Who were the best young-player performers in Matchday 24?

Young Players MD 24

The spotlight is squarely on the MLS Secondary Transfer Window and what rabbits clubs can pull out of the hat.

But there's plenty of opportunity remaining for the league's standout young performers, making decisions difficult for managers when selecting the starting XI.

Onwards, Matchday 24 style.

Benjamin Cremaschi’s first-ever MLS goal was a beauty.

The 18-year-old, one of six Inter Miami academy products to feature in last weekend’s 2-2 draw at D.C. United, has been a shining light in the club’s up-and-down season. He’s now on 1g/3a in 17 games (~1,100 minutes), showing why he’s a coveted Argentine-American dual national and among the league’s brightest teenage prospects.

The box-to-box midfielder also looks set to soon be joined by none other than Lionel Messi, who last month stated his intention to join Inter Miami. Asked postgame about that possibility by the MLS 360 crew, the homegrown talent was grinning ear to ear.

"It's a dream come true, obviously," Cremaschi said. "To me, [Messi is] the best player in the world. He will always be the best player in the world, and it's just crazy that I could just be potentially playing and sharing day-to-day life for him."

Enjoy every second of it, kid.

As one Venezuelan midfielder (Cristian Cásseres Jr.) exits the New York Red Bulls, another one (Wikelman Carmona) steps up.

Days after Cásseres Jr. joined Ligue 1 side Toulouse via transfer, Carmona bagged the 85th-minute game-winner in Saturday’s controversial 2-1 win over the New England Revolution. Capitalizing on a midfield turnover, as RBNY are want to do, the 20-year-old’s left-footed strike took a deflection and evaded All-Star goalkeeper Djordje Petrovic for the victory.

It was Carmona’s second goal for the Red Bulls since joining ahead of the 2021 season. Even though he rarely starts, the youngster noted it’s all part of the process.

“Everyone wants to start, but it's also a huge responsibility to come on and keep at the same pace that everyone has been going at,” explained Carmona.

In St. Louis CITY SC’s 1-0 win at Toronto FC, the difference-making moment was forged in the trenches of MLS NEXT Pro.

Akil Watts picked out Aziel Jackson centrally in the box, before the 21-year-old scored his first-ever MLS goal. To account for the development pipeline connections: Watts spent last year with STL CITY 2 before making the jump for their expansion season, while Jackson was a Best XI honoree at MNUFC2 before St. Louis acquired his rights in an offseason trade.

Head coach Bradley Carnell, speaking after the club’s third straight win, addressed these unsung heroes stepping up.

“I love the underdog,” Carnell said. “I love rewarding guys for hard work, and I love embracing the challenges, that if they embrace principles, I think we can achieve great things. So I've never been really one who cares much for names on backs of jerseys. I've always wanted to develop players.”

Jackson, who’s taken a roundabout journey to MLS, is a huge part of CITY SC notching three straight wins to move back atop the Western Conference standings. He’s started three straight games and is their 13th different player to score in MLS action this year.

Patience is paying off for the quick-footed midfielder.

“It just came with consistency and just believing in myself and being patient, you know?" said Jackson. "It's very hard to be a player and want to get more minutes, but also just staying focused and just waiting for an opportunity to come in and taking advantage of it is important for any player from any level. And I just had to stay confident in myself and be grateful.”

Ibrahim's first-ever MLS goal, scored in first-half stoppage time of a 2-2 draw vs. Sporting Kansas City, didn't have the highest degree of difficulty (Héctor Herrera's orchestrator effect did the heavy lifting).

But there's something to be said about being in the right place at the right time!

It's also a reassuring moment for the Nigerian youth international, who joined Houston in April after signing as a U22 Initiative player from NK Lokomotiva Zagreb in Croatia. The 21-year-old has clearly endeared himself to Dynamo head coach Ben Olsen as a trusted wide option, too.

"Ibrahim does so many good things for this team, so I'll give him a shout-out," Olsen said. "He works extremely hard without the ball and has a good understanding defensively. He makes a lot of runs and a lot of selfless runs. He’s been fighting. He’s been a good scorer, and when you don't score each game, it becomes heavy. For him to be on the end of that, it's a special moment for him in the league. Hopefully there's more to come."

Fall, back on loan from Spanish top-flight side Villareal, went the full 90 in LAFC's 1-1 draw vs. San Jose Earthquakes at BMO Stadium. He was far from perfect, but it was a solid first game back in MLS for the Senegalese center back.

"Throwing Fall in right away without the proper preseason and having him play 90 minutes is never easy," head coach Steve Cherundolo said postgame. "That considered I think his performance was fine. I think still some tactical errors in the first half from him. Pretty normal for in the center for a young defender. Things we’ll talk about and clean up. But obviously stabilized after that and distribution out of the back I thought was positive for sure and he usually wins his aerial battles as well."

Before heading overseas last summer, Fall was regarded as one of the top young prospects in MLS. Now age 20, he joins a Black & Gold center-back group that includes veterans Giorgio Chiellini, Aaron Long, Jesús Murillo and Denil Maldonado.

He's saying all the right things about developing, too.

“Play simple and play the game as it is," Fall noted. "Keep it simple and smart, I think that is the most valuable lesson that I learned during my time in Spain."

Honorable Mentions

Dante Sealy: FC Dallas’ homegrown forward, back from a two-year loan to PSV Eindhoven in the Netherlands, went 20 minutes off the bench in a 2-1 defeat at the Colorado Rapids. It was his first MLS appearance since July 2021, showing a willingness to take defenders on.

Devin Padelford: It was just a consolation goal in a 4-1 defeat to Austin FC, but this Minnesota United FC homegrown defender scored his first-ever MLS goal. Padelford bundled home a corner kick in the 85th minute, making an impact after subbing on early in the second half.

Obed Vargas: The 17-year-old homegrown midfielder was dynamite in Seattle’s 3-2 win at Vancouver, completing 96% of his passes (50-of-52), winning four of five duels and doing plenty of unheralded work alongside veteran João Paulo. Vargas, like many of his US teammates, is riding a confidence boost from their U-20 World Cup quarterfinal run.