National Writer: Charles Boehm

Which young players stole the show on Decision Day?

Facundo Torres ORL

We’ve reached the end of the regular season, and from the bottom of our hearts, everyone associated with the YPPOTW supreme committee is thankful to all of you who clicked, read along or shared their player nominations on Twitter.

MLS grows further and further into a young player’s league with every passing season, and 2022 broke new ground with marked leaps forward in both the quality and quantity of Under-23 contributors. Decision Day provided a particularly prominent proving ground and perhaps it was no coincidence that competition for YPPOTW places was as keen as it’s been for months (our shortlist ran half again as long as usual).

Stay tuned – we’re not done quite yet. We’ll be training our particular lens on the Audi 2022 MLS Cup Playoffs as well.

Entering Decision Day just shy of their first-ever postseason qualification, Cincy merely needed to avoid faceplanting when they visited wooden spoon winners D.C. United. And did they ever get the job done, with their razor-sharp Brazilian leading from the front with his third hat trick of the season, and an assist for garnish.

Rangy, clever and physical, Brenner also completed 31/34 passes, two key passes, 4/4 long balls and added three recoveries and several other defensive actions en route to Continential Player of the Week and Team of the Week presented by Audi nods. He now has nine goals in his last five matches, which ties the record for most in a five-game span in a single season in league history.

He, Brandon Vazquez and Lucho Acosta are a menacingly in-form attacking trident, and the biggest factor fueling FCC’s hopes of knocking off the New York Red Bulls in Harrison, New Jersey in Round One on Saturday (12 pm ET | UniMas, TUDN, & App). Regular readers will recall what a YPPOTW mainstay Brenner has been this year, and it’s taken him to 18g/6a in league play.

Most of us probably didn’t take much note when Gerhard Struber & Co. quietly lined up a short-term loan deal for this 20-year-old Brazilian from Gremio in August. Six games later, he’s completely blown his cover with an extravagant brace – his first tallies in MLS – to fell Charlotte FC 2-0 on Sunday and earn a spot in the Team of the Week.

Looking both energetic and skillful, Manoel played one key pass, albeit amongst four turnovers, and needed just 26 overall touches to decide the result, suggesting a clinicality and sense for the moment that bodes quite well for the Jersey boys in the coming days.

RBNY’s clear, aggressive pressing identity has long been framed as a key factor in the baseline of consistent competitiveness that’s allowed them to inherit the mantle of the longest active playoff qualification streak (13) recently shed by the Seattle Sounders. Conversely, there’s a case to be made their strikers have long determined RBNY’s ceiling, especially in the big-game moments that proliferate in the postseason.

The stats suggest Patryk Klimala and other frontrunners haven’t carried their weight this year, certainly not compared to past exemplars of the role like Bradley Wright-Phillips. There would be something appropriately Red Bull about an unheralded new guy delivering the goods.

Sometimes an expected-goals chart becomes something like a landscape painting, revealing the tale of a match’s roller-coaster character, or perhaps a team’s failure to launch, or its slow, arduous climb to success. Orlando’s tense comeback Decision Day win over Columbus to snatch back the Eastern Conference’s final playoff spot with mere minutes to spare was very much the latter.

The Lions were safely outplayed by the Crew from kickoff and boos floated down from the Exploria Stadium stands as they trotted into the locker room trailing 1-0 at halftime, lucky the deficit wasn’t bigger. With the season on the line, Torres stepped up, leading the charge alongside Mauricio Pereyra and Junior Urso to haul Orlando back onto level terms.

His 80th-minute shot drew a sterling parry from Eloy Room, and on the ensuing corner kick he delivered, OCSC earned the game’s decisive penalty kick. Amid general pandemonium, Torres kept his nerve, slotted home the winner from the spot and Orlando finally nudged up that xG hill.

“For Facundo to be this young with that responsibility on his shoulders, it’s amazing,” coach Oscar Pareja said of the 22-year-old Uruguayan, who finished the day with 46 touches, 93% passing completion, one key pass, 2/2 on tackles and two recoveries. “He carried the team to win the Open Cup and he carried the team today. At this age, that’s not an easy job.”

We’re generally tolerant types around these parts. But at this advanced stage, no one around MLS has any excuse for sleeping on Wilfried Nancy’s CFM, who are playing some of the league’s best soccer via some of its most efficient usage of roster resources. Koné might just be Exhibit A for the excellent body of work of coach Wilfried Nancy and his staff.

Fast-tracked up the club’s development pathway last year ahead of his breakout 2022, the 20-year-old do-it-all center-mid has gotten a measure of baptism by fire, learning on the job and showing the resulting growth across the weeks and months. Perhaps inspired by his two caps for the Canadian national team in the September international window, on Sunday he set the tone for Montréal’s clinical 3-1 road drubbing of Inter Miami.

