National Writer: Charles Boehm

Who were the best young-player performers in MLS Matchday 9?

Young Players 4.24.23 Andres Gomez

A skillful starlet seized the MLS spotlight over the weekend, earning his first-ever Team of the Matchday presented by Audi honor after bagging a goal and an assist in a 3-1 win that pushed his side above the Western Conference's Audi MLS Cup Playoffs line.

Just 20 years of age, he’s a new face to many league watchers. But not if you’re a regular reader of this column. We first shed some light on this character two weeks ago, when he graced our pages after a match-winning performance in just his sixth MLS appearance.

So if you’re looking for tomorrow’s stars today… you’re in the right place.

Yes, it’s Gómez we are speaking of. The Colombian winger was the straw that stirred RSL’s drink in their defeat of the in-form San Jose Earthquakes on Saturday. First he teed up Jefferson Savarino for the game-winner in Sandy, Utah, before drifting inside to cap a fast-developing attacking sequence with a fine left-footed finish off the post from Zone 14.

In the words of our own Armchair Analyst Matt Doyle, Gomez “terrorized the ‘Quakes all night by drifting inside from the right flank and operating from – or sometimes through, and at pace – the half-spaces. He was brilliant, and San Jose couldn’t cope.” Or, if you prefer, here are the words of Pablo Mastroeni:

“He’s got all the tools to be world-class,” said Salt Lake’s boss of the U22 Initiative signing. “If he keeps trending in the direction that he's moving in, I think he’s going to be a fantastic player in this league.”

Like Mastroeni, we’re particularly encouraged by Gomez’s budding chemistry with his opposite winger Savarino. And off the pitch, the warm welcome provided by “Sava,” Anderson Julio and other Latin Americans in RSL’s locker room figures to be crucial in helping the club-record signing show his best level in his new surroundings.

In unsettling news for the rest of the Eastern Conference, we’re seeing glimpses of that old Philly savagery again, albeit with a touch of regista-like class from Young Jack. Even the looming specter of Wednesday’s massive Concacaf Champions League semifinal first-leg clash with LAFC couldn’t distract the DOOP squad from handing Toronto FC a 4-2 humbling at Subaru Park.

Sure, Mikael Uhre was the star of the show with a hat trick and Player of the Matchday presented by Continental Tire honor. But their 19-year-old homegrown central midfielder got a lot done in his 62 minutes on the pitch, playing three key passes, completing 90% of his 40 pass attempts and tabbing five defensive actions before making his way to the bench with his team up 4-0.

Both the performance and the timing of the substitution suggest that McGlynn – the architect of Julián Carranza’s first vital away goal in the 2-2 result vs. Atlas in Guadalajara that booked Philly’s place in the CCL semis – has indeed become a key member of Jim Curtin’s first-choice XI despite his tender age. All eyes on Wednesday then, lad!

Even with a long list of absentees, the Revs handled flatlining Sporting KC with ease at Gillette Stadium, and their 18-year-old homegrown center mid was a big reason why.

After a couple of substitute cameos, Buck returned to the starting lineup here and was unfussily effective as he sat deep next to Matt Polster and supported playmaking talisman Carles Gil. Buck posted a 92% passing completion rate, 10 defensive actions, three fouls won and went 5/6 on duels:

It’s a reflection of New England’s underrated depth that a standout like this isn’t assured of a place in the XI from week to week. And probably a good thing for the kid’s continuing development as well.

There’s an awkward elephant in the room for the Fire right now, and that’s the underperformance (and, to be fair, related injury struggles) of the face of the franchise, Designated Player Xherdan Shaqiri.

The silver lining is they’re getting near-DP-level contributions from a teenager in the engine room. That would be Guti, of course, who seems increasingly deserving of one-name status despite his age. The homegrown was Chicago’s best player in Sunday’s wild 2-1 loss to Atlanta United at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, an ongoing house of horrors for the side formerly known as the Men in Red.

Working from a deeper position than usual, Gutierrez logged 64 touches in the A, with an 85% completion, three key passes – including the assist on Kacper Przybylko’s dramatic late equalizer – and 11 recoveries and two fouls drawn. For our money, he’s at his best as a No. 10 operating in the hole behind Przybylko or Kei Kamara, and a better bet in that position than Shaqiri, even if the Swiss star doesn’t really fit in anywhere else in the Fire’s usual 4-2-3-1 formation.

That’s a knotty puzzle for manager Ezra Hendrickson to sift through.

Thanks to a 2-0 win over Austin FC, the Galaxy are winless no more in 2023, and their 19-year-old defender is doing his part.

Even in a (long-awaited) shift to a 3-5-2 shape, Neal was steady and solid in the home W, with 82 touches, a 96% completion rate on his 70 passes, 11 total clearances, six recoveries, two blocks, 2/3 on duels and just one foul committed.

The more we see of Neal in MLS, the more mystified we are that it took him as long as it did to get a sustained runout with the first team – though admittedly, that might just mean that coach Greg Vanney and his staff struck the right balance of patience and promotion with him.

Honorable mentions

Erik Dueñas: One of LAFC’s first-ever homegrowns and a true OG, a member of their inaugural team, the Under-12 academy squad that was the first to wear the crest way back in 2016, Dueñas finally got his first MLS start over the weekend. And he was quite competent under difficult circumstances in Nashville, passing crisply and at volume while hunting voraciously, hoovering up 11 recoveries and winning a bevy of tackles and clearances.

Talles Magno: If New York City FC have indeed solved their No. 9 problem by deploying Santi Rodríguez as an unexpectedly effective false 9, one of the most useful knock-on effects could be a return to full, fearsome flow for their twinkle-toed Brazilian. Talles scored his third goal of the season in the 3-1 defeat of FC Dallas and was consistently active and dangerous in his preferred inverted posting on the left side.

Sang Bin Jeong: It’s been a quiet start to MLS life for Minnesota United’s recent U22 Initiative signing, who has yet to write his name on the scoresheet in his first three appearances since arriving from English Premier League side Wolverhampton Wanderers. But we’re buying his stock based on the promising early signs the South Korean's shown despite a big learning curve amid significant headwinds for the Loons in general, who continue to play it close to the vest in the ongoing absence of playmaker Emanuel Reynoso. Give Jeong another creator to combine with, and some time to gel, and the rewards could be enormous.