From super-sub creators to midfield metronomes to debutant goalkeepers, young pros did work across MLS in Week 8. After many hours of careful consideration and comparison, here’s our stab at the best among them.
Letter for letter, it’s one of the highest compliments in the world’s game and while fans might throw it around now and then, you only very rarely hear it emit from the mouths of professional coaches.
Phil Neville said it about his starting striker after Miami’s 2-1 comeback win over Atlanta United on Sunday. Unfortunately for the star-crossed Gonzalo Higuain, it was being said about Campana, his replacement, quite possibly the league’s hottest No. 9 and the engine for the Herons’ sudden three-game winning streak (four, including their US Open Cup opener) after a winless and mostly woeful start to the season.
The Ecuadorian-American’s provided nearly everything IMCF have been asking – nay, demanding – of Higuain since the well-compensated Argentine Designated Player hurt his knee a few weeks ago. Flashing a complete striker’s skill set that’s elevated everyone around him, Campana has netted five goals and two assists across this four-match run.
With freshly-minted Golden Boot presented by Audi and MLS Cup titles on his résumé and already 9g/1a across all competitions on his 2022 slate, Castellanos – a distinguished YPPOTW alum, we should note – understandably tends to hog the headlines around the NYCFC attack these days.
But the Pigeons’ front man could scarcely ask for a livelier supporting cast, as regular readers will already know from their extensive presence in last week’s edition. The Cityzens attack just smashed another visitor to the Five Boroughs, this time in Queens, bashing five goals past Toronto FC a week after hitting Real Salt Lake for six. And with a goal and an assist, Thiago was pivotal to it.
The 21-year-old Brazilian now has 5g/3a across 12 MLS and Concacaf Champions League games this year and is averaging a league goal every 83 minutes. His partners in creativity Santi Rodriguez and Talles Magno also got on the scoresheet against TFC, and will surely feature again in these pages soon, but with his instincts, aggression and work rate, Andrade gets the nod this time.
With Sunday’s emphatic thumping of Orlando City, RBNY won yet another road game – they’re somehow now 4W-0L-0D away from Red Bull Arena and winless inside it – to rise to sixth in the overall league table. Mending last week’s flawed finishing was key, and their Venezuelan bull-in-a-midfield-china-shop was key.
Quick, pugnacious, relentless and always surging forward, Casseres can look like the walking embodiment of the Red Bull model when in form. This weekend it showed in the stat line: 89 minutes, one goal on five shots, 3/3 on tackles, 10 recoveries, waged more than a dozen duels, one foul earned, three committed.
The Loons’ 21-year-old South African attacker seems irrepressible, both in his effervescent playing style and his determination to win over boss Adrian Heath, who’s shown a marked preference for experience in his selection proclivities in Minnesota.
“Bongi” stitched together enough moments of quality in a string of substitute appearances to earn his second start of the season in the midweek Open Cup trip to USL League One outfit Forward Madison. On Saturday he returned to supersub status and bagged his first two MLS assists as the Chicago Fire were put to the sword 3-0 on national television.
What’s notable about Hlongwane’s impact is not so much about showcases of dazzle, though he’s clearly got some tekkers. Rather it's the subtle, intuitive understanding he’s building with brighter stars like Robin Lod (on Saturday’s third goal) and Emanuel Reynoso (the second).
The latter relationship is a rather crucial one given El Rey’s place at the center of Minnesota’s “heliocentric” offense, in Armchair Analyst Matt Doyle’s words. Heath knows well that chemistry like what they’ve shown in and around Zone 14 is priceless and will keep Hlongwane on the pitch.
Hold onto your Stetsons, folks: ATX FC are breathing down LAFC’s neck at the top of the table and Q2 Stadium is looking like one of the louder, tougher away days in the league. Vancouver did the suffering in Week 8, and the central Texans did it with their 21-year-old SuperDraft capture at the heart of their engine room.
Pereira has had to fight for his minutes on this solid-looking roster and against the Whitecaps he earned his keep with an assist (his third of the year) and 92% passing completion, two key passes, six free kicks won and nine defensive actions.
Head coach Josh Wolff’s system asks a lot of its deep-lying midfielders and it’s pretty striking that a 21-year-old in his second professional season is playing this much with a Designated Player (Alex Ring) and a prominent offseason signing from abroad (Jhojan Valencia), among others, as colleagues and competitors.
Roman Celentano: FC Cincinnati gave league leaders LAFC a good run for their money on Sunday and probably deserved more from it than a 2-1 home loss. That sentiment should only be amplified by the fact that it was the MLS debut for their goalkeeper, a rookie 21-year-old Generation adidas kid pressed into service by an injury to Alec Kann. Celentano handled the pressure of the big moment, making six saves and commanding his box well. He was unlucky to be beaten by a deflected strike and an extremely adept upper-90 finish from Danny Musovski.
Dejan Joveljic: Life as Chicharito’s understudy ain’t always easy. The LA Galaxy’s U22 Initiative Serbian striker made the most of his cameo against Nashville, netting a dramatic late winner for his first goal of 2022 before giving us perhaps the moment of the weekend with his emotional climb into the stands to celebrate with members of the Gs’ supporters groups.
Julian Carranza: The Philadelphia Union have the right to feel frustrated by their 1-1 home draw with CF Montréal. Yet we should all take note of their on-loan Argentine frontrunner scoring again, his third of the season, in addition to his increasingly de rigueur pressing and harrying efforts. With 3g/2a in 473 minutes, if Carranza keeps up this current output rate, he’ll undergird a legit push for hardware in Chester.
Alan Velasco: FC Dallas aren’t really playing at their peak right now, at least not by the standards they’ve led YPPOTW to maintain. But their high-dollar offseason recruit is doing the work and building his MLS understanding. He stacked up 58 touches, delivered six corner kicks, went 28/35 passing and was no small part of the last-gasp surge that earned a 2-1 comeback win over Houston – the kind of day that a Texas rivalry win amplifies the value of.
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.