Who were the best young-player performers in MLS Matchday 20?

Guti young players

My esteemed colleague, Charles Boehm, logged some heavy miles last night with your Matchday 20 deep-dive. Be sure to check that out.

While he recharges the batteries, we’re keeping at the Young Players of the Matchday grind. Several homegrowns balled out Wednesday night, and they deserve the spotlight (we've kept things at five players).

We’ll get started in the Rose City, where some history was made.

Chicago Fire FC beat the Portland Timbers for the first time in club history, earning a 2-1 victory at Providence Park.

The driving force behind that accomplishment? Homegrown midfielder Brian Gutiérrez, who assisted Fabian Herbers’ opener as well as Kei Kamara’s late header – the latter putting the veteran striker on 144 regular-season goals, one back of Landon Donovan for second all-time in MLS history. The first was the byproduct of a run into the box and cut-back ball, while the second was a curled-in cross to the back post.

Gutiérrez now has seven assists on the year, good for fifth-most in MLS and tying the career-high mark he set during the 2022 campaign. The 20-year-old, somewhat controversially not released to represent the United States at the FIFA U-20 World Cup in Argentina, continues to grow his game.

Diego Luna was among the US’s best players during their quarterfinal run at the U-20 World Cup, despite receiving limited first-team opportunities at Real Salt Lake. Much has changed upon his return.

The 19-year-old attacking midfielder is surging with confidence, tallying 1g/2a in the Claret-and-Cobalt’s 3-1 win at St. Louis CITY SC on Wednesday night. Luna’s goal, a right-footed curler to the far post that opened the scoring, was a beauty:

Speaking with the MLS Season Pass broadcast postgame, it’s easy to see why Luna’s playing with a pep in his step.

"The confidence came back and I’m feeling good after a good performance at the World Cup," he explained. "Coming back and doing it here for Real Salt Lake is what we all needed. I’m glad to be able to do that and continue that. It’s just the beginning."

"To go away for a month and a half and learn and be different, to see what you’re missing out on at the professional level and see what it takes to play against the top players from around the world at the U-20s who are also playing professional in other top divisions around the world – you play against these guys and you see what it takes to compete against them," Luna later added. "It’s realizing what needs to be done to come back here and do it at Real Salt Lake and in MLS."

Along the way, RSL now have a league-best five road wins and are undefeated in their last four games (3W-0L-1D).

Atlanta United, with several stars away on or returning from international duty, used a youth-filled lineup in their 2-2 comeback draw with New York City FC. Specifically, four homegrowns were in the starting XI and six appeared in the match overall, both setting club records for an MLS match.

Among them was winger Tyler Wolff, who quietly has four goals in just 228 minutes played this season (seven appearances). The 20-year-old US youth international, who is Atlanta’s third-leading scorer behind Thiago Almada and Giorgos Giakoumakis, stressed how important these moments are for the club.

“It shows that Atlanta, the system, that we can produce guys and compete in this league,” said Wolff. “I’m just proud of the guys. It’s good to see and it’s good for the league to have that.”

Wolff, who’s got his father (Josh) and younger brother (Owen) over at Austin FC, was making his first start of the year. He showed the single-minded approach often needed in front of goal, beating NYCFC goalkeeper Luis Barraza from a tight angle.

Now in his fourth MLS season, the pieces seem to be coming together – especially after an up-and-down loan period last year at Belgian side SK Beveren.

On a night where José Martínez’s long-range golazo grabbed all the headlines, his partner in the Union’s midfield, Jack McGlynn, also scored his first goal of the year.

The 19-year-old homegrown returned several weeks ago from representing the US U-20s on the global stage, and he slotted back into the starting lineup for Wednesday’s 2-2 draw at Orlando City SC.

A cross-shot from McGlynn’s cultured left foot got Philly’s comeback started, and his expert passing range – 91% attempts completed (46-of-51) – was on full display.

Might all that transfer speculation eventually turn into concrete offers and a move to Europe? McGlynn certainly has the potential.

Entering as a 90th-minute substitute, and with FC Cincinnati already up 3-0 on Toronto FC, there wasn’t much Stiven Jimenez could do to impact the match. A record-tying 10th straight home victory to start the year was already locked up.

But when head coach Pat Noonan called this youngster’s number, some history was made. Jimenez, a few days shy of his 16th birthday, is now tied as the fifth fifth-youngest debutant in MLS history.

What a moment it was for the homegrown midfielder, who signed in November 2022. It clearly meant a lot to the kid, too.