National Writer: Charles Boehm

Who were the best young-player performers in Matchdays 16 & 17?

Young Players 6.5.23

The games are now coming thick and fast across MLS, and the small margins can make a big difference when it comes to points gained or points dropped.

Teams that can call on youth for starting roles, or to change games off the bench, have a key advantage, and we got a good look at that during Matchdays 16 and 17. 

We’ll start with a notable super-sub who snatched a road point from the jaws of defeat at Audi Field on Wednesday.

Hernan Losada’s first competitive return to Washington, D.C. since his departure from D.C. United in April of last year was not going well. Montréal’s head coach watched his former club go up 2-0 just shy of the hour mark, at which point his current club had produced effectively nothing in terms of expected goals.

Then Losada made a flurry of substitutions, and Ibrahim’s entry in particular changed the game.

With just 15 touches across 29-plus minutes, the Nigerian striker scored one goal and assisted on another, playing two key passes and troubling the D.C. defense with his movement and energy. Thanks to him, the Quebec club rose from the canvas to secure a dramatic 2-2 draw, delivering what had to have been a deeply satisfying result for their coach.

It was another useful contribution from a player who was key in CFM reaching the Canadian Championship final which kicks off this Wednesday. While Ibrahim had a harder time finding joy against Philadelphia at the weekend, that midweek cameo is plenty enough to earn a YPPOTW nod.

The Galaxy secured a badly-needed comeback W at Real Salt Lake on Wednesday, and their Brazilian right back was central to the result, bagging assists on the Gs’ second and third goals.

Calegari’s first helper, on Memo Rodríguez’s piledriver, came via a neat turn out of pressure in midfield followed by a line-breaking pass to Riqui Puig to send the Galaxy into transition. Then in the 74th minute he astutely raced forward to capitalize on acres of space down the right flank, laying an inviting low cross to the far post that gave Tyler Boyd a point-blank finish for the winner.

Calegari also completed 81% of his overall passes, 3/3 tackles, won 6/10 duels, drew two fouls and made four recoveries, earning a spot on the MLS Team of the Matchday presented by Audi. Not bad from the U22 Initiative signing, who’s on loan from Fluminense.

The 18-year-old goalkeeper mostly got hung out to dry by his defenders on LA’s three goals at midweek, though the end result surely stung just the same. So credit is due to Beavers for rallying to produce a fine performance at Austin on Saturday.

The homegrown made four saves – most of which were superb – and patrolled his box well, with three claims and seven recoveries in the hostile environment of Q2 Stadium. It limited ATXFC to one tally despite their expected-goals number being twice that, laying the foundation for a 2-1 RSL road win:

As we’ve noted before, the first-team learning curve is even steeper for goalkeepers, and Beavers has had a baptism by fire this season. If he can continue the marked progress he’s made over the course of the year to date, he could well move into Gaga Slonina-type ‘phenom’ territory in the months ahead.

First and foremost, Vite got a 6-2 rout of Houston off to a dream start with a gorgeous top-corner strike just 15 seconds after the opening whistle at BC Place, his third goal of the season and third in five games. It wasn’t just lightning-quick; it was a peach of a goal:

This marks the first time in their MLS history that Vancouver have scored six goals in a match. And with Brian White finding the net in similar fashion at the start of the second stanza, it also made VWFC the first MLS team to score in the first 30 seconds of both halves in a match.

Vite completed 71% of his passes and the attacker got involved on the defensive side as well. He did get a sobering lesson in Saturday’s 1-1 home draw with Sporting KC when he carelessly lost possession over the endline to gift SKC the first-half corner kick on which Alan Pulido nodded home the game’s opening goal, but on balance we’re seeing a rise in form of the young Ecuadorian, a key figure in the Caps’ creative department.

With five straight losses and the dismissal of coach Phil Neville, times are fairly grim for the Herons at present. Their 20-year-old homegrown’s recent outings offer a ray of light amid the gloom, however.

A DOGSO red card for Kamal Miller just seven minutes in effectively doomed IMCF in D.C. United’s visit to DRV PNK Stadium. But the players fought tenaciously for interim boss Javier Morales, making D.C.’s task quite difficult under the circumstances.

Fray came off the bench early in the second half and chalked up 12/14 passing numbers and a handful of defensive actions before lashing home his first MLS goal to spark some late discomfort for the visitors, who had to hang on for a 2-1 win:

It’s truly heartwarming to see Fray push his way back into the reckoning given that he had to endure the agonizing experience of tearing his right ACL twice in two years, interrupting his promising progress from the academy. Now he’s back to being one to watch in South Florida.

Honorable mentions

Aidan Morris: It was a six-point week for the Columbus Crew, and as regular readers will quickly surmise, that signals two more all-action outings from their young center mid. Morris completed passes at a 90% clip with three key passes and 6/11 duels won in the victory over Colorado, then went one better vs. Charlotte, with a 95% completion rate, 11 recoveries and 5/8 duels won.

Cody Baker: The Seattle Sounders find themselves in a strangely torpid moment, with the usual rivalry venom in short supply when Portland visited Lumen Field. Their homegrown rookie was a notable exception, though, angrily confronting Claudio Bravo after a hard foul as the two clashed repeatedly on Saturday and showing his passion in addition to a composed outing at right back (2/3 tackles, 5/9 duels won, 1 block, three clearances, 1 interception, eight recoveries, two fouls drawn).

Cody, I mean, the kid's a competitor,” said Seattle coach Brian Schmetzer. “You saw that little tussle, I didn't see the exact aftermath of when [Bravo] fouled him deep down the corner, but I know Cody didn't like it and he let his feelings show, and I appreciate that sticking up for himself.”

Nolan Norris and Collin Smith: Shorthanded FC Dallas gave MLS debuts to these two homegrown teenagers vs. Kansas City last week, and even though the result didn’t go their way, their competence and composure underlined the #PlayYourKids culture at the club. I’ll quote from veteran FCD scribe Buzz Carrick’s breakdown over at 3rd Degree:

“Even though SKC was targeting his side, Smith wasn’t intimidated, got up and down fairly well, and was pretty solid on D. He was part of the triple team on the first goal but so were two other players … Norris was calm and collected balls when he could and immediately looked for help and kept it moving. Simple is fine in this contact. Solid showing and a fantastic step in their careers.”