Just 29 minutes into the 2022 CONCACAF Champions League final, Seattle Sounders star Joao Paulo went down, and it was cause for concern. You see, Paulo was an 2021 MLS MVP candidate as one of the best midfielders in the league. Replacing him in this game with these stakes? Almost impossible.
To cover for the Brazilian star, coach Brian Schmetzer turned to his bench and called on Obed Vargas, the 16-year-old midfield prodigy from Anchorage, Alaska. There aren't many soccer stars from Alaska and there aren't many 16-year-olds capable of coming off the bench in a continental cup final. But then not many 16-year-olds are like Vargas.
The Sounders won 3-0, becoming the first MLS team to win any version of CONCACAF's top title since 2005. That victory propelled them to the Club World Cup while also vaulting Vargas into the spotlight. The Mexican-American teenager quickly became one of the most talked-about prospects in MLS before a back injury derailed the rest of the 2022 season.
Vargas is back for the Club World Cup and his age-17 season. All signs point to him being a major contributor and, perhaps, the next young star to truly take the leap in MLS. And then there's the international side to worry about, as both the U.S. men's national team and Mexico will certainly be keeping an eye on him.
But what makes him so special? NXGN breaks down Vargas' rise...