Koné’s canny high pressing of goalkeeper Drake Callender in the opening minutes reaped one of the simpler assists he’ll ever register, an easy tap to Djordje Mihailovic for the 5th-minute opener the Herons never recovered from.

Koné went on to win 6/7 duels at DRV PNK Stadium, drew four fouls and completed 70/77 passes in a comprehensive engine-room performance. Montréal have evolved into a legit MLS Cup dark horse – the bookies have already taken notice; the latest MLS Cup odds can tell you as much. And you can bet Koné will be the subject of continued interest from Europe this winter, especially if he earns minutes for the CanMNT in Qatar.

Quickly moving on from their Supporters’ Shield disappointment, Philly romped all over Toronto FC to ensure they would finish tops in the East, a 4-0 whupping that marks the DOOPers’ sixth win by a margin of four goals or more this season.

Yet again, their 19-year-old homegrown was quietly, age-defyingly influential at the heart of things. McGlynn played three key passes and eight accurate long balls while completing 51/54 (94%) overall and tallying double digits in defensive actions, as the clean sheet enabled the Union to set a new record for the fewest goals conceded (26) in a 34-game season.

Much has been said and written about Alejandro Bedoya’s importance to this Philly side, and assuming the veteran talisman reaches full fitness in time for their playoff opener next week, he’ll probably send McGlynn to the bench at that point. We suspect Jim Curtin would be hard-pressed to keep the kid in the XI ahead of Brujo Martinez, Leon Flach or Daniel Gazdag, either.

But McGlynn’s range and depth of passing just gives this team a different look, a new set of passing and possession dimensions they may yet need in the quest for a league title. He’s at the very least given Curtin some things to ponder in the next few days.

Honorable mentions

Jesus Ferreira: Cheetah wrapped up his outstanding season with a very on-brand performance vs. Sporting Kansas City, hitting four shots on target, taking five corners, passing at an 88% clip and creating four chances for teammates, tabbing an assist on Sebastian Lletget’s opener. Ferreira finishes the campaign with 18g/6a, and with none of those goals from the penalty spot, he’s joint-tops in MLS in non-penalty goals scored alongside Sebastian Driussi and Brandon Vazquez.

Alan Velasco: La Joya showed few signs of rust on his return from a month out with a quadriceps injury, coming off the bench to win the day for FCD. The Argentine winger was quicksilver in his half-hour cameo, completing 13/14 passes, a striking four of which were key passes, including the assist on Paul Arriola's game-winner. He also won all three of his ground duels, went 1/1 on dribbles and clanged a wicked shot off the woodwork.

Bode Hidalgo: Nee Davis, Hidalgo changed his surname in a tribute to his stepfather earlier this year, and on Sunday the Real Salt Lake homegrown properly introduced himself to a national audience, netting his first career MLS goal in just his sixth appearance to provide RSL with insurance against the Timbers. The 20-year-old was smart and hard-working in a must-win situation, and head coach Pablo Mastroeni’s postgame praise was noteworthy.

“There was a time in the beginning of the season, I think it was right after preseason. He came in and said to me, ‘I will play for this team, Pablo. I just want you to know that's where my head's at. I will play for this team,’” said Mastroeni. “At the time, you're looking at the depth chart, you don't really see it, but you're really proud of the desire and really proud of the accountability he's willing to take on in a moment where his feet aren’t really touching the ground in preseason … So Bode's literally manifested this moment for himself.”

Kristian Fletcher: Kudos are due to D.C. United’s just-barely-17-year-old winger, who was handed his first career MLS start by Wayne Rooney vs. Cincy and responded with his first career MLS goal. The growth of youngsters like Fletcher is the silver lining in a woeful campaign for the Black-and-Red that even Rooney himself expressed relief at reaching its conclusion.

Alex Monis: How’s this for a stat line? One match played in 2022, one minute played, one goal, and a dramatic injury-time equalizer to boot. Even at the caboose end of another season to forget for Chicago Fire FC, it’s hard not to crack a smile at the joy of the moment the homegrown Monis, 19, carved out in his fleeting moments on the SeatGeek Stadium pitch vs. New England, popping up at the back post to rifle home the loose ball after the Revolution failed to deal with a long throw into their box.

Audi Goals Drive Progress

MLS Academies have been identified as one of the most important resources for building on-field talent in North America. Through the Audi Goals Drive Progress initiative, Audi has committed $1 million per season in an effort to advance academies league-wide, and to drive progress for the sport. For every goal scored in the regular season, Audi will contribute $500 into the Audi Goals Drive Progress fund to directly support each MLS Club Youth Academy.