National Writer: Charles Boehm

Who were the best young-player performers in MLS Week 22?

Hey y’all… How ‘bout them New York Red Bulls?

There’s really no other logical place for us to start this week’s deliberations than Q2 Stadium, where Gerhard Struber fielded a whopping five YPPOTW-eligible players in his starting XI (and three 23-year-olds to boot!) as RBNY stunned Supporters’ Shield-chasing Austin FC 4-3 in the weekend’s wildest match.

Frankly, we could find a way to justify slotting all five of those baby Bulls into this week’s YPPOTW rundown, considering the lung-bursting scale of their efforts in the sweltering central Texas heat.

With so many other deserving contenders around the league, however, we’ll settle for giving their top standout pride of place in the Week 22 rundown.

The YPPOTW council is straining to recall the last time a central midfielder made as much hay with a modest 22 touches as RBNY’s engine-room Englishman did in the River City on Sunday: A goal, an assist, 82% passing completion and 12 defensive actions.

First Yearwood made a key play at what was in retrospect a key moment, dispossessing RBNY alum Felipe Martins and stepping forward to thump an authoritative finish – his first goal of the year – inside the far post for a 2-0 first-half lead that clearly shocked the Verde faithful.

Then, shortly after halftime he helped give his side a 3-1 lead, making a clever interception at midfield and galloping into transition, slotting a smart pass out to Cameron Harper for New York’s third. While the visitors tired dramatically in the heat, allowing ATX to make a late surge that closed the gap to 4-3, Yearwood was subbed off with the scoreline at 4-1, another signpost of his influence in a big, big away win.

The Loons’ talented South African has shown flashes and bursts of true quality in his first campaign in North America, and he notched a momentous milestone in Houston on Saturday, bagging his first MLS goal – the game-winner in a valuable 2-1 road result.

“Bongi” showed poise, cleverness and technique with this fine left-footed strike, a reminder to defenders around the league to mind him extra carefully when he drifts into the opposing penalty box along the right channel:

By that point the U22 Initiative signing had already stamped his influence on the match with an equally lovely play, as he slashed at the heart of the scrambling Dynamo defense in first-half injury time before laying a perfectly-weighted through ball into the path of Franco Fragapane for the opening goal of the night. Confident, direct runs like that can be a nightmare for defenders and to stitch together that play just moments before intermission was a gut punch for the hosts, exploiting the fragile belief of the 1W-3L-1D slump Houston rode into this match.

Northern teams should always treasure midsummer victories in Texas and this one was particularly useful for MNUFC given the absence of Emanuel Reynoso, Kervin Arriaga and a range of other contributors due to injuries.

OK Chi city, you have our full attention – starting with you, Guti.

The previously sleepwalking Fire have now ripped off three straight wins and are 5W-3L-0D since the June international break, with Sunday’s 3-1 win at Vancouver (which as Armchair Analyst Matt Doyle noted on Sunday, is somehow their first-ever victory on Cascadian turf) probably the most impressive of the bunch. Their 19-year-old homegrown midfielder is pulling his weight and then some.

Gutierrez completed 91% of his passes (21/23) and created two chances in his 60 minutes on the pitch at BC Place, and also went 4/6 on dribbles and won 71% of his duels. Those numbers hint at the danger the teenager posed while also pointing to the nuanced task of finding balance and chemistry with Xherdan Shaqiri, Chris Mueller and the rest of Chicago’s XI.

Guti can be more consistently clean on the ball and do a bit more defensive work, it’s true. But the kid has a level of vision and technique that could make for a special player if he keeps earning minutes and contributing to positive results.

Considering how they were simply hanging on for long stretches, the Revs’ young goalkeeper deserves a lot of the credit for the 0-0 draw they dug out from their visit to in-form Columbus.

The 22-year-old Serbian made six saves, a couple of them superb, and patrolled his box well at Field to help his side staunch the bleeding during a winless skid in which they’ve simply allowed too many chances and leaked too many goals.

While it’s a bit early to say he’s filled Matt Turner’s size-14 shoes, Petrovic has largely performed beyond his years in the opening months of his MLS career and we’re expecting him to continue progressing on all fronts. Even if a trip to Qatar 2022 looks unlikely, we’re eager to see whether he gets a meaningful nod from his national team in the coming months.

All he does is score goals, and we mean that in the best possible way.

With his late clincher in Sunday’s 2-0 win over Atlanta United, LA’s Serbian spearhead just keeps finding the net, with a season tally now up to 9g/2a in 627 league minutes. He’s been the bright spot in yet another roller coaster of a season for the Carson crew, with confidence and charisma to spare:

As much as coaches crave reliable finishers at their disposal, spare a thought for Greg Vanney. Because the Galaxy boss still has a knotty conundrum on his hands. As our colleague Matt Doyle has written about repeatedly, on-field circumstances are crying out for the Gs to play with two strikers, most obviously a Joveljic-Chicharito pairing. Except that this roster has been crafted with a 4-2-3-1 formation in mind, and Vanney just doesn’t seem comfortable playing a 3-5-2.

So that usually means it’s Chicharito or Joveljic in the XI, not both. And if Vanney is determined to persist with that formulation, their respective scoring trends would suggest that the latter deserves more run than the former, which is most definitely not the club’s plan A. We suspect Joveljic is going to have to get shoehorned in there somewhere, somehow, and we’re not alone in that.

Honorable mentions

Serge Ngoma: It’s a pity the 17-year-old pulled up lame less than halfway through RBNY’s win in Austin, because he was a live wire over his 32 minutes on the pitch. Beyond scoring the game’s opening goal, the homegrown was 4/4 on passes, 2/2 on dribbles and waded into 10 duels, winning six of them, and earning two free kicks.

Paxton Pomykal: Don’t let results elsewhere distract you from FC Dallas’ substantial achievement of inflicting Real Salt Lake’s first home loss of the season in league play. It was a narrow, hard-earned 1-0 victory, and PaxiPomy was central to it, assisting on Jesus Ferreira’s winner and grinding on the other side of the ball as well.

Aidan Morris: The Crew have reasons to be unhappy with just one point from the Revs’ visit; considering how prolific their high-powered attack has been since the arrival of Cucho Hernandez, any home shutout should feel frustrating. They’re still undefeated when Morris starts this season, however, and the 20-year-old was rock-solid again this weekend, passing at a 91% clip and managing the danger of playmaker Carles Gil.

Santiago Moreno: Portland’s skillful young Colombian got on the scoresheet again in the comeback win over San Jose, coming off the bench to assist on Dairon Asprilla’s game-winner. From week to week he continues to distribute cleanly, threaten on the dribble and embrace his defensive work.

Alvaro Barreal: The Argentine winger played two key passes, including an assist on Brandon Vazquez’s goal, while completing 87% of them overall and completing two successful dribbles in a 1-1 home draw with Nashville SC. Barreal’s 85 touches underline his growing importance in FC Cincinnati’s system and the degree to which he stepped up in the absence of Cincy talisman Luciano Acosta.


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.