It’s mid-September, and with the fall’s first international window behind us, there’s a pronounced sense of urgency as MLS’ home stretch hits in earnest.

Decision Day is now less than two months away. If you’ve been sidetracked or subpar, this is high time to get going. That context nudged some strong performances out of youngsters around the league in Week 24, including several hard-working defenders overdue for some shine.

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No Miles Robinson? No problem!

Well, that wasn’t exactly what we all expected from Campbell and the Five Stripes. But it’s what they produced in Friday’s authoritative 3-0 spanking of Orlando City, running their current hot streak to 5-1-1 since the start of August. The homegrown center back opened the scoring with a superbly-attacked header and went on to win a bevy of duels, produce four clearances and complete passes at an 89% clip.

“I can see a center back with tremendous potential,” Atlanta’s new head coach Gonzalo Pineda said. “He’s a center back that is physically gifted. His aggression when he presses between the lines was fantastic today, so I was pleased with his performance before he scored the goal. He did a couple tackles on the ground, and we gained a couple important balls in transition that helped us to continue the attacking. I am very happy with his performance.”

Is he a center back deputizing at fullback? Perhaps it’s actually the opposite? Or is he just so talented that it doesn’t really matter? These and other questions swirl around the 17-year-old, and we mean “swirl” in the best possible way.

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Che was a force again at right back for the north Texans against San Jose, delivering a peach of a cross for Ricardo Pepi’s nodded equalizer, one of eight crosses and three chances created as he galloped sprightly around the Toyota Stadium pitch. The YPPOTW coterie reckons this varied skill set can only strengthen FCD’s position when Bayern Munich come calling again in the months ahead.

“A person who has achieved control over psychic energy and has invested it in consciously chosen goals cannot help but grow into a more complex being. By stretching skills, by reaching toward higher challenges, such a person becomes an increasingly extraordinary individual.”

That’s an excerpt from psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s “Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience,” a landmark book about the mental concept often referred to in sports as being “in the zone.” And it’s a pretty decent summation of where Buchanan’s form is at right now.

The Canadian entered Saturday’s match vs. NYCFC in the 61st minute and fired home the winner four minutes later, also connecting all nine of his passes and drawing two fouls. He’s now scored in four straight Revs games he’s been available for and tallied for Canada during their 3-0 World Cup qualifying win over El Salvador, growing from strength to strength as he aims to hoist some hardware before joining Club Brugge this winter.

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Speaking of flow: The Boat has discovered his as well. Atlanta’s Argentine was the most dangerous player on the pitch in that big win over Orlando, scoring an imperious solo golazo and creating the own goal attributed to the unlucky Daryl Dike with a well-hit set-piece delivery.

Even if the season ended tomorrow it would count as a career year for Barco. His 5g/4a in 15 matches are already his best output over his four years in MLS, and he’s clicking with Marcelino Moreno and new arrival Luiz Araujo as Pineda rallies the squad around the goal of making a late dash into the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs and wreaking some havoc.

Does anyone in the Eastern Conference want any part of that postseason scenario? My guess is no.

The catharsis was palpable when Dorsey muscled home the opener in Houston’s 3-0 thumping of Austin just 48 seconds after kickoff, paving the way for La Naranja to end their brutal 16-game winless skid and escape last place in the West at their cross-state opponents’ expense.

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That moment was also a breakthrough on a personal level – Dorsey’s first career MLS goal, a sweet reward for two-and-a-half years of grinding with only modest reward up to that point. It’s easy to forget that the Indiana product was a 2019 Generation adidas signing, a No. 6 overall SuperDraft pick who appeared in multiple Concacaf Champions League matches for Toronto FC before being waived in May.

Dorsey’s path is a reminder of the obstacles that can complicate the journey for young players. But he’s carving out a role for himself in Houston with hard work and high tempo along the right flank.

Honorable mentions

Ricardo Pepi: How would El Tren follow up his heroic USMNT debut upon his return to Dallas? How about 90 minutes marked by some clever movement, five key passes and a game-tying goal that runs his 2021 league tally to 12, tied for third in the Golden Boot presented by Audi race and tops among domestic players?

Christian Makoun: Inter Miami are 6-1-3 in their last 10 matches and the Venezuelan’s steady defensive play has been a quiet cornerstone of that revival, prompting coach Phil Neville to declare that “technically, tactically, mentally, he can play in any league in this world” after their win over Columbus.

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Santiago Rodriguez: The well-rounded Uruguayan is becoming essential for NYCFC since his June arrival, and bagged his third goal of the year – a pretty linkup with Taty Castellanos – to give them a dream start at New England. Rodriguez limped off with an apparent hamstring injury soon after, however, and the Cityzens’ prospects tailed off accordingly.

Dru Yearwood: One of the New York Red Bulls’ most important (and highest-paid) players hasn’t quite met expectations this season and even admitted himself that he’s been “letting his teammates down” amid a dip in form that led to his demotion to the second team for a couple of weeks. So it was quite timely indeed that Yearwood scored his first MLS goal in a man-of-the-match outing against D.C. United.

Josh Atencio: After breaking a rib in a match against the Earthquakes in late July, the 19-year-old has quietly been hauling his way back to top speed. Atencio was solid in central midfield as the Seattle Sounders edged Minnesota on Saturday afternoon, their first home win in two months, highlighted by a game-high 12 ball recoveries.

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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.

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