National Writer: Charles Boehm

Young Players: Who were standouts during MLS is Back?

Young Players MD 1 and 2 – 2024 season

MLS is Back? Nah – around here we prefer to call it #PlayYourKids szn.

Welcome back to’s weekly encomium of the best and brightest among Major League Soccer’s burgeoning crops of youthful talent. We’ve been on this grind for several years now, and we’re thrilled to continue our partnership with BODYARMOR and 22 Under 22, this site’s annual ranking of the league’s most promising wunderkinds.

In keeping with the latter, we use the same eligibility standards as 22U22, which limits consideration to players who remain under the age of 22 as of Decision Day, the final matchday of the regular season (October 19). And remember! You can join in this process, too. Just look for a post like this on or around Mondays, and reply with your nominations from the prior week’s league action.

With that prelude, let’s dive right in.

End product, end product, end product.

That’s what Frank Klopas publicly called upon from Chicago’s prodigiously gifted young homegrown over the winter after a solid 2023 in which “Guti” so often caught the eye, but did not write himself onto the scoring sheet with corresponding regularity. And the 20-year-old responded right on day one:

That’s a certified banger to start things off, an assist on his team’s other goal and menacing vibrance throughout. Gutiérrez probably should’ve had a game-winning assist in injury time, too, when he showed impressive composure and awareness to turn a Philly corner-kick chance into a one-on-one breakaway for Tom Barlow. No surprise he cruised into the MLS Team of the Matchday presented by Audi.

That wild 2-2 draw at Subaru Park turned out to be a showcase of rising young talent, with Guti’s opposite number and fellow homegrown just about as influential for the hosts.

Sullivan was both energetic and inventive along Philly’s right channel, assisting on Mikael Uhre’s goal and proving instrumental in one of the two DOOP goals waved off by offside decisions. He finished the night with a 32/39 (82%) passing completion rate, one key pass, six touches in the opposition penalty box and seven recoveries. Overall, a promising manifestation of the Union’s desire, and need, to add sophistication to their muscular pressing ethos.

“I think the strikers know the kind of crosses I like to play,” Sullivan told reporters afterwards. “I like to kind of play those balls in between the back line and the goalkeeper. … Hopefully keeping that connection going.”

Dante Sealy
Defender/Forward · FC Dallas

Who’s that hard-running young man who struck the dramatic injury-time winner that delivered FCD a late, late opening-day win over the San Jose Earthquakes?

Here the #YPPOTW politburo might gently point out that readers who copped our “MLS is Back: 7 homegrowns with breakout potential in 2024” piece earlier this month would likely recognize one of the faces on that rundown.

Sealy’s quality and sharpness was a leading takeaway from Dallas’ preseason, and quite possibly a decisive factor in coach Nico Estévez’s shift to a 3-4-2-1 formation that relies on relentless two-way wingbacks.

And lo, did the academy product ever show the system’s benefits against the Quakes: 53 touches, five shots, 24/29 passes completed, two chances created, six defensive actions, six recoveries, 4/8 ground duels won and three fouls drawn.

If we’ve learned anything from the Herons’ first two games of the season (Leo Messi’s nous for conjuring jaw-dropping moments out of nothing was already well-known), we’d contend it’s this: The Gulf Stream Galacticos’ ability to boss MLS, at least to the extent they’re widely expected to, hinges on the work rate and understanding of their less-famous players to multiply the veterans’ intelligence and skill.

Right now Gómez is doing exactly that in the IMCF engine room, a key factor in their taking four of the first six points on offer from their opening week. Fresh off a superb showing for Paraguay in the Conmebol Olympic qualifying tournament, he’s passing capably, getting stuck in all over the place and making the hard runs that make it even easier for Messi and friends to destabilize defenses.

A statistical snapshot:

  • vs. RSL: 65 touches, 34/41 (83%) passing, two chances created, 7/9 tackles won, 15 defensive actions, five recoveries, 11/22 on ground duels
  • vs. LA: 53 touches, 31/38 (82%) passing, 4/5 tackles won, eight defensive actions, four recoveries, 5/9 ground duels won

A 0-0 draw is the redheaded stepchild of scoreboard perusal. Yet there’s more than meets the eye on RBNY’s creditable road point in Nashville. The taurine team were well superior to their hosts, to the tune of 1.5 expected goals compared to NSC’s 0.2, but between Joe Willis’ five saves and some wayward marksmanship among their 17 shots, they simply fell short of the required quality in the final action.

All of which is a wordy leadup to the observation that Edelman’s junkyard-dog outing in central midfield was a fundamental part of the foundation from which Emil Forsberg & Co. could hunt so liberally. The 20-year-old homegrown was all action at GEODIS Park, with 82 touches, 54/66 (82%) passing, one key pass, 15 passes into the final third, 4/7 accurate long balls, eight defensive actions, 10/14 overall duels won and three fouls drawn in his 90 minutes.

Honorable Mentions

Diego Luna: Real Salt Lake’s rugged Utah-Florida-Missouri-Utah season-opening road swing posed real headwinds for Moon Boy’s efforts to impress, and he probably wishes he’d seized the initiative a bit more on opening night vs. Miami. Yet he still found a way to impact the bottom line with this delightfully saucy backheel to set the table for RSL’s goal against St. Louis:

Nimfasha Berchimas: The teenage homegrown got just six minutes to work with as a substitute in Charlotte FC’s 1-0 win over New York City FC – and credit to the US youth international for putting himself about, wading into a couple of duels and directing a shot on target – but we’re giving him a nod for the historic nature of his cameo. The just-barely 16-year-old is one of the youngest debutants in MLS history, ranking ninth on the all-time list topped by Freddy Adu. Welcome to the show, kid.