National Writer: Charles Boehm

Who were the best young-player performers in Matchday 21?

Young Players 6.26.23

Several regular YPPOTW contenders are away on international duty at the Gold Cup. That’s only served to open up space for newer faces to take the stage across MLS, including some key difference makers on Matchday 21.

First, let’s take a look at a standout from the midweek Matchday 20 who continued his strong form on Saturday. Remember, as always – you too can take part in the process. Just find a tweet like this after a matchday and share your nominations for the top performances by players under the age of 22:

Of the several MLS regulars who took part in the U-20 World Cup in Argentina, arguably no one has sustained more positive momentum from that experience than “Moon Boy.” After struggling for playing time earlier in the year, Luna has started RSL’s last four matches and contributed significantly to their 2W-0L-2D run over that span.

After notching 1g/2a in their impressive midweek win at St. Louis, the San Jose Earthquakes academy product posted another assist as Salt Lake rallied from 2-0 down to earn a draw vs. Minnesota United despite having a penalty kick and a goal waved off by Video Review decisions. The Utahns simply wouldn’t be denied, and Luna – here working in an out-and-out striker role – was key with his persistent probing.

Luna logged 79 touches, went 4/5 on dribbles, won 5/9 duels and played a whopping seven key passes amid an 87% overall pass completion rate. Is he making a case for a speedy promotion into the United States’ senior squad?

Edelman, who captained the US U-20s in Argentina, has also gotten a boost from the World Cup. The hard-working center midfielder was one of the best players on the pitch as RBNY trounced Atlanta United, 4-0, showing both quick thinking and clinical finishing to bag his first goal of the season, sparking the rout.

The 20-year-old homegrown soon had an assist to boot, laying the foundation for Cristian Cásseres’ strike by alertly cutting off a questionable pass out of the ATL backline and nodding it to Tom Barlow to set the goal sequence in motion.

Edelman completed 26/38 passes, including one key pass, went 2/2 on tackles, won the lion's share of his ground and aerial duels and made nine recoveries and two interceptions.

Edelman’s co-conspirator on RBNY’s opening goal, Harper also deserves a shout not only for his outing against Atlanta but his sequence of generally steady outings at right back for the Red Bulls, where he’s been one of the more consistent Under-22 starters in the league.

Just three days after netting his first goal of the MLS campaign in the midweek draw vs. Charlotte to earn a place in the MLS Team of the Matchday, the Scottish-American fullback delivered the throw-in to Edelman for the game’s opening goal, one of his three key passes on the night.

Harper also played nine passes into the final third and produced seven defensive actions.

Things are pretty doom and gloom on the shores of Lake Ontario, what with TFC having just parted ways with Bob Bradley as they labor along on a five-game winless skid with just three league victories to their credit all season. Saturday’s 2-1 loss at New England seems to have been the last straw for the club’s executives.

Even that is a sign of how tight the margins can be in MLS, though, considering Lorenzo Insigne’s late equalizer was chalked off by a very, very tight offside call – and how well Kerr played.

The 20-year-old attacker got the Reds off to a dream start at Gillette Stadium, nodding home a delicate delivery from Insigne at the far post for his third goal of the season. It was one of many aerial duels he won on the day in addition to half a dozen defensive actions in 58 minutes on the pitch.

CITY SC coach Bradley Carnell turned heads with his rotated starting XI at San Jose, handing first starts of the season to Jackson, Josh Yaro and Sam Adeniran, and was richly rewarded with an impressive West Coast road win.

While Adeniran got the headlines for his two goals in the 2-1 victory, Jackson, 21, was nearly as influential as a hard-running chaos agent in attacking midfield. The former Minnesota United prospect won 9/13 duels, 3/4 tackles, directed 3/3 shots on target and was fouled four times, including the one that earned STL the game-winning penalty kick via a Video Review decision.

If you haven’t heard the buzz about Jackson already – an MLS NEXT Pro Best XI honoree last season at MNUFC, he bagged a brace in a US Open Cup win earlier this year and is also said to have drawn the interest of several Bundesliga clubs – you probably will soon.

Honorable mentions

Pedro Vite: Vancouver’s 3-2 win over LAFC at BMO Stadium was a striking result, ending a lengthy Whitecaps road winless run and lending credence to coach Vanni Sartini’s insistence that VWFC are in fact a team to be reckoned with. Their young Ecuadorian attacker played two key passes, completed 30/39 overall, drew four fouls and stayed busy on the defensive side with 2/4 tackles completed, 11 recoveries and 7/17 on duels – and check out his work to make the Caps’ all-important second goal possible:

Sang Bin Jeong: Minnesota’s Korean wunderkind posted his first assist of the campaign in the Loons’ hard-earned 2-2 draw at RSL. He also combined well with DJ Taylor down the left channel before dropping a well-weighted cross to the back post for Emanuel Reynoso to tap home for MNUFC’s second goal, one of his two key passes on the night.

Benja Cremaschi: As bleak as Inter Miami’s current losing skid undoubtedly is, the Herons’ teenage starlet keeps grinding. The 18-year-old picked up his second assist of the year on Robert Taylor’s consolation strike in Saturday's 4-1 loss at Philadelphia; it was one of two key passes for the homegrown, who completed 47/55 overall and added four recoveries.