Three breakout MLS players to keep an eye on this season

Written By Harrison Hamm on May 7, 2021

A few weeks into the MLS season, we’ve seen some players emerge as something better than we had expected at the beginning of the season. If they can keep it up, they could prove important factors in playoff races, and maybe even grow into important assets for their teams.

Here’s a look at a handful of those players.

Cade Cowell, San Jose Earthquakes

At just 17, Cowell has been a star for the promising Earthquakes. Playing a frantic style, the Quakes rebounded from a loss to Houston in the first week with a 3-1 win over FC Dallas and a 5-1 win over D.C. United. In those two games, Cowell produced a total of two goals and three assists. Cowell is an electric midfielder who can pass at a high level and put the ball in the net, putting him on the radar of the US national team.

The Quakes have held back on their energetic press, allowing them to rely on a young attack led by Cowell. They still struggle to defend, and it’s possible that once the goals stop flowing, they will take some losses. It’s hard to keep scoring as many bangers as the Quakes have in the past two weeks, plus expecting a 17-year-old to keep up this level of production might be unrealistic. They will need DP No. 10 Javier ‘La Chofis’ Lopez to produce — last week’s goal was a good start. A foundation is coming into place in San Jose that wasn’t there before.

Rubio Rubin, Real Salt Lake

The 25-year-old Rubin might be finding new footing in his professional career. Rubin was a US youth international who was once seen as a potential answer at striker for the USMNT. He spent years struggling to break into the Eredivisie before ending up in Denmark, Norway, and Mexico, struggling to stay in lineups and score goals. In 2020, he played for San Diego Loyal in the USL and scored seven goals in five appearances.

That led to a chance at RSL, a club in flux that was projected to struggle this season. They’ve surprised with two impressive wins over Sporting KC and Minnesota United, with Rubin scoring a pair of goals against SKC and making the MLS team of the week. They’re not doing anything complicated — they’re a good counter-attack team that goes direct at goal. Moving Damir Kreilach back to midfield has paid dividends, and Rubin has thus far proved a good fit. He will get more chances to score goals as RSL try to sustain this level.

Caden Clark, New York Red Bulls

Here we have another 17-year-old attacker on a borderline playoff team who has produced some magical attacking moments so far this season. Clark has a pair of goals, including a clever first-time volley, and has proven a valuable part of the Red Bulls’ attack. The key is to get him on the ball and develop his passing.

Clark has proven capable of pressing hard out of midfield, forcing turnovers and creating chances for the Red Bulls. He’s second among all MLS players in ball pressures, per FB Reference, a function of the Red Bulls’ system. He is playing big minutes and doing a lot of defensive work, a good sign for a 17-year-old whose calling card is in attack.

The Red Bulls clearly like him. He’s a great fit for their system, and this season will be a chance for him to play every week and improve his skills in anticipation of a move to Red Bull Leipzig after this season. New York can enjoy him while they have him.

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