National Writer: Charles Boehm

Who were the best young-player performers in MLS Matchday 8?

Young Players 4.17.23

The blood and heat of a derby match can be a brutally unforgiving environment for an inexperienced player, magnifying nerves and testing resilience. Conversely, it’s all the more impressive when a youngster steps up to the intensity of such occasions and makes a positive difference.

This week’s rundown begins with one such case.

For all their problems in 2023, the Timbers have been quite good in rivalry games lately. And the current Cascadia Cup holders, long known for a reliance on veterans, got a major boost from one of their freshest faces on Saturday as they stunned the Seattle Sounders with four late goals at Providence Park.

Mosquera, 20, has looked promising since arriving from Independiente Medellín as a U22 Initiative signing last summer, and his exclamation point of a strike in the 4-1 comeback win over the rivals from what Portlanders like to call “that fishing village” might just add his name to Rose City lore:

The Colombian right back also went 3/6 on dribbles, directed three shots on goal, won five duels and hoovered up nine recoveries. He’s provided a welcome splash of vibrance not unlike what his countryman Santiago Moreno has done in more advanced attacking positions since 2021.

As if FC Dallas aren’t already blessed with abundant crops of talent from their fertile academy, now they’ve got an unexpected and most welcome boost from what can accurately be categorized as a fairytale bolt from the blue – or perhaps more specifically, Tanzania via Abilene, Texas.

Kamungo has already lived an incredible story, emigrating from a refugee camp in his homeland to the windswept West Texas plains as an adolescent, then earning a contract from North Texas SC, FCD’s second team, via a strong showing at an open tryout. Apparently he was drawn to NTSC’s event because they charged less than those of the other professional outfits he was considering.

Verily, fate has smiled upon both player and club. Kamungo racked up 16 goals and five assists in 25 MLS NEXT Pro appearances last year and got a call-up to the senior team. He picked a fine time to bag his first tally in MLS, popping up in the penalty box to roof a dramatic 88th-minute winner vs. Real Salt Lake at Toyota Stadium on Saturday:

“He’s a player who’s working hard, sometimes playing and dominating with the second team,” said Jesús Ferreira postgame. “Then he comes up to the first team and shows what he can do. We’re excited for him, but it’s just the start.”

Amid some pretty big spikes and dips in his team’s performances from week to week, the young Colombian winger just keeps chipping in with end product. Vargas stroked home a lovely, instinctive strike, his second of the season, to level the score in CLT’s eventful 2-2 draw with Colorado:

He also created three scoring chances for others, passed at 87% overall, threatened on the dribble and involved himself in several aerial and ground duels.

Charlotte would haul themselves into the lead only to let the two points slip away by leaking a Mikey Barrios injury-time equalizer, another result they may look back on in anger at year’s end. But Vargas is doing the business, which should leave Christian Lattanzio & Co. some latitude to wrestle some of The Crown’s other questions to the ground in the coming weeks.

It takes only a brief glance at the standings, and the recent headlines, to recognize that 2023 has been a hugely unsatisfying campaign for RBNY up to this point. At least there’s a modicum of consolation in the fact that their 20-year-old left back is one of the best in the league.

Tolkin returned to the starting lineup after an injury stint and wasted little time in adding his name to the scoresheet against Houston Dynamo FC, serving up an inviting inswinger on a last-minute corner kick that Omir Fernandez thumped past Steve Clark:

That late show rescued the Red Bulls from what would have been an aggravating home loss, a game in which they dominated many statistical categories but failed to convert it into corresponding scoreboard territory.

Tolkin continues to amaze us with the profundity of his influence on his team – he’s so key for RBNY despite his age and position. Against Houston, he completed 87% of his 95 (!) passes and was ferociously effective in duels per usual, and also tabbed 12 recoveries and drew three fouls.

Toronto are the only team in MLS with more draws (six) than the Red Bulls’ five, and as infuriating as that kind of trend can be, with TFC it adds up to a slightly more optimistic narrative at the moment. Bob Bradley’s side has been working through some really difficult circumstances, shorn of Lorenzo Insigne since an opening-day injury and laboring to mesh their talented but unbalanced roster with Bradley’s preferred game model.

Given all that, snatching a home draw from the jaws of defeat vs. Atlanta United is no disaster – much less to do so via a 94th-minute equalizer, finished by Brandon Servania and set up by a lovely sequence of play featuring an incisive Jonathan Osorio through ball to release Marshall-Rutty behind the Five Stripes' backline:

Marshall-Rutty’s low square to Servania may have looked simple but it reflected impressive clarity of decision-making by the 18-year-old, a halftime substitute who completed every single pass he played on the day. We’re hoping to see more from the teenager as the Reds seek to convert some of those ties into Ws in the coming weeks.

Honorable mentions

David Ayala: Pairing with the iconic Diego Chara at the heart of the Portland midfield in a weighty clash with the Sounders, all after Eryk Williamson's ACL tear? Ayala handled that task well in his first edition of this hallowed rivalry, completing 21/26 passes, among them several useful long switches, and contributing 10 defensive actions in his 66 minutes on the pitch.

Cade Cowell: The San Jose Earthquakes are truly rolling under Luchi González, and Cowell notched his first goal contributions of the season with two assists in Saturday’s 3-0 manhandling of Sporting KC. The 19-year-old also went 4/5 on dribbles.

Jalen Neal: As painful as the self-inflicted wounds of their 3-2 El Trafico loss may be for the LA Galaxy, their youngest regular starter showed he could handle the moment, completing 98% of his 60 passes and getting most of his tackles and duels spot-on at Dignity Health Sports Park.