Every good team in Major Leaugue Soccer has a tough, physical defensive midfielder. He's a player who can win possession, get stuck in on tackles and bring a real edge to the field. The likes of Diego Chara and Jose Martinez have defined the role in MLS.
Players like that are almost never young players, though. That makes César Araújo a bit of a unicorn in that sense.
It's not Araújo's ball-winning or ball progression that makes him so unique amongst prospects in MLS. His demeanor and physicality is what really sets him apart, and that really defines what he does.
The win over the New York Red Bulls was an excellent microcosm of that grit. Red Bull games inevitably devolve into a mixture of physical duels and Dark Arts (time wasting, tactical fouls, diving, etc.). Araújo is a damn prodigy in those fields.
He flies into challenges and always seems to pop up in midfield. Araújo doesn't always win the ball, but he's always involved. He's also an astute fouler. He knows how, where and when to add a sneaky jersey pull or put a little extra on a sliding challenge.
Yellow cards aren't made equal. Earning a card for stopping a breakaway is a good play --- especially when it can bleed a few extra seconds off the clock.
Head coach Oscar Pareja has instilled a level of bite and physicality to the club's ethos since arriving in 2020. Araújo is the poster child for that.
For my money, Araújo is comfortably the best young defensive midfielder in the league and arguably a top five d-mid right now. And his mix of tangible skill and intangible guile is what sets him apart from the Brandon Servania's and Aidan Morris's of the world.
The next step for Araújo is to flesh out his possession game. He's an underrated progressive passer and sneakily clean on the ball. But he doesn't have the range of passing to open up the game, and provides very little in the final third.
These are minor details for a player of his skillset, though, and if he were to develop that he could become a $20 million player.