National Writer: Charles Boehm

Who were the best young-player performers in MLS Week 23?

A 6-0 stomping, a couple of zany 4-4s and a batch of scrappy 0-0s cropped up on the MLS scoreboard over the weekend. And in contravention of nearly every instinct the YPPOTW selection committee has ever had, we’re giving the scoreless draws the leadoff spot in this week’s rundown.

But first, another brief reminder that you can participate in this process – just seek out a tweet like this one at the start of a new week and share your takes. If you don’t like who is or isn’t on this list, you’re all out of excuses.

No Matt Turner, no problem. Could this really be remotely true? Well, yes, yes it could.

While there are issues elsewhere in New England, Turner’s Serbian successor had himself a day as star-studded Toronto FC visited Gillette Stadium, making three saves to stymie Lorenzo Insigne, Federico Bernardeschi & Co. despite the Reds outplaying the Revs to the tune of 1.7 expected goals vs. 0.7.

Specifically, “Petro” ruined Insigne’s afternoon, saving two of the Italian’s shots from open play, with this top-corner parry in the 72nd minute a particular beauty:

But the 22-year-old outdid himself a few minutes later, hitting full stretch to save Insigne’s spot kick after a controversial late penalty was awarded to TFC, saving his side a point. Petrovic is moving from strength to strength as he gets the hang of MLS; he’s already notched one of the best save percentages in the league (78%) and he’s currently carrying a Revs side mired in a seven-game winless skid.

Southpaws, stand up.

Word is getting around about the wicked left peg on Philly’s precocious young center midfielder. Jim Curtin called it “special” and “God-given,” while elder teammate Mikael Uhre said he “can’t really explain how good of a left foot Jack really has” after the DOOPers’ 6-0 mauling of Houston Dynamo FC, a rout lit up by McGlynn’s otherworldly free-kick strike, the first MLS goal of his career.

The kid contributed a whole lot more than that set piece, mind you. McGlynn also went 33/37 (89%) with his passing, connected on four of five long balls, won 4/5 duels, drew three fouls and made a handful of recoveries and clearances.

Oh, and he also set up his fellow academy product and US U-20s teammate Quinn Sullivan for the late exclamation point:

Speaking of lefties… we’re loving the maturation process unfolding right in front of everyone’s eyes when it comes to Cincy’s U22 Initiative winger. Last year you’d have found plenty of FCC fans ready to write Barreal off as just not quite ready for the big time yet, and here he is on 3g/5a with two months left in the regular season, numbers that already eclipse his 2021 work.

The 21-year-old Argentine was quicksilver right when his team needed him as the Knifey Lions stormed back from a 3-2 deficit to a 4-3 lead in six second-half minutes at Inter Miami in Saturday’s 4-4 barnburner.

First Barreal pulled off a cheeky meg on DeAndre Yedlin as he jinked into the Herons’ penalty box for a straightforward square to Brandon Vazquez to tap home at the near post. Then he flashed another look when given space near the touchline, dropping a bull’s-eye dipping cross right onto Vazquez’s foot for the lead – end product that still matters a great deal even after Miami salvaged a late draw via an injury-time equalizer.

As you may have noticed, the Supporters’ Shield leaders have stockpiled quite a few alluring options for the wing roles in their usual 4-3-3 system, and fresh reports suggest that yet another is on the way in the form of French-Gabonese attacker Denis Bouanga from France's St. Etienne.

What a compliment it is, therefore, that “Mahala” keeps logging starts and sub appearances amid such elite company. The 21-year-old Ghanaian gave the Seattle Sounders a taste of why in Friday’s pulsating clash of Western Conference heavyweights at Banc of California Stadium, passing at 94% accuracy, playing two key passes, uncorking six shots and going 3/5 on dribbles as LAFC surged back from an early deficit to notch a 2-1 victory.

The highlight, of course, was the equalizing goal, his fifth in MLS this season and a real thumper, the kind of firm hit that feels so, so good leaving the foot and gives opposing ‘keepers nightmares:

That tight 1-0 home victory over the LA Galaxy was a big, big, BIG result for FCD, their first home win in the league since May 8 and one that keeps them in the top 10 of the overall table despite a tepid overall run of midsummer form in Frisco.

Even if he didn’t figure on the scoresheet, their 20-year-old winger was right at the heart of it. Velasco played a game-high five key passes in his usual station on the left flank, constantly probing the Gs’ defense, earning three free kicks and covering plenty of ground in both directions.

The young Argentine is still coming to grips with a new club and league, and the high expectations that accompanied his record-breaking transfer deal from CA Independiente. But as explored in a good data-analysis piece a few days ago, most of his trendlines are positive and his traits seem well-suited to dovetail with his team’s overall qualities. The jury may be out, but Velasco’s on the right track.

Honorable mentions

Brenner: It was a good weekend for Cincy’s other striker (who’d have thought the one who cost a reported $13 million transfer fee would be “the other guy”? Well, that’s the Brandon Vazquez effect). The Brazilian bagged a brace in FCC’s nutty 4-4 draw with Miami, extending his impressive goals + assists/90 number to 0.84, among the best in MLS, and running his season total to 7g/4a.

Bongokuhle Hlongwane: Minnesota United’s smiling South African was one of the best players on the pitch in their 4-4 slugfest with Portland, rifling home his second goal of the season, going 3/5 on dribbles, winning the majority of his 17 duels and stacking up double-digits in defensive actions.

Gaga Slonina: As reports filtered out of an imminent transfer to Chelsea FC in the vicinity of $10 million plus incentives, Chicago’s teenage goalkeeping phenom banked yet another clean sheet, his 10th in this MLS campaign, in the scoreless draw with Atlanta United. He ranks second only to Sean Johnson in that category. We’re particularly partial to this sprawling denial of Luiz Araujo:

Chris Durkin: Speaking frankly, D.C. United stank up the joint for most of Sunday’s rainy clash with Orlando City, yet still walked away with all three points thanks to a stunning injury-time comeback from 1-0 down to 2-1 victors. Their homegrown center mid got that started with the equalizer, his first goal of the year, and the capper on a solid overall outing marked by 79 touches, 59/65 passing (91%), one key pass, 1/1 dribbles and several important defensive actions.

Diego Luna: Real Salt Lake, too, pulled out a last-gasp rally this weekend, landing a punch to the gut of the San Jose Earthquakes with Jefferson Savarino’s late equalizer at PayPal Park. Luna played a role in the fightback, coming off the bench for the final 15 minutes to stitch together a few passing sequences and ask some questions on the dribble. Let’s hope Pablo Mastroeni trusts him with more PT very soon.


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.