National Writer: Charles Boehm

Who were the best young-player performers in Matchday 19?

Noel buck 6.19.23 Young Players

Some international windows close harder than others, and such is the case this June.

While much of MLS went dark as Concacaf Nations League and other national-team gatherings took place, seven league matches took place this past week, so we’re still grinding on the #YPPOTW front, albeit in a more streamlined fashion given the lighter slate.

We’ll start in rainy Foxborough, Massachusetts.

We’ve written before about how smart beyond his years the Revs’ homegrown is, and on Saturday he notched his first assist of the season with a good illustration of that. Buck helped Gustavo Bou bag what turned out to be the game-winning goal vs. Orlando City at Gillette Stadium:

Technically, Buck gets the assist for that simple-looking pass to his Designated Player teammate. It was his movement AFTER releasing the ball that really made it possible for the goal to happen, though. As Danny Higginbotham notes on the MLS Season Pass broadcast, the 18-year-old cleared the space that Bou exploited.

Buck also completed 3/3 tackles, seven recoveries and 87% of his passes. And he very nearly connected on a strike of his own, showcasing some lovely Zone-14 footwork in the process:

Given what he’s shown already, and just how high his ceiling for future growth appears to be, we’re not surprised that he’s gotten a call or two from the England Under-18 national team – nor that he’s choosing to keep his international options open at this early stage. With a United Kingdom passport already in hand thanks to his family heritage, the world is Buck’s oyster.

While OCSC’s six-game unbeaten streak came shuddering to a halt in Foxborough, their 20-year-old homegrown fullback provided a silver lining.

After going from late injury replacement to appearing in all but one match of the US U-20 national team’s quarterfinals run at the FIFA U-20 World Cup, Halliday has been playing regularly for the Lions and earned his second assist of the season in the loss at New England. His delicately-textured cross to Duncan McGuire halved the deficit and forced the Revs to see out their victory:

Overall, Halliday passed at an 18/30 clip, created three chances, made seven recoveries, won 2/4 duels and drew one foul.

As stunningly gorgeous as Pablo Ruiz’s long, long, long-range goal was in RSL’s 2-1 road win over D.C. United, his younger Colombian teammate might have had a bigger overall impact on the W that carried Salt Lake into seventh place in the West.

It was Gómez’s clever through ball into space behind D.C.’s backline that exposed Steve Birnbaum to a one-v-one with Danny Musovski just 26 minutes into the match, leading United’s veteran center back to wrestle Musovski to the Audi Field turf, drawing a straight red card for DOGSO from referee Malik Badawi.

The young Colombian – a sleeper pick for 2023 MLS All-Star Game presented by Target considerations from where we’re standing – kept plugging away and earned his fifth assist of the year on RSL’s winner, lacing a smart low cross from the right flank that Musovski met with a first-time finish at the near post. That was one of Gómez’s two key passes on the night, along with 15/18 passing, 3/8 dribbles and five recoveries. All in all, a productive 63 minutes on the pitch.

With a home draw and back-to-back losses to Houston hinting at a stiff post-Concacaf Champions League hangover, the Black & Gold needed a positive result from their visit to Sporting Kansas City.

After a solid outing in his side’s frustrating home loss to the Dynamo at midweek, LAFC’s U22 Initiative signing contributed plenty of hard graft to help them dig out of an early deficit to secure a dramatic injury-time win in the Midwest.

The Croatian youth international – who was not released for U-21 national team Euros action due to his club’s hectic schedule and availability concerns – completed 82% of his passes and won 10/15 duels, 2/3 aerial duels, 3/4 tackles and seven recoveries at Children’s Mercy Park, putting in the work needed to get the job done with Dénis Bouanga and José Cifuentes away on international duty.