National Writer: Charles Boehm

Young Players: Who most impressed in Matchday 31?

Young Players 9.11.23

Falling in the September FIFA window, Matchday 31 only featured five matches – but all carried significant Audi 2023 MLS Cup Playoffs implications, and did not lack for drama as a result.

Across those fixtures, the departure of some regulars on international duty gave opportunities to youngsters, and several stepped up with vital contributions. This week’s proportionately streamlined YPPOTW begins with the most prominent of that lot, down in South Florida.

And remember: ballots have now been submitted for the 2023 22 Under 22 presented by BODYARMOR list, so we’re just weeks away from the big annual spotlight that event trains on the league’s young’uns. You, dear readers, can tell the world you’ve been on this grind since before it was cool.

Every match is crucial for IMCF as they mount their against-the-odds attempt to clamber into the playoffs. And Saturday’s visit from Sporting KC – themselves hot on the trail of an unlikely stretch-run rally into the top nine out West – was that much more pressure-packed in the absence of Lionel Messi for the first time since his sensational mid-July arrival.

With the GOAT away with Argentina, his countryman Farías produced the decisive goal in a 3-2 barnburner that showed everyone both a) why these two teams are currently on the outside looking in when it comes to the playoff places and b) why they still have hopes of making up for the past months of struggle.

Though striker Leo Campana was Miami’s man of the match thanks to his brace, Kansas City’s spirited late rally made the Herons thankful for Farías’ strike, as it provided the final margin of victory for three points they really could not afford to let slip. It was a heads-up play by the U22 Initiative signing, too, who earned MLS Team of the Matchday presented by Audi honors.

His awareness is just as deserving of the praise that has been meted out to Sergio Busquets, who cleverly (and yes, some would say unfairly) exploited SKC’s vulnerability to a transition moment with a quickly-taken free kick for the assist. Farías also passed at a 76% completion rate in a central playmaking position, completed 3/3 dribbles and put in work against the ball, as his four defensive actions, three recoveries, 4/8 ground duels won and three fouls committed would indicate.

Those flowing locks and darting runs are becoming ever-more central to CITY SC’s attack, as Jackson notched another assist, his third of the year in league play, in Sunday’s 2-2 draw at the LA Galaxy. His 80-yard run around and through the scrambling Gs, capped by a well-weighted pass to João Klauss, was lovely to behold:

The New York Red Bulls academy alum is very much a playmaker in the mold of St. Louis’ tenacious, transition-oriented style, providing relentless energy however a given match is playing out. Jackson tabbed a whopping eight recoveries, 3/5 tackles won and a bevy of duels contested both in the air and on the ground at Dignity Health Sports Park en route to a spot on the MLS TOTMD bench.

Given that the Klauss tally gave them a 2-0 lead before half an hour had passed, CITY SC will surely have wanted to pack all three points in their bags as they returned from the West Coast. But they survived an extended period with 10 men after Sam Adeniran’s ejection and remain well clear of the pack atop the Western Conference standings. Meanwhile, the teams that traded them Jackson and Adeniran for relatively modest sums are looking up at them...

Perhaps no one in the East is more at risk from Miami’s midseason renaissance than D.C., who remain in possession of the conference’s ninth and final playoff spot yet are not exactly firing on all cylinders, as we saw in their scoreless home draw vs. San Jose. Don’t blame their 21-year-old homegrown attacker, though.

TKDP logged 52 touches, drew two fouls – including the one that got Tanner Beason ejected for DOGSO – took eight shots (two on target), had three recoveries, one interception and threw himself into more than a dozen duels, tackles and aerial challenges. It was a performance eye-catching enough for our very own Armchair Analyst Matt Doyle to post a highlights comp:

Particularly impressive was the vision and bravery with which Ku played line-breaking passes, including from positions deep in United’s own half. With Ku-DiPietro having already spent time in multiple positions under Wayne Rooney, we’re also curious as to how he might be deployed in other settings, like, say… with the US Olympic squad and their just-named head coach Marko Mitrovic.

Honorable mention

Julián Aude: Considering the ground they must make up in order to save their postseason lives, the Galaxy may yet discover that they couldn’t afford to drop more points from St. Louis’ visit to Carson. Still, hope lives on thanks to their late rally, and their Argentine left back was solid on the day, with 75 touches, 44/53 passes and 3/3 tackles completed, 4/8 duels won, six defensive actions and seven recoveries.