National Writer: Charles Boehm

Young Players: Which Matchday 9 standouts stepped up?

Young Players - MD9

Young players made game-winning and result-earning contributions across MLS Matchday 9.

Here’s our weekly rundown of the best players under the age of 22 – and remember, you can participate in this process, too. Just pass along your nominations whenever you see a post like this in the wake of the weekend action:

Caleb Wiley
Atlanta United • Defender

Ninety minutes, 93 touches, 89% passing completion, 7/9 ground duels won, eight defensive actions, perfect tackling in statistical terms and a fizzing banger of a goal from long, long range. Pretty decent Sunday over by The Gulch!

Stats, eye test, however you want to measure it, the ATL’s teenage dynamo in the 2-2 draw with Philadelphia was a pulse-quickening reminder of what a ferocious talent the Five Stripes are trotting out at left back every week.

It’s fair to say the US national team program suddenly has a wealth of present and future options in his position, which has so often been problematic for the senior squad over the decades. Yet Wiley, 19, increasingly looks like someone planning to introduce himself to the world at the Olympics this summer.

Diego Gómez
Inter Miami CF • Midfielder

As heretical as it may sound in the modern game, sometimes assists really are superior to goals.

Don’t believe us? Just watch the highlights of Inter Miami’s 3-2 barnburner of a win over Sporting KC before a record-breaking crowd at mighty Arrowhead, and you’ll see what we mean. Vote Lionel Messi the Player of the Matchday if you want – it was his versatile younger teammate from Paraguay who really put his stamp on the match to ensure three more road points for the Herons.

After opening the evening with a clever run and firm finish made possible by an all-world pass from Messi, Gómez created the game-winner almost singlehandedly. His snappy eagerness to press and dispossess Jake Davis early in a nervy SKC buildup was intelligent, and quickly eclipsed by the divinely-weighted trivela he laid across the face of goal to invite a Luis Suárez tap-in. Winning nine recoveries, 6/9 ground duels, 3/3 tackles and completing 44/48 passes caps it.

Agustín Ojeda
New York City FC • Forward

Goodness gracious, did the Pigeons need that 2-0 win over New England in the Bronx. NYCFC’s second W of the season helps keep the heat under Nick Cushing’s seat at bearable levels, and in some sense that makes Ojeda the chief climate-control engineer of the weekend.

The 19-year-old Argentine was quite useful in his 63 minutes on the pitch. He opened the scoring with a first-time rocket into the top right corner, his first MLS goal, after the ball deflected into his vicinity at the top of the Revs’ penalty area.

Ojeda also played two key passes and applied himself against the ball as well. We’re intrigued by his growing understanding with Santiago Rodríguez, Mounsef Bakrar and the rest of the Cityzens’ attack.

Chris Brady
Chicago Fire FC • Goalkeeper

Speaking of much-needed performances, it’s not hard to imagine how welcome his first clean sheet of the season is for the Fire’s homegrown ‘keeper, another Olympic hopeful.

We’d venture to suggest Brady's high goals-against numbers in previous matches have been largely driven by the inconsistent nature of his back four, but the 20-year-old made sure to not let this one slip away.

‘This one’ being Chicago’s visit to Harrison, New Jersey, which the New York Red Bulls are quietly making one of MLS’ more difficult away days again. Brady patrolled his box well and made five saves to help the Men in Red notch their second consecutive positive result, including a fine reaction save to deny Golden Boot presented by Audi co-leader Lewis Morgan.

Julián Fernández
New York City FC • Forward

It’s the rare player who’s completely satisfied with a substitute’s role, and we expect Fernández, who’s still in his early months at NYCFC after an August transfer from Vélez Sarsfield via the U22 Initiative, will sooner or later be a regular starter for the Cityzens.

That said, the 20-year-old creator was pretty clinical as a super-sub in Saturday’s win. The home side had just staked themselves to a 1-0 lead over the Revolution when the Argentine entered, and in 27-plus minutes he connected passes, put himself about and tested the Revs' rearguard with a couple of shots before clinching the win via a gorgeous, curling left-footer from range.

Honorable Mentions

Wiki Carmona: The Venezuelan youngster was arguably the best field player on the pitch at Red Bull Arena, completing passes at a 95% clip, including two chances created, completing two dribbles, winning 11/15 ground duels and an incredible, game-high nine tackles.

David Ruiz: The pain of Ruiz's ill-timed sending-off in Miami’s Concacaf Champions Cup quarterfinal first leg vs. Monterrey will sting for a while yet. Still, we’re impressed with how the young Honduran international rallied in the big win over Sporting KC, playing the perfect one-touch pass at the perfect moment with the perfect texture to give Messi the time and space he needed to lash this jaw-dropping missile past Tim Melia:

Taha Habroune: Congrats to the Columbus Crew’s 18-year-old homegrown creator, who became the first player in club history to progress from the academy to the second team and on to the first team when he got the start in the 0-0 draw at Real Salt Lake. We’ll surely delve into the US youth international’s inspiring personal journey as the son of Moroccan immigrants in the coming months and years, but setting that aside for a moment, the best thing we can say right now is that Habroune looked like he belonged: 43 touches, 22/25 passing (88%), two chances created, nine defensive actions in 69 minutes.