National Writer: Charles Boehm

Who were the best young-player performers in Matchday 27?

Young Players 8.21.23

So, that Leagues Cup was pretty great, huh? But as much fun as the newly-hatched cross-continent tournament was, it’s OK to admit you missed the weekly ritual of our Young Player Performances of the Week breakdowns. At least a little bit, right?

We’re back and better than ever as the final sprint for postseason places gets underway. Here’s our list of the top young’uns across Matchday 27.

If their counterparts across MLS weren’t paying close attention to Wilfried Nancy & Co. already, the Crew put everyone on notice with their 3-0 Hell Is Real rivalry thumping of Supporters’ Shield leaders FC Cincinnati – and their 21-year-old homegrown box-to-box midfielder was at the heart of it all.

Goals get the most attention, inevitably, and Morris got the scoring started with an absolute banger, so you’ll want to watch that part of the match highlights below. That said, the YPPOTW synod is of the view that the sequence leading up to Jacen Russell-Rowe’s late exclamation point is an even weightier example of the ways Morris has progressed under Nancy’s tutelage:

Receiving a lateral pass in that area of the pitch under fast-arriving pressure from a set of fresh legs in FCC substitute Yuya Kubo carried no small amount of risk for Morris. But in the blink of an eye, the Fort Lauderdale native weaponized the situation in his favor, gliding past Kubo with a skillful turn and surging into the space it opened up for him before firing a firm pass-before-the-pass to Christian Ramirez’s feet.

That’s an upper-echelon midfield play, and if he can keep stacking up more such moments, and performances, Morris will be Best XI material, and probably a multi-million-dollar transfer mover not long after. Oh, and if you need the numbers, his were off the charts on Sunday:

With 83 touches, 47/54 (87%) passes completed, 2/4 duels and 1/2 tackles won in a typical pedal-to-the-metal display amid an ill-tempered Atlantic Cup rivalry environment, Tolkin probably would’ve had a decent shout for YPPOTW honors even before he stepped up to an 88th-minute free kick just outside D.C. United’s penalty box.

Then the fresh-faced left back went and clinched his spot by hoodwinking D.C. goalkeeper Tyler Miller with a seeing-eye free kick around the wall for a last-gasp 1-0 Atlantic Cup win at Red Bull Arena:

As MLS Season Pass commentators Tony Husband and Ross Smith noted on the broadcast, this was a grinder of a match that seemed destined to end scoreless, crying out for someone on the pitch to illuminate it with their personality. That’s something Tolkin possesses in spades, and it’s exactly what he did.

It leaves us more convinced than ever the homegrown talent is ready for a big-time move abroad, perhaps to one of RBNY’s European sibling clubs. In the meantime, he’ll be instrumental to the Red Bulls’ hopes of extending their streak of Audi MLS Cup Playoffs qualifications to a league-record 14 consecutive seasons.

The Dynamo are so intent on cultivating a strong home-field advantage at Shell Energy Stadium that they’ve branded it with a catchphrase, “Hell in the Shell,” which of course applies most unpleasantly in sweltering summertime in South Texas. The Portland Timbers can probably endorse the concept after Sunday’s 5-0 thrashing at the hands of La Naranja down in the Bayou City, a 4-0 rout at halftime that could easily have been an even worse final scoreline.

Houston’s Colombian winger, signed on a permanent transfer from Once Caldas last month after a yearlong loan, celebrated his 21st birthday in fine style, pacing the Dynamo’s red-hot start to the match with a nimble swiveling finish that ran their lead to 2-0 just 11 minutes in.

Quiñónes’ line for the day: 1 goal, 34 touches, 2/3 shots on target, 19/21 passes completed (90%), 1/2 on dribbles, three recoveries, 2/4 duels won in 61 minutes.

“He's a handful. He's young, and we're going to keep working with him," HDFC coach Ben Olsen said postgame. “He's a lot of fun to work with because it's just nice to see where he's come from and how far he's grown over the last six, seven months, so it's rewarding as a coaching staff to see him doing well.”

The Five Stripes rebounded from a disappointing two-and-out Leagues Cup campaign with a well-taken win some 2,100 miles from ATL, stifling the Seattle Sounders 2-0, and their 18-year-old homegrown played his part and then some as he reached the milestone of 50 first-team appearances.

Playing as a conventional left back in a 4-2-3-1 shape rather than a wingback in the three-back defensive systems Atlanta had used most recently, Wiley logged full 90 minutes in which he completed 92% of his 50 passes, one of which created a scoring chance for ATLUTD's new Brazilian arrival Xande Silva, and also contributed five defensive actions and 2/5 duels won.

We’re intrigued to see whether Silva and his fellow summer reinforcement Tristan Muyumba have led Gonzalo Pineda to stick with that 4-2-3-1 for a while and use Wiley in the position many scouts see as his best tasking in the long run.

Speaking of scouts: Sounder At Heart’s Jeremiah Oshan reported Manchester United sent eyes to Lumen Field to get a closer look at Wiley and Seattle teenagers Reed Baker-Whiting and Obed Vargas. While that’s just a solitary data point, it’s a notable one in terms of just how big Wiley’s upside is perceived to be.

Those clock-watching for 2023’s expansion Cinderella story to strike midnight will have to wait at least another week (and probably a good deal beyond) as CITY SC hammered Austin FC, 6-3, on another electric night in St. Louis.

Their 21-year-old attacking mid keeps finding ways to contribute to that tale, too. Check out this well-weighted pass over the top to spring the counterattack on STL’s third goal:

CITY's press-centric, high-tempo game model demands the proverbial lunchpail mentality across the pitch, even in creative roles, and Jackson has shown he can be just that kind of workmanlike playmaker. In addition to completing 19/23 passes, including one key pass, he won 4/5 duels and 2/4 tackles and made three recoveries to keep ATX uncomfortable.

Honorable mentions

Nathan Saliba: CF Montréal’s 19-year-old homegrown has been a subtle, but important presence in the Quebecois club’s midfield for most of the year, and so it was again in their 3-2 Canadian Classique away win over Toronto FC. Saliba completed 74.3% of his passes, 1/1 dribbles and 2/3 tackles in an understated outing in support of the more recognized names further up the pitch.

Cade Cowell: As prominent transfer gossip swirls around the San Jose Earthquakes wunderkind, it’s vital he keep his focus and productivity on the field. So all who are rooting for the kid should take heart from his effective work in the road win over Vancouver, where he completed 4/5 dribbles, but also played the smart, swift one-time pass that began the Quakes’ flowing transition move for the game’s only goal.

Brian Gutierrez: Guti should’ve bagged his ninth assist of the season to earn Chicago Fire FC the opening goal via Georgios Koutsias in their 3-1 home loss to Orlando City, only to be denied it when it was determined Koutsias had strayed offside before his tap-in. Even at that, the Fire academy product continued to perform beyond his years in the L, playing two key passes, executing 2/5 tackles and six other defensive actions including a last-man tackle.

Ethan Bristow: YPPOTW-eligible regulars tend to be rare in the Loons’ flock thanks to Adrian Heath’s usual reliance on experience, so it was heartening to see Bristow play well in his MLS debut as Minnesota United FC knocked off New York City FC at Citi Field. The Reading FC product passed at a 78% clip, won 3/4 duels and 3/3 tackles attempted and made four recoveries in the 2-0 victory.