Later he would show us some of his deceptive speed, racing clear on a breakaway before calming rounding Yarbrough and tucking away with his left foot.

The kid is so talented to begin with, and the combination of rhythm and confidence he’s gained this year is nudging his trajectory upward as he prospers in Nico Estevez’s tactical system, one that suits him snugly.

With 88% passing completion rate, three key passes, 5/8 on crosses and 12 defensive actions in a big home win over his fledgling club’s would-be rivals, Charlotte’s Ecuadorian would have a strong case for YPPOTW inclusion regardless of what he did with the six corner kicks he took at Bank of America Stadium on Saturday. 

To do THIS over and above all that, however?

That’s just ridiculous stuff to serve up as a game-winner over Atlanta United in front of a national-television audience. And while we respect that other observers may see it differently, the YPPOTW zoning board readily grants Alcivar full credit for intending to do it. 

"I’ve actually been practicing it a lot this week with Mikel Antía, one of CLT’s assistant coaches\] and [Ben Bender,” he told the club’s website afterwards. “I practiced it a lot so that I could do it well.”

Alcivar also posited that “if I just continue my path, I’m only going to get better with every match,” which is music to our, and Charlotte’s, ears.

It’s back-to-back YPPOTW nods for Thompson, who played a significant part in the Reds’ win over New York City FC last week, then climbed another notch against Real Salt Lake, one-timing Jacob Shaffelburg’s cutback cross for TFC’s opening goal – and his first at this level – in a hard-fought 2-2 road draw.

Beyond the hard running and responsible defending required from the wide men in the 3-4-2-1 formation Toronto are currently using, Thompson showed admirable instincts, anticipation and finishing nous here – not to mention the self-belief required to call off his club’s big-dog playmaker, Alejandro Pozuelo.

“Honestly from the beginning of Shaff’s run, I know that he's going to go straight to the byline. He did incredible to get past a couple of guys and I knew that I had to get on my horse and get into the box,” Thompson told reporters postgame. “Once I saw him take it to the byline, I know it's going to be cut back. Poz is in the same position and I just screamed at him, ‘Leave it!’ And just make your connection with the ball.”

We hailed Bob Bradley’s fine work with TFC’s kids in the Week 5 edition, and the story keeps getting better. Thompson and his fellow academy products are helping the Reds bridge the gap to Lorenzo Insigne’s summer arrival.

Speaking of fellow academy products, we’ve got more business in The Six thanks to Nelson, who came off the bench to conjure up a thunderbolt that allowed TFC to escape Utah with a point.

Working the left flank in relief of Shaffelburg, the 19-year-old went 4-for-4 with his passing in 16 minutes, but it was his quick thinking and daring execution in the 79th minute that got tongues wagging in both Canada and the United States.

Nelson was oh-so-clever to notice that RSL goalkeeper Zac MacMath had ranged way out of his goal to distribute the ball to Damir Kreilach. Once he unceremoniously dispossessed the Croatian, Nelson got his head up and snapped an arrow of a shot above and beyond the scrambling MacMath to stun the home fans at Rio Tinto Stadium, in the process sparking chatter about his bona fides for a Canadian national team call-up.

“We’ve seen him in a more dynamic ways, making more plays on the field in terms of getting away from guys, more moments where his skill, his speed, his quickness catch your eye,” said Bradley, his coach

“Now the final part is turning that into greater production, and so when a player like that makes a really big play coming on as a sub and scores a great goal, it's something that everybody – every player, every coach was so excited for him in the locker room after the game.”

Honorable mentions

Jaziel Orozco: RSL’s injury crisis has quietly pushed a 17-year-old product of their developmental pipeline into the starting XI at center back. While Orozco has suffered at times, he’s generally coped rather well in his back-to-back 90-minute outings of the past two weeks, especially given that he only signed his first-team deal in January. File this away, too: The El Paso native is dual-eligible for the United States and Mexico and has already spent time in El Tri’s youth system.

Jacob Shaffelburg: Yep, it’s yet another TFCer, and while Shaffelburg lost points for his giveaway in the moments before Justin Meram’s goal for Salt Lake, the 22-year-old winger’s still earned this nod for his assist to Thompson and his hard work on both sides of the ball. 

Cesar Araujo: Orlando City's 21-year-old holding midfielder completed 93% of his passes, won most of his duels and drew the foul that led to Brian Gutierrez’s early ejection in the Lions’ 1-0 win over Chicago before making way for Junior Urso at halftime. 

Joseph Rosales: Minnesota United’s trip to Austin wasn’t a particularly fruitful one but we’re liking what we’ve seen of their young Honduran defensive mid, who’s been capable on the ball and strong in the challenge, generally making the Loons tougher to play against.


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.