National Writer: Charles Boehm

Who were the best young-player performers in MLS Matchdays 13 & 14?

Young Players - MD13 & MD14

A slew of YPPOTW-eligible talent just departed for the FIFA U-20 World Cup, which kicked off this week across Argentina. So naturally we’re going to take this weekly series on hiatus until they come back to their clubs.

SIKE! We’re just having a bit of silly banter, of course – even with those absences, the pipeline of young ballers keeps flowing. We’ll start with a new one who’s already gotten a star turn in the opening months of his rookie season.

Brooklyn, Cape Town, Florida, Saskatchewan, Vancouver, Portland – for having just turned 21, Cambridge’s life has already taken him on a world tour. Wherever it leads from here, he won’t soon forget the week he just had in CLTFC’s Carolina blue, however.

The 21-year-old attacker opened his MLS account in the most dramatic fashion possible on Wednesday, coming off the bench to calmly, clinically slot home both goals in Charlotte’s 2-1 comeback victory over Chicago, earning MLS Player of the Matchday presented by Continental Tire honors. How about that left foot?

Cambridge was also good as a substitute in The Crown’s narrow loss to Nashville. After completing 8/9 passes, drawing two fouls and winning 2/3 duels against the Fire, he completed all three of his pass attempts, went 2/3 on dribbles and won 3/6 duels on the weekend.

A Whitecaps FC academy product and Canadian youth international (though he was born in New York, for those who enjoy dual-national recruiting drama), Cambridge was still at the University of Portland just a few months ago. He was surprised to get a call from VWFC informing him that Charlotte rated him highly enough to trade for his homegrown rights, and he quickly seized that chance with some good performances in MLS NEXT Pro. Now he’s right in the mix for significant first-team minutes going forward.

Want a brief but informative snapshot of the individual developmental process that unfolds on a week-to-week basis at the league’s best-run clubs? Watch Biuk’s clever finish, his second of the year, in the opening minutes of LAFC’s 2-1 win over San Jose on Saturday:

Then listen to how head coach Steve Cherundolo framed the context of the goal in his postgame press conference.

“He’s been a little unlucky with some really good saves against him and just some unfortunate moments. He should’ve been on the scoreboard a few more times this season already,” said Cherundolo at BMO Stadium. “But right there we saw exactly what we’ve been working on with him: short control, short touches, pulling the trigger and not taking long steps. Smaller steps, smaller touches, more touches makes it really difficult for a defender and a goalkeeper to react when the trigger is real short.

“He’s implemented it extremely well, so I’m very happy for him. He had a good game tonight.”

The Croatian youth international has had the benefit of a measured introduction to MLS since arriving in the City of Angels via the U22 Initiative in December. Blessed with plenty of other useful options in LAFC’s front line, Cherundolo has doled him out steady minutes without asking too much of him as he adapts to his new environment, and it seems to be working.

Biuk’s movement and timing have grown increasingly incisive and vs. the Earthquakes he also passed at an 81% completion rate, including one key pass, and tabbed three recoveries and three other defensive actions.

Bode Hidalgo
Defender/Midfielder · Real Salt Lake

With just one league win in the previous month, RSL needed some positive results this past week, and their young homegrown fullback was quietly key in them taking four of six possible points, with Saturday’s 3-2 Rocky Mountain Cup win over Colorado the particular highlight.

Showing a good blend of adventurousness and responsibility up and down the right flank, Hidalgo notched an assist on the Claret-and-Cobalt’s vital opening goal against the Rapids, ranging forward to carve out space, then drop the ball for Pablo Ruiz to navigate a deflected long-distance strike past William Yarbrough. He also dealt well with the threat of pacey Rapids winger Jonathan Lewis as he completed 25/27 passes and six defensive actions in Commerce City.

Hidalgo was solid, if slightly less spectacular, in the midweek draw with Portland in Utah, going 2/2 on dribbles, 2/4 on duels and producing six total clearances and three recoveries.

It was a pretty good week in MLS for the Stroud family. While Jared laid on two assists in St. Louis CITY’s thumping 4-0 rivalry rout of Sporting Kansas City, his younger brother Peter stepped into the spotlight with two good showings for his hometown Red Bulls.

Stroud contributed 35/44 passing, 7/15 duels won and seven recoveries (as well as a yellow card) in a physical outing vs. TFC. Then on Saturday, lil’ bro again did the dirty work required to limit the influence of Victor Wanyama and Mathieu Choinière, with 11 recoveries, 3/3 duel wins, one foul drawn and a 72% pass completion rate en route to a 2-1 win over Montréal, RBNY’s their third W in four games under new coach Troy Lesesne.

Daniel Edelman’s departure for the U-20 World Cup opened up a hole in RBNY’s central midfield. It’s a sign of the club’s reliable academy pipeline that one homegrown has been quite smoothly slotted in for another with Stroud.

“He won’t get that as an assist, but maybe he should!”

Those were the words of MLS Season Pass broadcast commentator (and former Red Bull) Lloyd Sam after yet another well-hit Tolkin corner kick – one of his team’s few dependable attacking weapons this year – led to Andrés Reyes’ point-blank goal against CF Montréal, a key first step to their 2-1 win over the Quebecois.

It was a telling moment, though far from Tolkin’s only contribution, as he remains central to everything RBNY do, even as a nominally defensive flank player.

Tolkin keeps grinding on the defensive side, too. He completed a game-high eight tackles and completed 34/41 passes in the midweek draw at Toronto, giving one particular Italian star a tough day at the office. Little wonder that he was named to the US men’s national team’s preliminary Concacaf Nations League roster.

Honorable Mentions

Aidan Morris: Columbus’ adopted son made headlines when his Canadian ancestry – and the CanMNT’s resulting backchannels courtship – was made public with his inclusion in Les Rouges’ CNL prelim roster last week. (For what it’s worth, it seems the dual-national has not yet made his final choice of allegiance.) One needed only watch him on Wednesday to see why, as the midfield terrier harried Riqui Puig across the Field pitch in the Crew’s 2-0 manhandling of the LA Galaxy:

Kobe Franklin: Toronto FC’s 2023 may be crumbling before our very eyes, but a few of their youngsters are still showing their upside. Franklin logged 67 touches, a 91% pass completion rate with one key pass and 4/6 accurate long balls, and more than a dozen defensive actions in TFC’s midweek draw with RBNY. Then the 20-year-old fullback went 16/20 passing, 2/2 on dribbles, won 6/7 duels and collected five recoveries, four clearances and two interceptions in the last-second gut-punch loss at Austin FC.