It’s a term usually applied to the star boys, the strikers and playmakers who score and create goals, which are, of course, the coin of the realm in this game. Yet when you consider the slim margins at the top levels, those who produce big plays to deny such breakthroughs to the opposition on the defensive side are every bit as deserving of that honorific, even though they’re rarely given it.
This week’s YPPOTW rundown features some of those types of contributors, because they can be crucially important at this time of year, even if all too easily overlooked.
Despite so much frustration this season, and the ugly four-game losing skid (one goal scored, 11 conceded) they rode into the weekend, the Fire still aren’t quite out of the crowded race for the Eastern Conference’s final few Audi 2023 MLS Cup Playoffs spots. This week they have Brady to thank.
The 19-year-old goalkeeper came up huge for his team at Stade Saputo on Saturday, making several outstanding saves in the game’s final minutes, and four overall, to secure a 0-0 road draw vs. CF Montréal, and his seventh clean sheet of the campaign.
Anyone who was watching can tell you: “Four saves” does not do justice to the caliber of the shot-stopping on display from the homegrown. Brady’s reflexes were superb in denying a CFM side who are borderline dominant on home soil and who on this occasion racked up 1.7 expected goals tally compared to Chicago’s 0.4.
“Chris made the key saves that he needed to make,” head coach Frank Klopas told Men In Red 97 afterwards. “He’s maturing and improving with every game… he really has a presence. He’s growing. He’s really young, but he’s really maturing. And I tell you, he’s got a really bright future.”
What’s the real reason Lionel Messi sat out Inter Miami’s trip to Atlanta? Ask the “17s,” who packed Mercedes-Benz Stadium to cheer the Five Stripes as they dealt the Herons’ postseason hopes a blow on Saturday, and you might just hear some cheeky theories about how the GOAT just wasn’t ready to face off with Wiley.
The teenage left back did more than his share as ATLUTD produced a statement performance, rallying from an early deficit to blow the doors off in a 5-2 win before more than 71,000. Wiley bagged his third assist of the season on Brooks Lennon’s goal – ATL’s third, the eventual game-winner – showing athleticism, awareness and a tasty bit of tekkers to ramble forward in the attack, buy time and space with some stepovers and pick out Lennon in the penalty box.
On the day, Wiley also completed 84% of his 26 passes, won 6/6 duels, 2/4 tackles and drew two fouls while racking up six recoveries.
That was the most prominent highlight of an excellent overall display from “RBW,” who until relatively recently was not perceived as a leading contender for minutes at LB. But he’s showing impressive two-footedness – that cross was delivered with what we were led to believe is his weaker foot – and a laudable capacity to adapt to varying assignments considering his age.
“Reed has made big strides this year,” said Rave Green boss Brian Schmetzer. “He's a very talented kid. He plays well on the right, a couple games back showed some versatility that he could play on the left and still do the same job and still be effective. So it's always handy to have one player that can play on both sides of the field if needed.”
Initially taking a more conservative approach before roaming further upfield as a de facto wingback as Seattle chased the game, Baker-Whiting logged 91 (!) touches, completed 59/65 passes (91%), two key passes and 3/6 dribbles, battled tenaciously across a bevy of duels and contributed nine recoveries and eight defensive actions.
Limping into a home date with Real Salt Lake on a four-game winless skid, the Quakes really needed all three points to keep themselves above the playoff line out West. Their 18-year-old homegrown was a quietly important ingredient in central midfield in what turned out to be a hard-won 2-1 victory.
Handed just his fifth start of the league campaign to date, Tsakiris held it down next to Jackson Yueill, completing 89% of his 47 passes, including one key pass and 2/3 long balls, and was ball-secure in his decision-making. He also won all of his duels, both ground and aerial, and drew two fouls.
All in all, the US Under-20 international looks like a fitting complement to the skill sets of Yueill and attacking midfielder Jamiro Monteiro. We’re curious to see if coach Luchi Gonzalez rewards him with a third consecutive start on Wednesday, when the Quakes hit Portland for a six-pointer vs. the rejuvenated Timbers.
SKC banked a massive road win in the latest edition of “The Nicest Rivalry in Sports,” their pleasantly nasty upper-Midwestern relationship with Minnesota United, thanks to substitute Gadi Kinda’s dramatic late winner at Allianz Field.
Sporting wouldn’t have been in any sort of position to produce that without Davis’ tenacious defensive work, though. The homegrown right back made a range of key plays as the Loons sliced open KC again and again throughout the match, winning 5/7 tackles, 7/13 duels and making a whopping total of 14 defensive actions.
None were quite as important as Davis’ goal-line denial of Ismael Tajouri-Shradi in the 66th minute, tracking back to put his body in the way of the MNUFC winger, whose first-time, goalbound effort flicked off the SKC man’s head and over the crossbar. An unintentional game-saving play? Maybe. We’re more inclined to call it the positive result of being committed and dialed in, not giving up on the play.
After wallowing at the foot of the table for much of the season’s early stages, SKC are right in the mix for a playoff place, no small feat considering how low their lows were just a few months ago.
Deandre Kerr: Toronto FC fumbled away the early lead Kerr gave them with his long run and finish – his fifth league goal of the year – after a genius through ball from Lorenzo Insigne, losing 2-1 at home to cross-Canadian adversaries Vancouver. It was nonetheless another solid outing for the homegrown striker, who completed 92% of his passes, drew two fouls and won most of his duels.
Jack McGlynn: The Philadelphia Union midfielder produced his second assist of the MLS campaign in Philly’s 2-2 draw with FC Cincinnati, linked 77% of his 33 passes and also logged a game-high three successful tackles in a highly physical affair.
Nathan Saliba: The 19-year-old center mid was quite good despite his Montréal side dropping points at home to Chicago, passing at an 88% clip – including a gorgeous through ball that created a glorious scoring chance for Zachary Brault-Guillard in the first minute – completing 3/4 tackles and going 2/4 on the dribble.