D.C. United head coach Ben Olsen was running out of options in the midfield for last week’s trip to FC Dallas. Paul Arriola was still away with the US national team, while Zoltan Stieber and Luciano Acosta were under the weather. Olsen could have changed formations, or played someone out of position, as he has been forced to do on multiple occasions this season.
Instead, Olsen opted to stick with his preferred formation, and gave a start to 16-year-old Griffin Yow. Yow, who signed a homegrown deal with the club back in March, had previously played just one MLS minute in a substitute appearance back in May. Now, he was starting on the road, in a difficult environment against Dallas.
“It was great,” Yow told B&RU on Tuesday, about making his first league start. “It wasn’t my best performance, my favorite performance, but I’ll cherish this memory forever, just for the fact that I never have played at a level that high.”
Yow has shown well in other competitions this year, including his time with Loudoun United in the USL Championshpi and when he helped the US under-17 team qualify for this year’s World Cup. His 57 minutes against Dallas wasn’t quite up to the same level, though United as a whole struggled throughout the entire game.
The young winger didn’t register a shot, and completed just five passes out of seven he attempted. There was only one attempted dribble, while Yow did help on the other end of the field, with a couple of tackles, a clearance, recovery, and interception.
For Yow, what will stand out most for him about his first MLS start was the first 20 minutes against Dallas. It was a bit more intense than what he expected, but the experience was one that he won’t ever forget, as he continues down the path of a professional soccer player.
“That first 20 minutes, I’ll never forget that. It’s an insane level, something I never have experienced,” Yow told B&RU. “Everyone is just flying around, going 100 miles per hour, it’s a different type of intensity in the first half.”
“It was a very good experience for him,” Olsen said on Tuesday, after the team’s open training. “He did okay. Like most  year olds getting their first start, there were some areas where he was in over his head, and there were some areas where you see why we are so excited about him.”
When he found out that he was going to get his first top-flight professional start, Yow said that his mentality didn’t change from being on the bench for a game. In fact, he thought it needed to stay the same, since his abilities are what got him in this position in the first place.
“I don’t think I needed to adjust my mindset. I go in with the same mindset every game. Go out there, work as hard as I can, and do everything I do that got me here,” said the winger. “I’m a good enough player, that I’m at this stage for a reason. Don’t think about it too much, don’t overthink it, don’t prepare for in a different way, just keep doing the things that got you here.”
The start for Yow might have been a rare occurrence for this season. Arriola is back with the team after defeat to Mexico in the Gold Cup final, and Acosta and Stieber trained at full speed Tuesday (though Acosta is suspended for Friday’s game against the New England Revolution). And with the secondary transfer window now open, the Black-and-Red might look to bolster their attacking options with reinforcements.
But there will still be opportunities for Yow, whether it’s in MLS or USL. And United will continue to look to help guide him in his journey to becoming a standout player at the top level.
“That’s what this process is going to be about for him,” said Olsen. “We have to make sure we sit with him after trainings and games, and explain to him how he is going to get where he wants to be. There were plenty of examples of good, and things he needs to work on. That’s typical.”