Griffin Yow ran on to the pitch with just minutes remaining in D.C. United’s 2-0 loss to New York City FC at Audi Field on Sunday. The forward only had time for a couple touches on the ball, but what he did on the pitch wasn’t nearly as important as the fact he was there in the first place.
In an otherwise disappointing game, Yow’s professional debut for D.C. United could become one of the most significant moments to emerge from the team’s 2019 season. At 16 years, 6 months, and 27 days, Yow became the youngest player to see the field in all of Major League Soccer this season.
“Everything just kind of went black for me,” Yow says of the moment he entered the game. ”I can’t even remember it. It was an amazing feeling. I’m very happy and very blessed to be able to make my debut for this club, even if it’s five minutes, even if it’s one minute, it doesn’t really matter.”
The Clifton, Virginia native has been one of the better prospects in the club’s academy since he joined in 2016, and his career has rapidly accelerated in the past six weeks.
On March 9, Yow made his professional debut with D.C. United’s minor league affiliate Loudoun United FC. Two weeks later, he signed his first professional contract with D.C. United. A month after that, he strode onto the Audi Field grass to make his MLS debut.
“He’s a lovely kid who has a bright future for us,” United head coach Ben Olsen said after the game.
Yow entered Sunday’s game in place of Paul Arriola, who has been impressed with what he’s seen from his youthful teammate so far.
“I was really excited to see Griffin come into the game, even if it was for me,” Arriola tells City Paper. “He’s a great player. He reminds me a lot of myself when I was young, except I feel like I was him when I was 18, 19 years old in comparison to him being 16 years old. He’s unbelievable.”
Arriola made his professional debut at age 18 with the Mexican team, Club Tijuana, and the winger knows that the only way for a young player to grow is to get minutes and adjust to the professional game by the time-tested method of trial and error.
“I think the more that he can play and the more that he can continue to grow and have the confidence to make mistakes, make errors and learn from them [the better],” Arriola says. “If he continues on the route that he’s on, he’s going to be unbelievable.”
Whether Yow gets more of those reps this season at Loudoun United or with D.C. United remains to be seen, but the teenager is determined not to end up like many other homegrown players across MLS have over the years.
Though a number of MLS clubs regularly feature several players they developed themselves through their youth academies, many players signed through the homegrown player mechanism have fallen through the cracks.
Whether it’s a lack of talent or opportunity, recent MLS history is littered with players who have signed as highly touted youth prospects and taken years to get a shot—or never got one at all.
“I knew from the start as soon as I signed that I didn’t want to be like the other homegrowns,” Yow says. “I didn’t want to wait a year. I didn’t want to wait two years. I wanted to get on the field as fast as possible, and I think I made that very clear to Ben and the other coaches, and I think it’s really paid off for me.”
At such a young age, Yow will be given every chance to develop slowly. But D.C. United is not loaded with attacking options, and there seems to be a reasonable chance that the club’s youngest player will feature prominently as the season moves forward.
“It’s a great feeling to be able to start so soon and get ahead of the game,” Yow says. “I’m very thankful for Ben to give me the opportunity and I know there’s going to be a lot more from here.”