National Writer: Charles Boehm

Young Players: Who stepped up in Matchdays 24 & 25?

Young Players - MD24 + 25

"I've dreamed for this moment my whole life, basically, since I'm from here."

Those were the words Adolfo Enriquez uttered to the Portland Timbers locker room in the giddy aftermath of their 4-1 thrashing of Nashville SC at Providence Park on Sunday night, the 18-year-old dragged out in front of the group by head coach Phil Neville to ensure his MLS debut was properly saluted.

Enriquez is a Timbers academy kid, a still-raw prospect called up to reinforce the first team as the rigors of a midsummer double-game week took their toll, culminating in a late cameo in which he more than held his own, completing 8/8 passes and creating one scoring chance in his five minutes on the pitch.

It’s just a footnote to the action of the past week, which included so many goal contributions from YPPOTW-eligible players that we don’t have space to log them all here. Yet it’s still worth hailing the simple joy of a moment like Enriquez’s, and the welcome development of a warmly-welcomed youngster rising through the ranks in the Rose City, where homegrown breakthroughs have been so hard to come by in the past.

On to this week’s best.

The dichotomy was stark, and those with knowledge of the backstory could hardly look away as it unfolded in real-time.

With media reports dribbling out about the final ins and outs of the US Olympic men’s soccer team’s roster over the past week, the reality slowly, achingly sank home that Luna was not going to be on the list for the Summer Games in France, despite his prominent role in the US Under-20s’ successful qualification campaign and his consistently outstanding performances for RSL this summer.

Luna responded to the snub in the best possible way, scoring on an AT&T Goal of the Matchday-winning strike and playing a game-high six key passes in Salt Lake’s dramatic 3-2 win over Houston midweek. The 20-year-old then pulled the strings in their 5-2 demolition of Atlanta on Saturday night, scoring again and racking up three assists (not to mention going 4/4 on the dribble and offering six defensive actions) to keep the Utahns apace with Cincinnati, Miami and the rest of the big dogs at the top of the table.

The latter earned him Player of the Matchday presented by Michelob Ultra honors and glowing praise from his club coach, who very clearly DOES believe in Luna.

“What do they call it? Poking the bear,” said Mastroeni of Olympic coach Marko Mitrović’s decision. “[Luna] is a player that plays with a chip on his shoulder … Selfishly for me, we've got a top player that's going to be available the next four games.”

The tired Herons’ 6-1 shellacking at the hands of FC Cincinnati inevitably and understandably draws the most eyeballs on a post-matchday Monday. Yet we’re drawing your attention to their 2-1 comeback road win over Charlotte on Wednesday, a result which counts for the exact same number of points as Cincy’s big W, and epitomizes how Benja and other role players are keeping Miami’s Supporters’ Shield hunt on track while Lionel Messi and Luis Suárez are off at Copa América.

Cremaschi stepped up admirably in a tough environment, playing the pass before the pass to create IMCF’s opening goal before later racing into the box to slide home the game-winner at full stretch on the Bank of America Stadium turf, handing The Crown just their second home loss of the season. Add in his success rates in other categories – 6/10 on ground duels, 2/3 on dribbles, 2/2 successful tackles and two fouls drawn – and you can see why he strolled into the Team of the Matchday presented by Audi.

On Monday morning, his steady growth was officially recognized by Mitrovic & Co. when he became the youngest player on the US Olympic squad – so young, in fact, that he’ll still be age-eligible when the next Summer Games roll around in 2028.

Another teenager performed far ahead of their age down in Central Texas on Saturday, helping the previously-flatlining Verde notch their second win in eight days, a 2-1 comeback ambush of New York City FC at Q2 Stadium.

Flashing a combination of industry and skill in battle with the Pigeons’ savvy midfield, “Teen Wolff” completed 30/33 passes attempted and laid a well-weighted ball into space for Gyasi Zardes’ winner in the 69th minute, Wolff’s fourth assist of the campaign, to help ATX clamber back from the gut punch of conceding Andrés Perea’s opener just five minutes in.

Wolff also drew two fouls, won 4/5 ground duels and took five corner kicks.

The Revs’ young center mid posted his first assist of the year to lay the groundwork for their 2-1 win over Atlanta, via a gorgeous curling, dipping delivery to the back post that invited a leaping, stabbed finish from Giacomo Vrioni:

The English-American dual-national might well have bagged a second helper, too, when he snared a turnover in his own defensive third and exploited the Five Stripes’ high line with a clever through ball into acres of space for Vrioni to run down and finish past Brad Guzan. Alas, Vrioni was (rather harshly) ruled offside despite starting his run in his own half of the pitch.

Regardless, it was a good outing for Buck, who completed 23/29 passes, won 2/3 tackles and 5/7 ground duels and drew two fouls against ATL. He wasn't quite as incisive in the weekend loss at Seattle, though he did complete 22/25 passes, four passes into the final third and three recoveries.

McGlynn, too, was named to the US Olympic squad on Monday, and seems likely to play a significant role in France. He’s earned that spot the hard way, grinding his way up the ladder in Philly over the past few years amid stiff competition for minutes.

He’s grown from an intriguing teenager to midfield mainstay along the way, and despite some youthful errors, is now arguably the Union’s most consistently impactful starter at their current moment of struggle.

Surely stroking home a goal like that, giving your side a 3-1 lead in the second half over a star-crossed opponent, plus a night of all-around midfield orchestration – McGlynn completed 65/75 passes, won 4/6 ground duels, played 12 passes into the attacking third and logged six recoveries – is plenty enough contribution to deliver a timely away triumph and snap a lengthy winless skid, right?

Welp, turns out not. The Fire stormed back to win this one 4-3, an absolutely brutal collapse for Philly. And the DOOP squad had to hang on to earn a scoreless home draw with their cross-Jersey rivals the New York Red Bulls on Saturday. But McGlynn was solid in helping deliver that much-needed clean sheet with 72 touches, a 94% pass completion rate and three key passes.

Honorable Mentions

Mauricio Cuevas: Barely a week after scoring his first career MLS goal, the LA Galaxy academy product came off the bench to deliver his first assist, and a saucy, skill-check game-winner, for a thrilling late 2-1 W over Minnesota. Just outstanding creativity and technique here – my colleague Jaime Uribarri thinks it might have been the best assist of the MLS season to date, and I’m inclined to agree:

Alenis Vargas: Yet another clutch pass to mark yet another first career assist, this time in Kansas City, as Sporting’s 20-year-old Honduran prospect showed imagination and tekkers alike to drop this lovely cross onto the head of Willy Agada in what turned out to be a wild SKC win:

Gerardo Valenzuela: We round out a YPPOTW filled with firsts by giving Dado a nod for his inaugural tally for FC Cincinnati, the exclamation point in the Knifey Lions’ 6-1 curbstomping of exhausted Miami. Not Drake Callender’s best work, but a well-earned milestone nevertheless.