National Writer: Charles Boehm

Who were the best young-player performers in MLS Weeks 31 & 32?

Brenner FCC

How clutch have young players been in these critical final weeks of the 2022 season? Here’s just one small but telling data point: A striking 28% of those who earned MLS Team of the Week presented by Audi honors in Weeks 31 or 32 are YPPOTW-eligible.

The kids served up a truly outstanding field for this edition. Here’s our best effort at classifying the best of the best.

With Maxi Urruti enjoying a career year and Danny Hoesen healthy again, ATX’s Senegalese striker has found minutes harder to come by this season. Djitté certainly seized the opportunity handed to him by Josh Wolff last Wednesday, though.

The U22 Initiative signing entered for the final half-hour or so with the score still at 0-0 at Q2 Stadium, Austin laboring to break down a stubborn Real Salt Lake. Barely two minutes later he flicked a gorgeous pass from Diego Fagúndez past Zac MacMath to break the deadlock.

A quarter-hour after that, he pounced on a loose ball and slotted home after Ethan Finlay’s effort clanged off the woodwork to seal the win. Then in a matter of seconds, Djitté had bagged the first hat trick in club history by coolly finishing off a quick transition.

Pretty decent stat line: 32 minutes, 16 touches, three shots, three goals, three points, one Week 31 Continental Tire Player of the Week award.

“This is why they brought me here, to be decisive.”

Those were Almada’s ice-cold words after starting and finishing the move that created the only goal in ATL’s potentially season-saving win over Orlando City at midweek. It was the highlight of a man-of-the-match performance in which he logged 72 touches, distributed at an 84% accuracy rate (including two key passes), completed 5/7 dribbles and essentially dragged his team to the result they desperately needed.

Then, on short rest against the league’s hottest team, the 21-year-old Argentine did it all over again on Saturday, posting nearly identical numbers save the goal in a 0-0 home draw that wasn’t ideal for their narrow path to Audi MLS Cup Playoffs qualification, but keeps them alive with two games to go. He’s now up to 6g/11a on the season, and only five players in the league have laid on more key passes than his 69.

Regular readers have heard this before, and we’ll keep banging the drum: Week in, week out, Almada is doing things that almost no one else his age is doing in this league. No surprise, then, that he came in second in the 22 Under 22 presented by BODYARMOR rankings that dropped this morning, or that he’s spending his international window alongside Lionel Messi with the Argentina national team, with a real chance of making it onto the Albiceleste’s World Cup squad.

It’s been a bit of a slow burn for the Caps’ U22 Initiative signing since he arrived from Ecuador last fall. But he just picked a damn good time to score his first MLS goal – and then his second in short order.

Vancouver’s admittedly-faint playoff hopes still have a pulse thanks to their six-point week, with big victories over the LA Galaxy and Seattle Sounders at BC Place, and Vite was instrumental to both results. On Wednesday he started a sweeping Caps counterattack, then continued his run and was rewarded with a far-post tap-in to double his side’s advantage in what would become a 3-0 win.

Vite was clutch again when the rival Sounders visited on Saturday for a zero-sum six-pointer of the highest order, showing admirable timing and awareness to arrive in the penalty box and thump home Ryan Gauld’s lovely cross on the game’s opening goal. The 20-year-old was also lively on the dribble and active defensively.

Whether the Whitecaps make the postseason or not, Vite has finally given them a glimpse of what’s possible in the years to come.

After predicting earlier in the year that Moreno would be pivotal to PTFC’s 2022 ambitions despite his tender age on that veteran squad, we on the YPPOTW high council are feeling rather vindicated by the Colombian winger’s recent contributions.

Moreno has provided two goals and an assist in Portland’s last three matches, often looking like their best player in leading them to seven points from the nine on offer as they hustle to keep themselves above the playoff line out West. The injury-time equalizer that stunned Columbus’ Field on national television on Sunday was particularly memorable:

He also played two key passes, went 2/3 on dribbles, took five corner kicks and stacked up nearly a dozen defensive actions, all driven by an intensity and clarity of purpose beyond his years. We can talk about the importance of several of his elder teammates for the defending West champs, but “Santi” is the danger man in the Rose City right now.

The Brazilian gave himself a tough act to follow with his domineering MLS Player of the Week-winning display vs. San Jose in Week 30. But bagging a brace at altitude in a stirring comeback road win that carries massive playoff-race implications for both sides? Well, that’s quite good, too.

They’re not in yet. Still, Cincy’s 2-1 defeat of Real Salt Lake might well turn out to be the difference-maker in their pursuit of a first-ever trip to the MLS postseason. Brenner’s two finishes were solid (albeit perhaps aided a bit by questionable goalkeeping from Zac MacMath), but it was his all-around fighting spirit that really caught the eye.

Leading the line in one of the league’s tougher away venues, his hard work helped FCC gain a foothold amid periods of RSL dominance and laid the groundwork for their eventual come-up. It’s another item to add to his ongoing 2022 resurgence:

Honorable mentions

Roman Celentano: Brenner’s graft and grind might well have gone for naught had his fellow Cincy youngster not made a massive stop on Pablo Ruiz’s penalty kick in first-half stoppage time vs. RSL. The Indiana University product made seven saves on the night and continues to perform beyond his years as a rookie starter.

Santiago Rodriguez: The Uruguayan creator was everywhere for New York City FC in their much-needed Hudson River Derby defeat of the New York Red Bulls, tallying a goal and an assist, playing three key passes and getting stuck into a game-high seven tackles. If the defending champs are to revive themselves in time to make another deep postseason run, his form will be key.

Djordje Petrovic: The New England Revolution’s campaign effectively petered to a halt early with a miserable week of two losses to Houston and Montréal. Can’t blame their goalkeeper, though: Petrovic made eight saves against the Dynamo, including a penalty kick, to make a 3-1 scoreline look much less grave than the overall performance (Houston’s expected-goals number was 4.5). He then made two more saves to keep his team in contention in a 1-0 loss to CFM.

Facundo Torres: Orlando City’s Uruguayan winger is contributing at a very high level of late, and at a very timely period for the Lions. He was their outstanding performer against both Atlanta and Toronto, playing three key passes and drawing eight fouls across the two matches, and scoring the first goal in the 4-0 rout that killed off TFC’s playoff hopes.