At this late stage of the season, the business end of the year, you start to make different calculations.
If you’re pushing for one of the playoff spots or the Supporters’ Shield then you want to be playing your best players. Period. Names, statuses, salaries – they don’t count anymore. What matters is who’s better right now; who’s going to get the job done. There are exceptions of course, but that should be the general rule.
Now if the playoffs are out of reach, then a player’s current form shouldn’t factor in as much when deciding who to play. This is the time to experiment and to look ahead to next season. In other words: play the kids.
With those different goals in mind, here’s 10 current subs who should be starting for their clubs down the stretch:
10. Marcus Epps (Philadelphia Union, M): 12 games/4 starts, 1 goal
The Philadelphia Union are out of the playoff race. Chris Pontius hasn’t scored a goal all season long. Time to give someone else a chance. Everyone knows what the Union’s attack look like. The rookie Epps hasn’t played very much and brings some flair to the table.
9. Chris Odoi-Atsem (D.C. United, RB): 8 games/4 starts
Although D.C. United will want to finish the season on a positive note and collect some wins for what’s been another mostly forgettable season, it’s time to try as many different players as possible. You already know what Sean Franklin gives you at right back. Rookie Odoi-Atsem, a 22-year-old Maryland native, has only started in four games this season. Let’s see what he can do.
8. Richie Laryea (Orlando City, CM): 7 games
Of the many areas Orlando need to revamp for next season, central midfield is a key spot. The only lock is Yoshimar Yotun. For various reasons, the rest of the regular players in central midfield we’ve seen this year could well be gone in January. Laryea, who’s been coming off the bench of late, deserves a shot. The 22-year-old, who is dealing with a slight injury at the moment, brings the kind of dynamic qualities the Lions have been missing.
7. Tommy Redding (Orlando City, CB): 13 games/11 starts
Ideally, Orlando get another more veteran, left-footed center back next season to play with Jonathan Spector, and Redding’s the first guy off the bench. Until then, with nothing left to play for this season, this is an ideal opportunity to give the US youth international as many minutes as possible. Of Orlando’s three young center backs, Redding has the most upside and can pick a pass.
6. Maxime Crepeau (Montreal Impact, GK): 1 game/start, 6 saves
With a strong core of young local players, there's potential to build something very special in Montreal. Included in that core is 23-year-old goalkeeper Crepeau, who moved from third goalkeeper to second this year, and should be taking over the No. 1 position, especially if the Impact's playoff hopes completely fade (they could very soon). Evan Bush might offer more assurance because of his experience, but technically, overall, Crepeau is a better goalkeeper, especially when playing with his feet. He also communicates more and is much more active coming off his line. He's just missing a few more games under his belt.
5. Gonzalo Veron (New York Red Bulls, F): 16 games/2 starts, 2 goals, 3 assists
For a Designated Player, Veron has been a flop. I get it. But what does Alex Muyl offer that Veron doesn’t? And with Daniel Royer out, the Red Bulls are going to need a creative spark from somewhere in the playoffs. Someone who can take players on 1v1, change the game with a special moment of individual brilliance. At this point, it’s unlikely to come from others in wide areas, so might as well give Veron the green light and cross your fingers.
4. Nouhou Tolo (Seattle Sounders, LB): 13 games/6 starts, 1 assist
Joevin Jones is one of the very best left fullbacks in MLS, but given the developments of recent weeks, he does look like a player whose mind is focused elsewhere. You can’t have a player like that in the lineup, it's asking for trouble. And Tolo looks like a fine player himself. He’s not Jones (not yet anyway—Tolo’s only 20), but he’s done enough to displace him.
3. Alphonso Davies (Vancouver Whitecaps, M): 18 games/6 starts, 1 assist
Coach Carl Robinson has been careful with Davies’ playing time, which is very understandable given that Davies is only 16, but the Whitecaps are still lacking a spark in the final third and Davies has proved in the Gold Cup that big games don’t phase him.
2. Anthony Jackson-Hamel (Montreal Impact, F): 14 games/5 starts, 7 goals, 3 assists
Jackson-Hamel, playing mostly as a substitute, has seven goals and three assists in 588 minutes. Starting forward Matteo Mancosu has four goals and two assists in 1,523 minutes. So much more can be said, but with stats like that, is it even necessary?
1. Jonathan Lewis (New York City FC, M): 9 games/4 starts, 2 goals, 1 assist
New York City have so many quality players to choose from for the wide attacking areas of the field, but Lewis bring something extra to the table. His close control, agility, speed, and quick decision making, is very special. Having only recently started to get into the lineup, he also brings a nice freshness for the last stretch of the season.