National Writer: Charles Boehm

Who were the best young-player performers in MLS Weeks 20 & 21?

The games are stacking up thick and fast in the midsummer heat, and the past week’s busy bank of matchnights provided platforms for an array of young players.

We’ll start in the Windy City, where a previously comatose-looking home team sparked to life with two huge wins.

The MLS Player of the Week presented by Continental Tire for Week 20 (which comprised Tuesday and Wednesday’s games) is a mere 18 years old, though you’d probably never guess it while watching him play on a night like the one he enjoyed against Toronto FC at Soldier Field.

With buckets of speed and a powerful frame that poor Chris Mavinga bounced off like a rag doll, Duran was a menace in the open field as the Fire caught TFC in transition-friendly turnovers with their lines pushed extremely high, racing clear to wrongfoot Quentin Westberg for a rapid-fire first-half brace in a 2-0 victory.

The Colombian striker’s stat line was a study in efficiency: Two goals, a key pass and 100% passing accuracy (6/6) on just 21 touches overall, with some decent duel work and three fouls earned as well.

Chicago have been bringing along their Colombian wunderkind quite carefully, understandably, yet the kid’s showings thus far are crying out for steady minutes down the stretch, whether CF97 climb back into the postseason race or not.

Not too many teams in MLS are surging like the Yellow Football Team right now: They just bagged seven points in nine days, capped by claiming Hell is Real bragging rights over FC Cincinnati on Sunday.

It’s easy, and correct, to attribute this rather massive bump to the downright explosive arrival of Cucho Hernandez (who, alas, is just a few months too old for YPPOTW eligibility) and his burgeoning chemistry with the resurgent Lucas Zelarayan.

We’ve said it before: Morris might be just as big a piece of the puzzle. Since the 20-year-old transplanted Floridian regained full fitness this spring following his ACL tear, the Crew are undefeated in league games he starts. Little wonder he’s become a locked-in regular alongside Darlington Nagbe at the heart of their midfield, covering acres of ground to disrupt opposing attacks and impose the tempo control that his illustrious attacking teammates thrive on.

Morris is smart, technical, rangy and deceptively tough – even cynical when needed – considering his age. His contributions don’t necessarily show up as gaudy stats, but the win over Cincy was a good snapshot: 52/60 passing (87%), 4/4 on tackles, five recoveries, 4/9 on duels and two fouls committed.

New York is presently blue, thanks to the Pigeons’ hard-earned 1-0 win over the Red Bulls in Harrison on Sunday. And Rodriguez produced the game-winning play, a truly lovely clipped delivery for the lethal – and possibly, imminently departing for Europe – Taty Castellanos to stab past Carlos Coronel:

A delightfully filthy piece of service it was. Given its impact, and the intensity and stakes of the match, that ball in and of itself might’ve earned the Uruguayan a spot on this list. Rodriguez’s body of work at Red Bull Arena precluded any need for that. On the day he tabbed 69 touches, 31/41 passing, four key passes, 4/7 on dribbles, five fouls drawn, nine recoveries and 11/18 duels – rock-solid numbers for the 22-year-old, good for a spot in the MLS Team of the Week presented by Audi (Week 21).

Entering this season, “what will life after Maxi Moralez look like?” was a question of note for NYCFC. We’re increasingly convinced Rodriguez is a central part of the answer.

It seems “Whitecaps goalkeeper” has increasingly become the “Spinal Tap drummer” of MLS. After Cody Cropper’s scary-looking collision with teammate Javain Brown, the ‘Caps had to turn to their fourth ‘keeper of the season in Cincinnati on Wednesday night, handing Boehmer, 20, his MLS debut under trying circumstances: A halftime introduction, facing a 2-1 deficit, far from home.

An academy product who hails from Okanagan Falls, British Columbia, some four hours’ drive east of Vancouver, Boehmer showed himself ready for the challenge. He made three saves – including this particular beauty below – commanded his box well and started the sequence that led to VWFC’s late equalizer by Cristian Dajome.

Boehmer upped the ante in Portland over the weekend, making five saves to limit the Timbers to one goal (a penalty kick) despite his 2.3 expected-goals-against number on the day. “The Canadian Cowboy” might just have earned a starting role, or at the very least given manager Vanni Sartini some tougher choices to make when others return to health.

Several of Philly’s kids are back from the US Under-20 national team’s triumphant Concacaf tournament run, and ready to impose themselves on the first team. McGlynn was the one who turned the most heads over the weekend, looking quite impressive in his first MLS start of the season.

To be specific, we’re talking “19-year-old homegrown runs the show” levels of impressive here. The New York native completed 95% of his 57 pass attempts, creating two chances and serving up his teammates with some thoughtfully-weighted deliveries that hinted at an advanced soccer IQ.

He’s certainly got USMNT Twitter buzzing, and many Union fans are eager to see more of McGlynn, too, noting how rare and potentially useful his cultured distribution can be on their athlete-packed roster. Let’s hope he can build some momentum and become a consistent starter over the back half of the campaign.

Honorable mentions

Dejan Joveljic: Another week, another two goals for the LA Galaxy’s young Serb. As poorly as things are going for his team, Joveljic continues to be a revelation. He’s now up to 8g/2a in 612 league minutes this year, which adds up to a simply stunning strike rate per 90 minutes.

Emerson Rodriguez: Inter Miami’s U22 Initiative winger picked a pretty good time to score his first MLS goal, coming off the bench with three-plus minutes remaining to score the winner in the Herons’ delirious 3-2 comeback win over Charlotte.

Marcos Lopez: The San Jose Earthquakes’ Peruvian left back was quality in the Cali Clasico win over the Galaxy, particularly on his jaunt forward to score what turned out to be the game-winner, a clinical sequence capped by a bull’s-eye finish from a very acute angle:

Jackson Hopkins: If you were wondering why D.C. United shipped out the reliable Julian Gressel to Vancouver this week, a big reason is the impression Hopkins has made on new head coach Wayne Rooney. The English legend likes what he’s seen from the 18-year-old homegrown from Fredericksburg, Virginia, who started both of D.C.’s games this week and showed promise on the right flank.

Ralph Priso: The Colorado Rapids inserted their new center mid straight into the starting XI vs. LA after acquiring the 19-year-old Canadian from Toronto FC in the Mark-Anthony Kaye trade, suggesting he’s no makeweight, but has a real shot at becoming a key contributor in the engine room. Priso played only the first half in Commerce City’s altitude but was promising, and we’re intrigued to see how he steps into MAK’s shoes.


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.