We are now just a matter of days away from the release of the 2023 MLSsoccer.com 22 Under 22 presented by BODYARMOR list, an occasion which for the YPPOTW politburo is like New Year’s Day, birthday and cup final day all rolled into one. Hope you’re all ready to argue about it!
While the 22U22 ballots have already been submitted, the process of earning and maintaining one’s place among the young-player elite of MLS is never-ending (at least until one’s 22nd birthday, that is). And amid the last-ditch scramble for the final few remaining slots in the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs, every single contribution on the pitch is more vital than ever.
Here’s our rundown of MD35’s best young’uns, and as always, remember: You too can have your say. Just find a tweet like this and share your nominations:
With Leo Messi on the sidelines in street clothes and New York City FC leading 1-0 deep into injury time at DRV PNK Stadium, Miami’s postseason hopes were on life support. The Herons badly needed someone to rescue them from what would’ve been a devastating home loss to the team occupying the final Eastern Conference playoff slot which they covet.
And it wasn’t Josef Martínez or Sergio Busquets who delivered for them, but Aviles, their 19-year-old center back who arrived via the U22 Initiative over the summer. The lanky young Argentine rose above his marker to nod Robert Taylor’s corner kick into the net in the 95th minute, his first MLS goal, keeping IMCF’s MLS Cup dreams alive for at least a few more days.
While we can certainly argue about whether he could’ve done better in defending Santi Rodríguez when the Pigeons’ livewire blasted his fine solo goal past Drake Callender at the near post, Aviles was solid overall in a pressure situation. The teen logged 85 touches, 65/74 passes completed (88%), 2/3 on tackles, 4/6 duels won, seven recoveries and eight defensive actions on the night en route to a place in the MLS Team of the Matchday presented by Audi.
“RBW” also got a TOTM bench nod thanks to his man-of-the-match display in the Rave Green’s 0-0 road draw at Nashville, where he kept pace with reigning league MVP Hany Mukhtar and even bested him in a category or two.
Regular readers may recall our extensive praise for Baker-Whiting a few weeks ago and the 18-year-old continues to impress when given opportunities by Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer. At GEODIS Park he completed 40/50 passes, three tackles, won eight duels and eight recoveries and matched Mukhtar with a co-game-high three successful dribbles.
The left corner of Seattle’s defense has for several years now been generally owned and operated by cult hero Nouhou, who was suspended on caution accumulations for this match. RBW’s recent displays suggest he’s a more-than-adequate option there, and might offer advantages over Nouhou in certain situations.
They’re Doing The Buck again in New England, and you too can join the fun.
Just open both hands wide in front of you, palms out like a goalkeeper preparing to glove a shoulder-height shot. Then bring them up to your face and plant your left thumb on your left temple and your right thumb on your right temple. See, now you’re an eight-pointer, just like when Buck celebrated after scoring the opening goal in the Revs’ 2-1 win over Charlotte FC.
It was the highlight of another characteristically composed engine-room outing from the 18-year-old homegrown, who posted 43 touches, 26//32 passing, 3/5 on duels and five defensive actions as well as some harder-to-quantify ball-winning and press resistance. The goal also carries extra weight as it’s his first since taking part in an England U-19s camp that put him on the wider map, not just via his performances but a couple of outspoken statements about his international career.
“Noel has always been confident as long as I’ve known him. That’s never been lacking with him,” Revs interim head coach Clint Peay said. “But yeah, certainly, I’m sure that was a big step in his career, having that opportunity.
“Give him a chance to shoot, he usually hits the target. It was just a great sequence of quick little, small passes to free him up and he took it well.”
Like Miami, Chicago entered the weekend in dire need of points, limping along on a seven-match winless skid (0W-5L-2D) that cast long shadows over the Windy City’s hopes of making 2023 different from their recent sequence of struggle. And just like Aviles, Koutsias donned the hero’s cape to breathe some life into their collective, metaphorical lungs on their visit to the New York Red Bulls.
Having scored just three times across that seven-match slump, CF97 needed someone, anyone to break the duck in front of goal. The 19-year-old Greek stepped up with a thumping set-piece header, Xherdan Shaqiri’s pinpoint delivery from out wide ensuring that the Fire took immediate advantage after Hassan Ndam’s second yellow card gave them both an attacking set piece and a man advantage.
In the rough-and-tumble of a typical Red Bulls game, Koutsias logged just 18 touches in his 71 minutes on the pitch, but did not shirk his off-ball and defensive duties to offer his team an outlet up front. He’s now on 3g/2a in the league in his first MLS campaign and should get further opportunities as Chicago try to extend the magic in massive home dates with Miami and Charlotte.
Currently clutching the Western Conference’s ninth and final postseason slot, FCD needed to dig out points by any means necessary as they faced a tough slate this past week, visiting Philadelphia for a match rescheduled from August before hitting Houston for a Texas Derby showdown with their Open Cup-winning rivals the Dynamo.
Velasco had to scrap and claw for purchase just like most everyone else at Shell Energy Stadium in Saturday night’s 0-0 draw with Houston, passing at a 91% clip with 7/15 duels won, five defensive actions, six recoveries and five fouls drawn.
But it was his moment of midweek magic in Philly that really impressed, as the Argentine creator popped up with a gorgeous shot from long range that dipped past Andre Blake into the side netting. On the night, Velasco completed 28/32 passes, created one chance, won 7/13 duels and chipped in five defensive actions while drawing five fouls and committing four.
Quinn Sullivan: Before Velasco's leveler, the Philly academy product had opened the scoring at Subaru Park on Wednesday, also completing 89% of his 18 passes to underline the additional option he's providing for Jim Curtin as the Union boss tries to keep his squad balanced and fresh for the postseason ahead.
Ted Ku-DiPietro: Will the 2-2 draw at Vancouver prove sufficient to propel D.C. United into a playoff spot? That remains to be seen, but in and of itself, a road point from the long cross-continental trip to British Columbia is a good result for the Black-and-Red, and TKDP’s fingerprints were all over both United goals. The homegrown alertly read, then intercepted Yohei Takaoka’s dodgy pass out of the back to set up Christian Benteke for an easy tap-in, then played the deflected centering pass that led to Mateusz Klich’s deflected equalizer.
Josh Atencio: RBW wasn’t the only academy kid to shine for Seattle in Nashville. Atencio was quietly effective in central midfield, completing 84% of his 44 passes, 1/1 dribbles and three recoveries, and winning 2/2 tackles and 3/3 ground duels.