- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Marco Farfan is not only wrapping up his senior year in high school, he’s got a gig on the side that keeps him pretty busy, too.

The 18-year-old defender is the first homegrown player developed by the Portland Timbers’ academy system. Last weekend he became the youngest player to start for the team when the Timbers visited the LA Galaxy.

Portland won 1-0, an accomplishment considering the Timbers did not win on the road last season.

“I don’t think a kid can dream something better than this debuting, playing 90 minutes and getting a clean sheet with the guys out there,” Farfan said afterward. “It was just fantastic.”

Farfan, a senior at Centennial High School east of Portland, is part of something of a youth movement in Major League Soccer, as individual teams begin to see talent development programs pay off.

The average age of the league’s designated players has dropped significantly, too, indicating the league is moving away from the trend in previous years to bring in past-their-prime big names.

“Obviously it’s a very unique situation. There’s a high school in this area that has a pro player walking around the halls,” Timbers coach Caleb Porter said, then joked: “He might miss out on prom, I don’t know.”

Farfan is not the youngest prospect to have appeared in a game this season. That honor goes to Vancouver’s Alphonso Davies, who at 16 started for the Whitecaps in the opener against the Philadelphia Union.

Davies was part of Vancouver’s residency program, signing with the team last season at 15. He was the third-youngest player to sign a MLS contract and the second youngest - after Freddy Adu - to play in a match.

“Much of my week leading up to this was spent figuring out how to shut down a 16-year-old kid,” Philadelphia coach Jim Curtin told reporters after the two teams played to a scoreless draw in the season opener. “That’s a credit to the player.”

Other youngsters playing across the league this season include 17-year-old FC Dallas midfielder Paxton Pomykal, who started in last weekend’s scoreless draw with Sporting Kansas City, and 17-year-old midfielder Ballou Jean-Yves Tabla, homegrown player for Montreal who has appeared in both of the Impact’s matches this season.

MATCH OF THE WEEK: Farfan could get another chance on Saturday night when the Timbers host the surprising Houston Dynamo in a matchup of the very early undefeated teams. Portland got wins over Minnesota FC and the Galaxy, while the Dynamo defeated both the Sounders and the Columbus Crew, opening the season with two straight matches at home in Houston. Forwards Romell Quioto and Erick “Cubo” Torres both scored a goal in each of the Dynamo’s first two games. Portland’s Fanendo Adi and Diego Valeri have two goals apiece for Portland. Farfan could get his second start because defender Vytas Andriuskevicius, known as Vytas, is questionable with a calf injury.

BEST OF THE REST: The New York Red Bulls, the only undefeated team in the Eastern Conference, play the Sounders at CenturyLink on Sunday afternoon. The Red Bulls are coming off a 1-0 victory over the Colorado Rapids. The Sounders, the defending MLS Cup champions, have a draw and a loss so far. It’s Seattle’s home opener, so that bodes well for the Sounders.

HONORS: There was never really a doubt that Atlanta United’s Josef Martinez would be the MLS Player of the Week. Martinez had a hat trick in Atlanta’s snowy 6-1 victory over fellow expansion team Minnesota in Minneapolis last weekend. The victory matched the MLS record for most goals for an expansion team.

Martinez, a 23-year-old Venezuelan striker on loan from the Italian side Torino, scored his third goal in the 75th minute to lead the league in goals so far this season.

ON THE MOVE: Colorado defender Axel Sjoberg had surgery on his left hamstring this past week and will be reevaluated in six to eight weeks. … Real Salt Lake midfielder Albert Rusnak has been called up to the Slovakian national team for its World Cup qualifier against Malta on March 26. Rusnak will depart following RSL’s match against the Galaxy on Saturday. … Sporting Kansas City midfielder Roger Espinoza has been called up to the Honduras national team for World Cup qualifying matches later this month against the United States and Costa Rica. He’ll leave following Sporting’s match at home against the Earthquakes on Saturday. … San Jose signed goalkeeper Matt Bersano to a multiyear deal. Bersano played with the Earthquakes in the preseason. …. Orlando signed goalkeeper Joe Bendik to an extension that will keep him with the team through the 2020 season.

On Wednesday, U.S. national team coach Bruce Arena selected his roster for the upcoming World Cup qualifying matches. It includes a number of MLS players, including goalkeepers Tim Howard (Colorado) and Nick Rimando (Salt Lake); defenders DaMarcus Beasley (Houston) and Walker Zimmerman (Dallas); midfielders Kellyn Acosta (Dallas), Alejandro Bedoya (Philadelphia), Michael Bradley (Toronto), Jermaine Jones (LA), Sebastian Lletget (LA), Darlington Nagbe (Portland) and Dax McCarty (Chicago); and forwards Jozy Altidore (Toronto), Clint Dempsey (Seattle) and Jordan Morris (Seattle).

THE LAST WORD: Two MLS teams are in the semifinals of the 2016-17 CONCACAF Champions League. The Vancouver Whitecaps fell 2-0 to Liga MX’s Tigres in the first leg of their semifinal on Tuesday night in Nueva Leon. The second leg is April 5 at BC Place. FC Dallas hosts Pachuca in the first leg of their semifinal series on Wednesday. The winner qualifies for the FIFA Club World Cup. No MLS club has won the tournament since it changed format in 2008, but Real Salt Lake came closest as the runner-up in 2010-11.

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This story has been corrected from an earlier version to show that Portland beat the Galaxy 1-0 instead of 2-0.

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