National Writer: Charles Boehm

Young Players: Who stepped up in Matchday 7?

Young Players - Aude

Even with those 100 or so players back from international duty, youngsters were right in the mix in Matchday 7, stoking fierce competition for places in this week’s rundown.

How fierce? An 18-year-old phenom pulls off a skill check like THIS to score the go-ahead goal (his first in MLS) in a tight Western Conference match, and doesn’t make the cut:

Alas, David Martínez’s quick collection of twin yellow cards put his team in a tough spot and scuppered his YPPOTW prospects. But the kid’s clearly uber-talented and we expect to see his name in these annals plenty in the coming months and years, and for the right reasons.

Here’s the best of the youths in MD7.

You’ve probably heard or read about Quinn’s younger brother Cavan lately, the impudently skillful 14-year-old Union academy kid who’s been dubbed, in some quarters, as the best prospect in the world at his age – and if you haven’t yet, we expect you will soon enough. Maybe even right here in this very series; who knows what the future holds?

Set that hype aside for a second and fix your gaze on the DOOP first team, because it sure looks to us like the ‘older’ Sullivan bro, who only turned 20 last week, is making The Leap in front of our very eyes. Quinn has started all nine of Philly’s matches this year and like his fellow homegrown Jack McGlynn, is bringing something different from the rest of the midfield rotation.

In Saturday’s 2-0, textbook-Union win over Minnesota United, Sullivan logged 44 touches, seven touches in the opposition penalty box, went 2/4 on dribbles, completed four passes into the final third, eight recoveries, won 4/7 overall duels and rang an audacious side volley off the crossbar. Oh, and then there’s this – him going out of his way to infuse a straightforward launched clearance with some sauce:

When’s the last time we saw the Galaxy post a clean sheet, let alone as part of a confident, relatively straightforward victory like Saturday’s waterlogged 1-0 win over the Seattle Sounders? You have to rewind all the way past Labor Day of last year on both counts, that’s how porous the Gs' defense has been.

While we haven’t quite seen enough to pronounce LA a sturdy back line, there are signs of real progress, and their young Argentine left back deserves some of the shine for that.

Aude completed 35/43 passes against the Sounders, with one key pass, six clearances, 3/5 tackles successfully completed, 4/6 ground duels won and 11 defensive actions overall. At age 21, he’s just turning up and handling his biz with steadily increasing reliability from week to week.

The Herons had reason to rue their 1-1 home draw with New York City FC as dropped points given the volume of chances they created. One dog that’s not barking, however, is their measure of steel and security in midfield.

With the notable exception of last week’s sodden 4-0 hiding at the hands of the New York Red Bulls, IMCF are just not getting overrun centrally nearly as often as they once were, and their do-it-all Paraguayan terrier is a leading factor in that.

Even with Federico Redondo sidelined by a knee injury and Sergio Busquets shifted back to central defense, forcing youngsters David Ruiz and Yannick Bright into the slots next to him, Gómez made sure Miami matched the Pigeons’ intensity and intellect in the engine room.

He passed at a 74.5% clip, including three chances created, completed 5/7 tackles, won 10/17 ground duels and drew three fouls, then afterwards explained that he’s happy in south Florida even as transfer buzz grows around him, with his own agent getting in on the act lately, too.

It’s a compliment to the vast growth of Luna, still just 20 years of age, as well as his coach Pablo Mastroeni’s willingness to trust him and other RSL youth, that the creator was given a less taxing runout as he returned from international duty, mindful of both the physical and mental exertions he’s put in. And if this was hockey, his plus-minus numbers would be stratospheric.

Luna came off the bench against St. Louis CITY SC in the 67th minute with the score 1-0 in favor of the visitors, and RSL walked off the pitch just over half an hour later as 3-1 winners. While Chicho Arango’s hat trick was the big story, Luna made it possible with an inviting assist on the Colombian’s third goal, also completing all 11 of his passes and 1/1 dribble as well as a couple of recoveries and successful duels.

Postgame, Luna revealed he’s been managing some mental health challenges, with a laudable degree of openness and self-reflection that contextualizes what he’s doing on the pitch, and deserves real praise in its own right. Make sure you read Alex Vejar’s story about it in The Salt Lake Tribune.

It’s early days on this one, but even with just four MLS starts under his belt, we’re already intrigued by the Five Stripes’ homegrown center back.

Pressed into service by the absence of Stian Gregersen and Luis Abram, he held his own in the loss at Toronto FC last week and after some nervy moments in the opening stages, took a step forward in Sunday’s imperious dispatching of Chicago at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Cobb, who is just 18, completed 52/59 passes (88%) and six defensive actions as ATL held the Fire to 0.7 expected goals, earning some striking praise from his coach:

Honorable mentions

Kimani Stewart-Baynes: After making his MLS debut with an eight-minute cameo last week, the Colorado Rapids rookie was a legit difference-maker off the bench in the comeback win over LAFC, ghosting in at the back post to nod a cross into Djordje Mihailovic’s path to notch his first career professional assist, and on a late game-winner, no less.

Gerardo Valenzuela: FC Cincinnati’s homegrown had been on the pitch for just three minutes when he played a game-changing pass to set in motion Cincy’s last-gasp equalizer at Charlotte, cuffing a sumptuous outside-of-the-boot through ball to Sergio Santos. Let’s hope he’s earned a longer runout for next time.

Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty: Another week, another goal contribution for TFC’s local kid, who bagged an assist with his excellent low delivery to the far post on Jonathan Osorio’s late consolation vs. Sporting KC.