National Writer: Charles Boehm

Young Players: Golazos (and more) this past week!

Young Players - Nikola Petkovic - Charlotte FC

Goals, goals, goals.

They make this game go ‘round, and this week’s YPPOTW crop is flush with them – five in all, and only one of them produced by an out-and-out striker. Not bad for a bunch of kids.

It wasn’t just those fine finishes that distinguished this group. There was plenty of diligent defensive work and midfield patrolling, too. Let’s dive in – and remember, you too can have your say in our weekly rundown of MLS’s top performers under age 22. Just look for a post like this and hit us with your nominations:

Obed Vargas
Seattle Sounders FC • Midfielder

Hurting from a 1W-4L-3D start, the Sounders were already down at the heels as they traveled cross-continent for a two-game East Coast swing last week, and it got worse as they suffered an early red card that paved the way for a 2-1 loss at D.C. United.

Who would step up to provide some relief as they rolled up Interstate 95 to meet Philadelphia on Tuesday in a March match postponed and rescheduled due to torrential rains? One of their Designated Players, perhaps, or another veteran with experience in such difficult moments?

Nope, it was Vargas, the 18-year-old homegrown center midfielder who made a meteoric rise to prominence during Seattle’s run to the 2022 Concacaf Champions League title, only to be sidetracked by injuries. Most prominently, the Alaska native looked downright Raúl Ruidíaz-esque as he curled this gorgeous strike into the far corner for his first career MLS goal:

And that wasn’t all. Here I’ll pass the mic to Sounder At Heart’s Jeremiah Oshan:

“Vargas’ goal was obviously the highlight of his game against the Union, but even without that it likely would have gone down as one of his best-ever performances. Vargas also drew a penalty with some clever dribbling in the penalty area – which set up what proved to be Ruidíaz’s game-winner – and was five of six on dribbles. Defensively, Vargas had one of his better performances as well, winning all six of his tackles and 15 of 19 duels.”

Jack McGlynn
Philadelphia Union • Midfielder

Vargas earned the game ball from Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer after that timely 3-2 win over Philly, and noted “we almost fumbled at the end there” in his speech to teammates in the away locker room at Subaru Park. McGlynn was a chief reason why.

With Seattle up 3-0 and looking comfortable, the Union homegrown entered at halftime and soon laced a gorgeous blast with his gifted left foot to cut the deficit and spark a late rally that made the visitors sweat the final stages.

Then McGlynn netted another at the weekend, struck from similarly long range, similar precision and possibly even more venom, to snatch a 2-2 draw at D.C. United in a match the DOOPers had trailed 2-0:

Across the two games, McGlynn posted pass completion rates of 88% and 83%, with a key pass in each and plenty of volume and variety in his distribution. He also totaled 15 recoveries while winning the majority of his ground duels.

Jacob Murrell
D.C. United • Forward

Congratulations are due to Murrell, who doubled D.C.’s lead over the Union with his first career professional goal, and in just his second MLS start:

The rookie, who also posted 79% passing completion in his 64 minutes on the pitch, has been grinding to earn a steadily increasing diet of minutes, and the movement, body control and pinpoint accuracy he showed on that left-footed strike (one of his three shots on the night) shows why head coach Troy Lesesne is giving him longer looks.

Murrell’s middling defensive and duel numbers against Philly show there’s plenty to work on for the Maryland native, and he may aspire for heavier involvement in a typical start than 22 touches. But the Georgetown University product is already showing why United made such a concerted effort to convince him to leave Brian Wiese’s elite NCAA program over in Northwest D.C. early and turn pro – and his emotional goal celebrations in front of the rain-soaked Audi Field supporters’ section pointed to a rapidly-blossoming relationship with the Black-and-Red faithful.

Nikola Petkovic
Charlotte FC • Midfielder

Charlotte snapped a two-game losing skid with Saturday’s 2-0 home win over Portland, even in the absence of wingers Liel Abada and Kerwin Vargas. And they have their young Serbian creator, who cut his teeth in MLS NEXT Pro action last year, to thank after his man-of-the-match outing at Bank of America Stadium.

First and foremost, we have to talk about his game-winning goal, his first in MLS and a memorable one to boot, keyed by an absolutely filthy nutmeg of Timbers center back Zac McGraw:

It was a long time coming in the sense that Petkovic had spurned a few other good scoring chances earlier in the match, and afterwards manager Dean Smith praised the 21-year-old’s persistence.

Petkovic finished with a game-high six shots, played one key pass, drew one foul, tabbed three defensive actions and won 4/5 ground duels, while showing promising understanding with big target man Patrick Agyemang. Take into account the team’s elevated numbers when he’s on the pitch, and it seems safe to assume we’ll be seeing more of him:

Julián Aude
LA Galaxy • Defender

With string-puller Riqui Puig and spearhead Dejan Joveljic unavailable, the freewheeling Gs produced an uncharacteristically zipped-up defensive performance to take home both a road point and a clean sheet – just their second of the year – from Puget Sound. Aude did his part and more.

The Argentine left back completed 35/42 passes and 2/2 dribbles, won 7/10 ground duels and 5/5 tackles and made five clearances amid 13 overall defensive actions in 89 minutes at Lumen Field.

While it may not go down as his flashiest Galaxy outing, it’s the kind of composed, competent all-around runout LA need if they're to mature into legitimate trophy contenders.

Honorable Mentions

Jalen Neal: Perhaps it’s no coincidence the Galaxy’s shutout in Seattle was the homegrown center back’s first start of 2024 after months out with a sports hernia and an abdominal injury discovered in its wake. The 20-year-old posted 84% passing completion and 14 defensive actions on his return, leading Greg Vanney to say: “As far as not having played 90 minutes in probably nine, 10 months, I think it's a good start for him. He got a zero out of it and he won some important balls in the air, he won some important duels. If this is the spot that we're building from, then I think it's a great spot for him.”

Quinn Sullivan: McGlynn’s teammate wasn’t quite as impactful in the draw with D.C. But he did notch his fourth league assist of the season in Philly’s late and ultimately unsuccessful comeback against Seattle, carrying possession into the final third before dropping a pinpoint cross onto Dániel Gazdag’s head to cut the deficit to 3-2, one of Sullivan’s two key passes on the night.

Omari Glasgow: Amid the gloom in Chicago, a ray of tropical sunlight peeped through as the 20-year-old winger dubbed “Guyana’s wonderkid” made his MLS debut after a short-term call-up from the Fire’s MLS NEXT Pro squad, where he’s produced 12 goals and 10 assists in 42 appearances in the third tier. The first Chicago player to move along such a pathway, Glasgow is already a key contributor at senior national team level and we’re intrigued to see if he earns a full first-team contract in the months ahead.