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SSFC Spotlight: Griffin Yow has chance for reset in Belgium

The young attacker joined KVC Westerlo.

Houston Dynamo FC v DC United Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

When a young player signs for his local club, there is hope for stardom and perhaps the potential for an eventual lucrative transfer abroad. When the path to regular first-team minutes is blocked, sometimes a different avenue must be pursued. Griffin Yow recently departed D.C. United, moving to KVC Westerlo in the Belgium First Division A. The 19-year-old attacker has loads of potential and shined at the reserve level, now presented the chance to prove himself in a different environment.

Yow was born to a “soccer family” in Clifton, Virginia and played up two age groups with Southwestern Youth Association and the Virginia Development Academy before joining the D.C. United youth set-up. After scoring 41 goals in 68 appearances, he was named to the United Soccer Coaches Youth Boys All-America Team. The club praised his “obvious talent, mentality, and drive.”

After earning an invitation to training camp, D.C. United signed the “promising young prospect” and “top performer” to a Homegrown contract in March of 2019 in order “to avoid losing him to an overseas offer.” In his first season, he stayed mostly with the newly-established reserve team, Loudoun United, in the USL Championship, making 15 appearances and scoring three goals. The teenager featured in four matches with the senior squad, including twice in the Open Cup, while being mentored in a “welcoming environment” by teammates Chris Durkin and Paul Arriola.

“I knew from the start as soon as I signed that I didn’t want to be like the other Homegrowns,” said Yow. “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 the coaches, and I think it’s really paid off for me.”

The next season, Yow made 12 appearances during the COVID-shortened schedule, using his time off to train on his own and “watch game film.” He scored his first senior goal in a 2-2 draw with Toronto FC, finding the back of the net again a few weeks later against the New England Revolution. The young attacker showed promise, “committing himself to being a pro” and displaying the ability to “get real chances” while developing “a confident mindset.” His performances drew attention from no less than Gregg Berhalter, who was “keeping an eye” on the prospect.

Last year was supposed to be an improvement under a new manager with a high-pressing, vertical-attacking “Maximum Overdrive” system that would play to the teenager’s strengths. Yow played sporadically, featuring in 11 matches and starting only once. He had what could have been a breakout game in a romp over Toronto, with a goal and an assist.

This season began with more promise, as Yow was in the starting lineup on Opening Day, having “adapted to the MLS level” and increased “his confidence over the last four years.” He made nine appearances across all competitions but was back in no man’s land by mid-May. Too talented for the reserves but unable to break through with the first team, a change was needed, with reported interest in a loan or transfer from clubs in Belgium and Denmark.

Earlier this month, Yow was sold to KVC Westerlo of the Belgian First Division A for a reported $100,000 fee, including a 35% sell-on clause. De Kemphanen (The Ruffs) signed him to a four-year contract. He joins fellow American Bryan Reynolds at the club, on loan from A.S. Roma, and has begun appearing in friendlies with the first-team.

At the international level, Yow gained a reputation as a scorer with the United States Under-17 National Team. He contributed four goals and an assist at the 2019 CONCACAF U-17 Championship, including the lone finish in the final, a 2-1 loss to Mexico. The attacker featured in two matches at the ensuing U-17 World Cup, a run that ended in the group stage.

An inverted left-sided attacker “with nimble ball skills and a killer instinct,” Yow has the ability to “manufacture things” in the final third and works tirelessly to harry the opponent, in the 99th percentile of MLS wingers for pressures. An “excellent presser, dynamic dribbler, and lethal finisher,” the 19-year-old is confident in possession and unafraid to shoot from distance while also sneaking into the back post. He is a self-described “very flashy player” who “never shies away from an opportunity” to “take people on one-v-one.” Areas for improvement include “calming down and being in the moment,” while avoiding “being overwhelmed” in order to find a comfort level on the field.

“He’s an exciting player down the wing,” wrote Collin Allison for MLS Multiplex. “He’s young. He has good speed and energy… He primarily plays on the left side, preferring to pull [the ball] back on his right foot and strike. He’s a good finisher as well… He has good instincts, always trying to sniff out goals. He plays hungry and smart.”

The situation was clearly not working out for Yow at D.C. United, a club that has spent the last few years struggling to find an identity and is set to undergo yet another rebuild under a new manager. The transfer to Europe provides the opportunity to compete for playing time and showcase his skills in one of the world’s fastest growing talent markets. With a few seasons of development and consistent minutes in Belgium, he could exhibit the same skill and dynamic attacking prowess on display at the youth international and reserve levels.