National Writer: Charles Boehm

Young Players: Who most impressed in Matchday 28?

Young Players - MD 28 - 2023 season

MLS’s stretch run began in earnest over the weekend, and some of the youngest players on pitches around the league were also some of the most impactful. That provided stiff competition for places on this week’s YPPOTW. 

Here’s our rundown of the very best among those under the age of 22 (in keeping with 22 Under 22 eligibility statutes).

And remember, you too can participate in this process. Just seek out a tweet like this one most Mondays during the regular season, and tell us who you think deserves some shine here.

With Leo Messi and Sergio Busquets rotated to the bench for some much-needed rest, the Herons needed someone to seize the early initiative on Saturday’s visit to sold-out Red Bull Arena.

Their young Paraguayan midfielder did exactly that, with an MLS Team of the Matchday-caliber outing to pace a 2-0 win that begins Miami’s push for a last-place-to-playoffs resurrection.

Though he only arrived last month amid IMCF’s all-timer of a summer transfer window, Gómez seems to have found his feet quickly under the tutelage of Tata Martino. The U22 Initiative signing flashed razor-sharp finishing instincts to score his first MLS goal, which was also this game’s vital first tally, continuing his team’s key recent habit of staking early leads.

One of the more fascinating tidbits Miami’s younger players have shared about Messi and Busquets is their advice to, in essence, stand there, don’t just do something – to “maintain more your position, that the ball’s going to get to you. Stop running for the ball too much,” in the words of homegrown David Ruíz. And there was something of that in Gómez’s read on his goal, as he loitered with intent near the penalty spot after the Red Bulls failed to adequately clear a free-kick delivery into their box and was thus well-placed to latch onto Noah Allen’s low cross.

Gómez also went 2/4 on dribbles, completed a game-high six tackles, won 10/15 duels, made seven recoveries and drew two fouls.

Philly head coach Jim Curtin just played his 20-year-old regista a full 90 minutes in back-to-back matches for the first time all season. And lo and behold, the Union won both of them – the Leagues Cup Third-Place Match vs. Monterrey and Saturday’s visit to D.C. United – by a combined score of 6-1, with McGlynn posting an assist in the first and a goal in the second.

Coincidence? We’ll leave that for readers to ponder, and to be fair, a reserve-heavy Rayados XI and tail-spinning D.C. weren’t the toughest opponents in those particular moments. Still, these were important results for a DOOP squad that needed to avoid a hangover following their deeply disappointing Leagues Cup semifinal loss to Inter Miami, and the homegrown looked as assured as ever in multiple aspects of his game.

The timing of McGlynn’s run into the box was key on that finish, hinting at new riffs to his already-high rates of mental processing. And it was a back-breaker of a goal, doubling the lead just 13 minutes in against an opponent with a recent history of capitulation to Philly.

On the whole, he logged 64 touches, 49/53 (92%) passes completed, 10 of them played into the final third, and went 1/1 on dribbles, plus three recoveries, 3/4 duels won and one foul drawn.

It’s amazing how much a youngster can benefit individually from being part of a coherent, effective lineup with veterans setting the tone.

ATLUTD produced perhaps their best performance of the year to hand Nashville a 4-0 hiding that ranks as the Tennesseans’ worst-ever loss, and with the likes of Thiago Almada and Tristan Muyumba leading the way, everything was clearer and simpler for Wiley.

The 18-year-old passed cleanly (34/39 completed) and incisively (three chances created) from his left back spot, and looked composed carrying the ball forward. And while NSC didn’t pose much of a consistent threat going forward, Wiley handled his business with four defensive actions.

La Naranja inflicted double the hurt on Real Salt Lake last week, edging the Utahns in Wednesday’s dramatic US Open Cup semifinal, then stunning them with a 3-0 thumping in league play in which their Nigerian youth international shined.

Aliyu notched his second assist of the season on Coco Carrasquilla’s strike, the two players combining quickly and cleverly to leave goalkeeper Gavin Beavers stranded at his near post via a textbook quick transition after an RSL turnover:

It was one of two key passes Aliyu played amid an overall 18/22 (82%) completion rate, and he also won 2/2 tackles, 3/5 duels and made three recoveries, earning a spot on the TOTM bench.

SKC's homegrown right back was clean and composed in his team's important 3-0 home win over San Jose, completing 54/56 passes, winning 4/7 duels, 3/3 tackles and notching eight defensive actions over the full 90.

Davis is a prime example of the benefits Leagues Cup can offer for young players. The 21-year-old defender started all three of Sporting’s matches in the tournament, facing up to the challenge of rugged opponents in FC Cincinnati, Chivas Guadalajara and Toluca and holding his own.

While the Midwesterners didn’t mount a deep run in the tournament, those international experiences gave Davis highly useful experiences which he can utilize as SKC try to mount a late push into the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs.

Davis recently got the feature treatment from the Kansas City Star, delving into the Michigan native’s backstory, including his move to KC as part of the residential component of the club’s ambitious academy program and the lessons he’s gained along the way. It’s well worth a read:

Honorable Mentions

Aidan Morris: The Columbus Crew just keep making it impossible to leave Morris unmentioned in the YPPOTW annals. The box-to-box terrier landed a game-high 4/5 tackles, completed a high volume of passes at a 93% clip and played one key pass among them as the Ohioans dispatched Toronto FC 2-0.

Ted Ku-DiPietro: D.C. have been outscored 15-5 across their nine matches since the start of July, only two of them wins, so it’s not a great moment for Wayne Rooney & Co. At least “TKDP” brought some light to the darkness on Saturday, coming off the bench to smash a blistering left-footed finish past Andre Blake for some consolation:

Nathan Saliba: It was another understated, unfussy but effective outing for CF Montréal's homegrown center mid in their resourceful and potentially vital 1-0 win over New England. Saliba won 4/4 tackles and completed 86% of his passes as the Quebecois limited Carles Gil and his mates to 0.1 expected goals.

Cristian Olivera: Sure, Dénis Bouanga served up an inviting ball on a platter for LAFC’s newly-acquired Uruguayan winger to slam home his first MLS goal as the exclamation point in Wednesday’s 4-0 rout of Colorado. But it’s always useful when new arrivals open their account quickly, and with Olivera also playing a key pass and a couple of accurate crosses in his 26 minutes off the bench, Steve Cherundolo may have yet another weapon to deploy in the stretch run.