National Writer: Charles Boehm

Young Players: Who stood out in Matchday 23? 


The theme of this week’s YPPOTW? Desperation, doggedness and a ‘by any means necessary’ attitude.

They’re not always qualities readily associated with young players. Yet most of this week’s honorees showed that sterner stuff in helping their struggling teams dig out vital, slump-breaking results to give themselves and their supporters some hope.

Remember, as always: You can have your say on this rundown. Just find a post like this on or around post-matchday Mondays and tell us which Under-22 players impressed you last time out.

With his fellow academy alum Jake Davis pressed into service in midfield, the young fullback bagged his second career MLS assist on his team’s opening goal on Saturday as SKC booked a much-needed, well-deserved 2-0 victory over Austin FC, just their second W in their last 15 league matches.

The transplanted homegrown from Michigan roamed all the way to the opposing endline to send a looping delivery to his opposite-side counterpart Tim Leibold, who hit a deflected finish past Brad Stuver that put the Central Texans behind the 8-ball.

Pierre then played his part in the Sporks posting just their second clean sheet of the league campaign to date, holding ATX to a paltry 0.3 expected goals. Overall, the 21-year-old completed 81% of his passes, two of them chances created, and also went 2/3 on the dribble, drew three fouls, won 8/11 ground duels and made six recoveries in a full-90 outing.

The young Argentine attacker was assigned an unconventional, and tricky, substitute’s assignment in NYCFC’s Friday date with Orlando City, a game marred by a brutal early collision between Malachi Jones and Lions goalkeeper Mason Stajduhar that sent both to the hospital with serious injuries.

Ojeda took Jones’ place and made the most of the chance, hustling to the back post to slam home a smart low cross from Tayvon Gray for what would prove the vital third goal for the Pigeons in the extensive first-half stoppage time; that 3-0 cushion ultimately proved too much for OCSC’s brave two-goal rally after the break.

Ojeda also played a role in the Cityzens’ win-clinching fourth tally, notching a secondary assist by pressing earnestly to produce the midfield turnover that enabled James Sands to play in Mounsef Bakrar for his well-taken late finish. In all, he completed 30/33 passes, won 5/8 ground duels, drew two fouls and tabbed six recoveries.

Is it a coincidence the previously-leaky Galaxy defense has evolved in a significantly stingier direction as their young homegrown center back returned to full fitness and became a regular? We think not, even while readily recognizing the multilayered factors that go into LA’s increased stability and organization.

Neal helped the Gs post their third straight shutout – it’s been EIGHT YEARS since they last did that – in Saturday’s 3-0 Cali Clásico defeat of the San Jose Earthquakes, with nine defensive actions, just one foul committed and a 92% completion rate on his 59 passes.

Remember, the local kid is still just 20 years old, and it sure looks like he and veteran Maya Yoshida are striking up a complementary central partnership as the Galaxy keep surging up the standings. Next: a truly massive El Tráfico faceoff with LAFC at the Rose Bowl on Thursday.

Another team securing a vital home win after weeks of struggle, CFM got a quietly solid engine-room performance from their 20-year-old homegrown as they traded early punches with the Philadelphia Union before delivering a knockout blow in the final stages to claim a 4-2 result at Stade Saputo.

Saliba logged 82 touches, completed 62/70 passes (89%), including 4/5 long balls completed and one chance created, and also went 3/3 on the dribble, produced six defensive actions, eight recoveries and won 5/10 ground duels. In short, he gave Philly hell.

Also of note: He did all this wearing the captain’s armband. With Sam Piette away on Canadian national team duty, Laurent Courtois asked Saliba to assume that responsibility in his stead, as La Presse's Eric Martel explained in an adept profile piece for the local publication last week.

It’s a great read – turns out a young Saliba took inspiration from club legend Nacho Piatti celebrating a goal with him as he worked as a ball kid early in his academy days – even if you have to click the “Translate” option on your web browser.

D.C. were another side riding a lengthy (eight games) winless skid into the weekend, and they had to travel to Red Bull Arena for a rivalry clash without talisman Christian Benteke due to his ejection last week.

Asking a still-green rookie to deputize for your unquestioned star and attacking linchpin was surely not the optimal scenario for coach Troy Lesesne, but boy, did Murrell ever step up. First the Georgetown product conjured up a gorgeous piece of creativity to earn his team a precious early lead, finding Jared Stroud with a lovely backheel to notch his first career MLS assist:

After that moment of glitz, Murrell proceeded to grind unglamorously for the rest of the evening, working his tail off as a lone striker with the thankless task of target man for United’s relentlessly direct diet of long balls. He waded into a whopping 16 aerial duels against RBNY’s physical defenders, and while he lost most of them, his efforts provided an important release valve, particularly after Cristian Dajome’s first-half ejection made life that much harder for the visitors.

D.C. don’t claim that hard-won 2-2 draw without Murrell’s efforts. Period.

Honorable Mentions

Gerardo Valenzuela: FC Cincinnati kept their Supporters’ Shield bid on course with a rugged 1-0 win at FC Dallas, and “Dado” did his part and then some. The homegrown registered his third assist of the season by feeding Luca Orellano before the Argentine wingback slalomed infield and cracked the game-winner, one of his two key passes on the night. Valenzuela also won 6/9 ground duels and an impressive five free kicks.

Chris Brady: Chicago Fire FC blew yet another lead, conceding yet another set of frustrating goals, in that 2-1 loss at Seattle. But don’t blame their homegrown goalkeeper, who made four saves, a couple of them remarkable.