National Writer: Charles Boehm

Who were the best young-player performers in MLS Week 33?

Jhon Duran

It’s spoiler season, and no, we’re not talking about “House of the Dragon.”

Sure, it’s natural to pay more attention to the rapidly-dwindling list of teams that still have a chance to make the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs in these final weeks of the 2022 campaign. But that list is dwindling in no small part because of the already-eliminated sides who are taking delight in crushing the dreams of others.

The Chicago Fire put in WORK in this department over the weekend, led by a couple of teenagers. We start there.

The Windy City side haven’t exactly been road warriors this year; they traveled to FC Cincinnati with a 3W-9L-4D away record. With Xherdan Shaqiri sidelined by muscular issues and heavy travel mileage from international duty with Switzerland, while FCC were closing in on playoffs qualification, this one looked like a very bankable three points for the Knifey Lions.

Turns out all that was just the cue for Durán, who surely got a dose of confidence from his Colombia national team debut last month, to slice Cincy wide open. The 18-year-old flashed both speed and intelligence to exploit FCC’s high line, feasting in transition as he bagged two goals – and it took some solid saves from Roman Celentano to keep him from scoring even more – to stun TQL Stadium with a 3-2 Fire win and run his season total to 8g/3a in 1,274 league minutes.

In doing so, Durán joined some pretty select company:

As if on cue, our own Tom Bogert got word that some of Europe’s biggest clubs are tracking Durán closely, with an early price tag of around $10 million that could easily run higher in the end. It’s not out of the question that Chicago could quadruple their initial investment on the powerful striker.

Guti” was Duran’s chief accomplice, assisting on both of his goals and netting one of his own in 20 devastating second-half minutes.

Handed the keys to the Fire attack, the 19-year-old homegrown was excellent beyond his years as a central playmaker, playing three key passes and completing 69% of his passes overall as he slashed open the seams in Cincy’s porous defense.

Like Durán, Gutiérrez also got a boost from international duty, in his case a promising stint with the US Under-20 national team at the Revelations Cup in Mexico City. He’s now up to 2g/7a on the season and if there were any doubts about who the Fire can build around in the long term, Saturday cleared those right up.

It’s been a roller-coaster of a season for the defending MLS Cup champs. While capable of playing some of the most aesthetically pleasing soccer in the league, the downswing of their prolonged slump in August and September threatened to turn them from legitimate contenders to repeat into a cautionary tale.

It appeared that Orlando City would land a hammer blow at Red Bull Arena on Sunday, as they harried and harassed NYC to good effect and took a lead via Facu Torres right after halftime. Yet just when the Lions appeared to be well and truly among the Pigeons, their 20-year-old Brazilian stepped up.

Talles Magno showed persistence and cleverness to keep the play alive that led to his team’s equalizer, playing the perfect ball at the perfect time and place for Alex Callens to tap home. Then he opened up his legs to get on the end of some superb transition work by Keaton Parks and Gabriel Pereira and tuck a calm, clinical finish inside the far post for the win. It was a dramatic turnabout from his lost-looking outings up top during the team’s recent struggles.

Thanks to the intervention of Talles “Magico,” as NYCFC television commentator Ian Joy relished calling him, the Pigeons have already clinched home-field advantage for at least one round of the playoffs, and have fresh reason to believe they can replicate last autumn’s resourceful run to the title.

Quietly, methodically, the Quebec club just keep stacking up positive results, growing into a legit MLS Cup dark horse all the while.

While you’re probably familiar with standouts like Djordje Mihailovic and Romell Quioto, it’s also been powered by a rotating cast of characters stepping up in key moments, and Corbo was Johnny on the spot in Saturday’s narrow 1-0 home win over D.C. United.

The 22-year-old Italian center back, who's on loan from Serie A sister side Bologna, completed 92% of his 61 passes at Stade Saputo and contributed more than a dozen defensive actions, the most important a huge goal-line clearance of a first-half Christian Benteke header that could have changed the game states dramatically.

D.C. gave Montréal more trouble than would normally be expected given their Wooden Spoon status, and Corbo’s diligent defensive work made sure this would be no banana peel. As a result, he earned an MLS Team of the Week nod and CFM retain hope of pipping the Philadelphia Union to first place in the Eastern Conference on Decision Day.

The Quakes executed quite an ambush indeed when Minnesota United visited PayPal Park, comprehensively outplaying the playoff chasers in a 2-0 win that is simply disastrous for the Loons. Tsakiris was a quiet cog in that upset, though watch the tape and you might use a different set of adjectives to describe his game.

Still just 17, Tsakiris was given his first career MLS start in the rescheduled Cali Clasico last weekend, and despite the LA Galaxy’s 3-2 win at Stanford Stadium interim boss Alex Covelo was impressed enough to trot him out again when MNUFC hit town.

The technical center mid showcased range, vision and the sort of natural comfort on the ball that remains rare among US-reared players. Tsakiris logged 59 touches and two key passes in 73 minutes with an 86% overall pass completion rate. Perhaps most strikingly, he truly seems to be a ‘360-degree’ player, by which I mean that he’s already cultivated levels of vision and awareness beyond his years as he works the engine room.

This is a modern No. 8 blossoming in the midst of another woeful season in San Jose, and we suspect incoming head coach Luchi Gonzalez will make him a foundational piece in his rebuilding project next year.

Honorable mentions

Pedro Vite: Arguably no one in MLS is hotter than the Vancouver Whitecaps, winners of three straight, and their young Ecuadorian has been a key cog in that resurgence, which gives them hope of some Decision Day magic at Minnesota on Sunday. Vite assisted on Ryan Gauld’s early opener in the 2-0 win over Austin and has shown a very useful chemistry with the Scot that could be VWFC’s ace in the hole this weekend.

Gabriel Pereira: Another Brazilian who bailed out NYCFC, Pereira assisted on Talles Magno’s winner vs. Orlando, one of his three key passes in an end-to-end outing that had a bit of everything.

David Ochoa: Montréal posted 2.0 expected goals against D.C. on Saturday yet it took an unlucky Donovan Pines own goal for them to beat Ochoa, who made four saves and denied Joaquín Torres on a late penalty kick. He’s out of contract at year’s end and we expect the Real Salt Lake ex to have plenty of suitors for his 2023 services.


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.