National Writer: Charles Boehm

Young Players: Who shined brightest in Matchday 3?

Young Players - Matchday 3 - Aviles

Behind every star Designated Player is a young’un on the grind – maybe even a couple of them.

Examples of that declaration were once a curiosity in MLS; it’s increasingly become the norm. From the balmy beaches of South Florida to the snow-covered peaks of the Wasatch Front, the second week of MLS 2024 provided ample cases in point.

Without further ado, here’s our rundown of the top performers under the age of 22 across the league. Remember that you can take part in this process by finding a post like this one and sharing your nominations:

Also remember that we follow 22 Under 22 presented by BODYARMOR eligibility guidelines here, thus – sadly – weekend standouts Andrés Gómez and Noah Eile are just a few months too old, given that they both turn 22 before Decision Day ‘24.

Would Saturday’s snowy showdown between RSL and LAFC have played out if the white stuff was falling as heavily early in the day as it did after kickoff? We suppose that’s a fair question for Steve Cherundolo and other powder-averse observers to ask.

Yet once the whistle blew, the home team looked far more assertive than their guests, racking up a 3-0 halftime lead en route to an emphatic W via the hard running and cool finishing of Gómez. The winger wouldn’t have feasted so without some smart service from Luna and their attacking mates.

Statistically speaking, Moon Boy only got credit for one assist, though his fingerprints were all over Salt Lake’s other two tallies with important passes-before-the-pass. Luna finished the day with 50 touches, 78.8% pass completion, two key passes, 2/4 on dribbles, 2/3 on tackles and seven defensive actions.

Luis Suárez, Lionel Messi and Julian Gressel’s attacking exploits were what drew the eye in the Herons’ 5-0 romp over Orlando City, and with good reason given what Gerardo “Tata” Martino described as the most comprehensive performance of his IMCF tenure.

Yet Miami’s 20-year-old center back was quietly another big factor in why the Sunshine State is pink rather than purple this week. Avilés completed 41/46 passes, seven defensive actions, winning 2/2 tackles and 3/4 ground duels while drawing one foul and committing none.

It appears “Toto” is rapidly earning Martino’s trust despite his tender age, and one might apply this week’s trade of right back DeAndre Yedlin to FC Cincinnati as another data point in that direction.

A few numbers that should make for pleasant reading among the RBNY faithful: Four points from two season-opening road matches for the taurine team, and two weeks, two YPPOTW nominations for Edelman, the 20-year-old piston at the heart of the Red Bulls’ pressing engine.

This time around it was a well-taken road dub in Houston, as Edelman’s two-way efforts between the penalty boxes undergirded a 2-1 comeback victory. The homegrown center midfielder completed passes at an 89.3% clip, including six into the final third, won 6/9 ground duels and tabbed 11 defensive actions, winning three fouls and committing one.

Fresh off signing a contract extension over the winter, the US youth international is making just the gains both his club and country would be hoping to see at this point in his career.

Rebuilt CF Montréal, too, are off to a flying start with four points from two road games. It’s usually far from ideal when a coach has to dig well down the depth chart in the opening stages of a match, but that’s just the sort of situation Vilsaint made the most of for the Quebecois on their visit to FC Dallas.

A thigh injury to showcase offseason acquisition Dominic Iankov forced Montréal’s Laurent Courtois to swap Kwadwo Opoku into his starting XI, only for the Ghanaian to limp off injured himself just minutes after kickoff.

So in came Vilsaint, and amazingly, he took only a few moments to change the game. The 21-year-old laid a savvy through ball into the path of Ruan’s long run, then hustled downfield after it, eventually meeting Matías Cóccaro’s inviting layoff with a sharp wormburner of a finish inside the near post for the opening goal at Toyota Stadium. He later drew a sharp save out of Maarten Paes and completed almost 90% of his passes on the night.

Bajraktarevic drawing three different TFC defenders – and toying with them…”

Yes, we are all about end product around these parts, and New England got smash-and-grabbed by Toronto on Sunday. Let’s not be simplistic, though – there are multiple ways to track the rise of an elite prospect, and vibe-y data points count too, like the words of MLS Season Pass commentator Tyler Terens as the Revs’ teen phenom navigated his way through a triple-team in Sunday’s match at Gillette Stadium.

That moment was an apt reflection of the menace Bajraktarevic posed on the day, and the respect duly shown to him by the visitors from Canada. Probing mainly down his usual right channel but also occasionally switching flanks to good effect, the kid completed 39/42 passes, including a whopping four key passes, logged eight of his 63 touches in the TFC box, and had a very solid shout for a penalty kick-drawing foul waved off by Video Review. The hype train is filling up fast.

Honorable Mentions

Kristian Fletcher: While his clutch equalizer might look like a tap-in, don’t sleep on the impact D.C. United’s homegrown winger made off the bench as the Black-and-Red rallied from 2-0 down to grab a 2-2 draw on their cross-country trip to Portland. Fletcher directed both of his two shots on target, completed 7/8 passes and pushed the tempo throughout his 18-minute cameo.

Obed Vargas: The Seattle Sounders were frustrated not to take all three points from their overall domination of Austin FC at Lumen Field. That said, most of the questions point in the direction of their front five, while the homegrown dual pivot of Vargas and distinguished YPPOTW alum Josh Atencio held things down further back. The 18-year-old completed 42/48 passes (88%), created two chances and contributed six defensive actions.