Every MLS season brings in a crop of young players and 2017 is no different. Over the weekend, as MLS kicked off the 2017 season, several of those youngsters shined bright on the big stage.
Young players both new and familiar stepped up across MLS over the weekend as the league kicked off the new season. With each campaign comes a fresh beginning and several budding stars took their chance to seize opportunities in the opening week.
From young midfield stoppers to a returning defensive up-and-comer, the opening week of MLS was headlined by several noteworthy performances. Here’s a look at five young players that stepped up and made a difference in the first week of MLS play:
DERRICK JONES (PHILADELPHIA UNION)
The defensive midfield position is one that required a lot of maturity. You have to be able to read the game mentally just as quickly as you cover ground physically in a position that is among the more demanding on the field.
Derrick Jones clearly has the physical tools required to man the position, but on Sunday, he showed a glimpse of maturity and preparedness. The 6-foot-3 20-year-old covered crazy amounts of ground to keep the Vancouver Whitecaps at bay en route to a 0-0 draw. Against a Whitecaps team that is as fast as any in MLS, Jones stood his ground well defensively while keeping things simple with the ball at his feet. His composure on the ball helped the Union move from defense to attack in what was a very impressive MLS debut.
NICK LIMA (SAN JOSE EARTHQUAKES)
Ignacio Piatti remains one of the best attackers in MLS, but his opening week push was derailed by rookie Nick Lima.
The San Jose Earthquakes couldn’t have asked for more from their young fullback, who went toe-to-toe with one of the league’s best and won handily. Lima kept Piatti quiet for a full 90 minutes, helping marshal the Impact’s best attacking threat en route to a 1-0 win. The Earthquakes have a long way to go, but Lima’s initial impression showed a player that has the potential to be a shut-down defender throughout the 2017 season.
ALPHONSO DAVIES (VANCOUVER WHITECAPS)
Alphonso Davies looked plenty capable in CONCACAF Champions League play, helping lead the Vancouver Whitecaps past the New York Red Bulls. To start the MLS season, he once again shined bright, showing himself to be an integral part of the Whitecaps attack.
Davies was likely his side’s best attacking player in Sunday’s 0-0 draw as he showed a flair for both the simple and the spectacular. He starred with the ball at his feet while also helping drive the Caps attack forward. The goal didn’t come, unfortunately for the 16-year-old forward, but they will in time as long as consistent minutes continue to come this way.
DERRICK ETIENNE (NEW YORK RED BULLS)
Derrick Etienne showed extended flashes of creativity for New York Red Bulls II in 2016, and the Haitian winger brought his attacking skills to the field late in Sunday’s 2-1 win over Atlanta United.
The Red Bulls were down a goal when Etienne stepped on the field in place of the more defensive-minded Sean Davis. He provided an energy, a spark and, eventually, a pair of goals. In a talented Red Bulls attack, Etienne may be relegated to bench duty for large stretched, but with performances like Sunday’s, he could be a valuable late-game option when the team is in need of a goal.
CHRISTIAN DEAN (VANCOUVER WHITECAPS)
Exactly 555 days after he last featured in an MLS game, Christian Dean was called upon to help the Vancouver Whitecaps usher in a new season. Paired with Tim Parker, he was charged with limiting the Philadelphia Union while showing that he was ready to re-enter the battle for starting minutes.
He did just that on Sunday, going a full 90 minutes in the Whitecaps’ draw. Dean’s efforts come on the heels of an extended injury absence, one which saw him miss the entire 2016 season due to a combination of a broken foot and a torn meniscus. Now, Dean is back, offering the Whitecaps valuable depth at centerback. Parker and Kendall Waston remain the likely pairing, but Dean does offer an alternative, especially as the MLS season wears on,