The case for Ethan Bartlow is an interesting one. He is a young, 22-year old, centerback for the Houston Dynamo who has begun to emerge recently. However, he also plays the same position as Houston's team captain in Tim Parker and one of Houston's Designated Players in Teenage Hadebe.
With some injuries along the backline, Bartlow made his MLS debut earlier this season and has appeared eight times on the year with five starts. I believe that a case could be made that Bartlow is a future key piece for the Dynamo and should be continued to be utilized this season as well.
The Case for Ethan Bartlow
Bartlow was selected #6 overall by Houston in the 2021 MLS Superdraft after a collegiate career at Washington. Bartlow did not appear in a match in 2021 after he suffered an injury, and then there just wasn't an opening on the depth chart at CB once he got healthy. This season however, Teenage Hadebe and Tim Parker have been forced to miss a few matches each which has opened up the door for Bartlow to see some PT.
With his eight apperances and five starts, Bartlow has played in 517 minutes on the year. He made his MLS debut on April 2nd against Inter Miami and then has been in and out of the lineup since depending on the availability of mainly Hadebe.
Bartlow has put up solid statistics in the playing time he has gotten this season. He is completing a strong 84.9% of his passes. He is also winning 66.7% of aerial duels, which is the top for any Houston field player. While he hasn't been a perfect player, he has shown some flashes.
With Hadebe and Parker both back right now, it seemingly spelt the end of Bartlow's spot in the lineup, but Houston got creative this past weekend though. On Sunday against Orlando, Houston listed Bartlow as starting in the midfield for the first time this season. Bartlow then dropped back and Houston played with three CB's with Bartlow alongside Parker and Hadebe.
Bartlow is just 22 years old, and doesn't have a ton of professional experience. I believe that the more he plays, the more it will help him develop and turn into a quality centerback. He's also learning from two quality veterans in Hadebe and Parker. If he is going to turn into a true long-term answer at CB then the more minutes he plays this season will help.
Another factor to take into consideration is that Bartlow also has a very cheap cap hit at the moment, occupying just a supplemental roster spot since he is a recent Superdraft pick. He's also making just 84K this season. He is a cheap player with a minimal cap hit who has broken into the rotation, which provides great value for Houston if he can continue to develop. Until he signs an extension, he could be a very valuable player for the Dynamo due to his roster status.
While we don't know what the exact plan is for the rest of the season with Bartlow (and whether the club will keep running with him, Hadebe, and Parker forming a 3-man backline or not), I think an argument could be made that it would be beneficial for the club to try to get Bartlow on the pitch as much as possible. Bartlow likely isn't going to push Hadebe or Parker out of their starting spots any time soon (and he probably shouldn't), but Bartlow might be making it tough for Paolo Nagamura to keep him off the field.