National Writer: Charles Boehm

Who were the best young-player performers in MLS Week 19?

Ahhhh, Heineken Rivalry Week. That glorious period where the 7-0 woodshed whuppin’ wins taste even sweeter and the 0-3, ruined-banner-hoisting home defeats cut that much deeper.

Just to name a couple of completely random examples.

It was a frankly bananas weekend of soccer around the league, with mayhem on a level that suggested someone killed the lights and made the entire matchweek an #MLSAfterDark freakout. As it turns out, plenty of the young’uns thrive amid such chaos – here’s a rundown of those who shine brightest.

Periodic reminder: You can participate in the YPPOTW selection process; just seek out a tweet like this one on Monday or thereabouts, and share your nominations.

The on-loan Argentine was the star of Philly’s 7-0 curb-stomping of D.C. United, getting onto the end of so many chances that he bagged a hat trick even after seeing a late penalty kick get saved by Rafael Romo. In fact, Carranza probably could’ve scored five, considering he took nine shots and appeared to be invisible and untouchable for the haggard D.C. defense.

The draw-happy Union have been desperately seeking a breakthrough moment for their attack, and it seems a primetime national television date with their I-95 neighbors to the south was just the occasion. And Carranza didn’t just offer three clinical finishes, though the bicycle kick, in particular, was a thing of beauty. He also completed 89.3% of his passes, drew five fouls and offered his usual defensive work.

Regular readers will recall how often we’ve hailed Philly for their astute pickup of Carranza, and cringed at Inter Miami’s inability to weaponize him properly during his time with the Herons. The 22-year-old is now up to 7g/4a in 1,129 league minutes with the Union, and we see no reason for him not to continue thriving down on the Delaware River.

Goodness gracious, how the tables did turn on Saturday at Lumen Field.

The Seattle Sounders planned for weeks on how they’d rub not only their Concacaf Champions League title, but also their city’s selection as a 2026 World Cup venue, in the noses of their bitter rivals, the Timbers. How often does one get to inflict that kind of trolling masterclass on an old enemy, and one languishing below you in the standings to boot?

Welp! Insert your schadenfreude meme of choice here, because Moreno and his Rose City colleagues did Seattle dirty instead. The 22-year-old Colombian winger got on the scoresheet with an emphatic penalty-kick conversion, completed 90% of his passes (including a key pass) and covered plenty of ground in both directions, making seven recoveries and a handful of other defensive actions.

This was the performance of a player who fully understood the weight of the occasion for his club and their fans, and seized the opportunity to make it his stage. If Moreno follows in Diego Chara’s footsteps to become a PTFC icon – and there are signs that he could indeed become that caliber of contributor – we may look back on this game as a milestone in that maturation.

Toronto FC traded sucker punches with the San Jose Earthquakes in a characteristically Quakes-y affair at BMO Field on Saturday afternoon. And while the home Reds walked away feeling the greater hurt thanks to Jack Skahan’s last-gasp equalizer – “We let the points slide away,” lamented coach Bob Bradley – this may yet prove a key data point in the rise of Kerr, a 19-year-old homegrown who was arguably the best player on the pitch.

Showing impressive two-footedness all day, Kerr created a few chances off some sharp counterpressing and tricky dribbles at defenders, then clanged a corner-kick header off the woodwork before scoring a truly lovely transition goal to level the score at 1-1 in the 71st minute, curling a low lefty strike inside the far post.

A few minutes later Kerr was centrally involved in Jonathan Osorio’s tally, a goal that should’ve sealed the teenager’s match-winner status had Skahan not stunned them at the death. At that point, however, Kerr was sitting on the bench, a late sub whose departure the Reds faithful must have rued.

This YPPOTW regular had perhaps his finest outing of the season in the blowout of D.C. The right back dominated his corner of the pitch while also flying forward into the attack more often, and with more menace, than usual.

Harriel logged 69 touches, passed at an 87% clip and very nearly scored his first career MLS goal during the DOOPers’ rampaging first half. Later he showed he’s got a few more clubs in his bag with some clever work on the ball to lay the groundwork for Mikael Uhre’s second goal, and Philly’s sixth.

He continues to do solid, dependable work on defense, getting stuck in as needed and vacuuming up loose balls. Something else that bears noting: The 21-year-old is startlingly dominant in the air, winning just about every header he’s involved in.

New York City FC have stockpiled so much young talent over the past year or two that it can be difficult to keep track of them all. Thankfully for us, Gabriel made himself impossible to miss in his 45-minute cameo against New England at Yankee Stadium on Saturday. To wit:

Though he’s mostly been limited to substitute assignments, that’s the 20-year-old’s fourth strike of his first season in MLS. This one deserves a few extra viewings simply for the outrageous skill and composure on display, to say nothing of its 49th-minute timing, which set the tone for the second half and gave the Revolution a hole ultimately too deep to dig out of.

“GP” also played two key passes, distributed crisply, dribbled well and handled four corner kicks for NYCFC. If they finally do get an offer they can’t refuse for Taty Castellanos during the current transfer window, Gabriel Pereira might just be the next man up for the defending champs.

Honorable mentions

Cesar Araujo: Orlando City’s young Uruguayan No. 6 was an understated cornerstone of the Lions’ tight win over in-state rivals Inter Miami, distributing cleanly, shielding the back four and drawing a jaw-dropping nine fouls. It was enough to earn him a bench spot on the MLS Team of the Week presented by Audi.

Ben Bender: Whether he’s starting or coming off the bench, we can’t get enough of Charlotte FC’s rookie from Maryland. Tasked with the latter assignment against Nashville, he was downright surgical in putting the game on ice, displaying a high soccer IQ to notch two assists in just 10 minutes as CLT eviscerated the Coyotes in transition down the stretch.

Kayden Pierre: Laboring admirably to turn around their difficult season, Sporting Kansas City snatched a huge road win in Montréal this weekend, and their teenage homegrown right back deserves a nod for his contributions. Though the 19-year-old from Michigan coughed up some turnovers, he also went 24/26 with his passing and won nearly all of his nine duels. One to watch.

Cristian Casseres, Jr.: Yes, they’ve got a game or two in hand on their closest pursuers, but the fact remains that the New York Red Bulls are your MLS Eastern Conference frontrunners as we enter the back half of the season. And perhaps no one in their first-choice XI has been more important, or consistently impactful, than their Venezuelan engine-room mainstay. He was nails yet again vs. FC Cincinnati:


Audi Goals Drive Progress

MLS Academies have been identified as one of the most important resources for building on-field talent in North America. Through the Audi Goals Drive Progress initiative, Audi has committed $1 million per season in an effort to advance academies league-wide, and to drive progress for the sport. For every goal scored in the regular season, Audi will contribute $500 into the Audi Goals Drive Progress fund to directly support each MLS Club Youth Academy.