National Writer: Charles Boehm

Young Players: Who were the standouts in Matchday 13?

Young Players - Matchday 13

From heated rivalries to Messi matchups, the kids got it done across MLS Matchday 13. Let's dive right in.

Jules-Anthony Vilsaint
CF Montréal • Forward

We readily recognize a certain degree of ‘Miami fatigue’ has set in among some fans of other MLS teams and others who believe the star-studded Herons hog too much of the spotlight. That said, there’s no denying a meeting with Leo Messi & Co. represents a bright spotlight for all involved – an opportunity for lesser-known faces to introduce themselves to a global audience.

Vilsaint was that face at jam-packed Stade Saputo on Saturday as Messi mania hit Canada for the first time.

The CFM homegrown attacker created the game’s opening goal when he goosed the throttle in transition before laying just the right pass into Bryce Duke’s path for his first assist of the season. Ten minutes later Vilsaint bagged one of his own to double the hosts’ surprise early advantage, capping a flowing team sequence by calmly, clinically receiving Ariel Lassiter’s delivery and stroking the ball past Drake Callender into the far side netting.

A snapshot of JAV's line for the night beyond the 1g/1a: 63 minutes, 26 touches, two shots, both on target, 14/15 passing completion including two key passes, five recoveries, 3/7 ground duels won, three fouls drawn. We’ll close with the words of Montréal sports media voice Tony Marinaro, who first spotted Vilsaint’s talent back when he was still in grade school.

“For me, the guy who stole the show,” said Marinaro on The Sick Podcast. “His [childhood] idol was Lionel Messi, and so, Messi inspired a generation, maybe a couple of generations, and a guy who was very much inspired really brought it on Saturday night and was shining bright like a diamond … And for all the young kids that were there in attendance, who knows, maybe Jules-Anthony Vilsaint is going to inspire them one day... leaving the stadium, talking to the fans, whoever wasn't talking about Messi was talking about Vilsaint.”

Obed Vargas
Seattle Sounders FC • Midfielder

Boy oh boy, did Raúl Ruidíaz, Brian Schmetzer and pretty much everyone else associated with the Sounders need that gorgeous goal Ruidíaz scored to cap the Rave Green’s 2-1 comeback win in Portland, that most hostile of territories for Seattle, where they hadn’t won since 2021.

And as much as it showcased the Peruvian international’s ruthless, rapier-sharp instincts in front of goal, that winner doesn’t happen without an 18-year-old kid seeing the right pass at the right moment, and delivering it at just the right place and pace:

It's the second straight YPPOTW nod for Vargas after he notched his first career MLS goal at Philadelphia last week. Beyond the assist, he completed 79% of his passes, won 2/2 tackles and totaled 10 defensive actions in the Rose City, all while manning a newer role on the right flank that’s both different from and dovetailed with his previous work as a central holding mid, as he and Cristian Roldan have lately been working in a sort of hybridized interplay.

“He's developed into someone that can do a little bit more. I love the way he glides past defenders, takes space, is able to play balls in,” said Schmetzer last week. “A couple of passes he [hit] a little bit too far, little bit too hard. But the kid’s got good potential at a couple of different positions.”

Malachi Jones
New York City FC • Forward

Another week, another debut MLS goal for a promising youngster. This time it’s Jones, New York City FC’s top SuperDraft pick back in January, making a difference in his first career league start as the Pigeons picked up a tough, ill-tempered road win in Toronto. What a moment to savor for a kid from Sierra Leone who’s already defied the odds to reach this point.

Jones had previously tested TFC goalkeeper Sean Johnson with a well-struck drive after intercepting a pass deep in the Reds’ end of the pitch, and the breakthrough came when he tucked a first-time finish inside the near post after an excellent pass from Hannes Wolf. Doubling the visitors’ lead just before halftime would prove to be vital, as Toronto rallied fiercely in the final stages, cutting City’s lead to 3-2 before running out of time.

Jones’ quickness and direct mindset clearly troubled the Reds: The rookie was fouled a remarkable six times at BMO Field, which probably helped raise temperatures in the buildup to the ugly scrum that broke out at the final whistle. He also contributed six defensive actions and won 7/12 ground duels.

Benjamin Cremaschi
Inter Miami CF • Midfielder

The good work by Vilsaint described above was undone in the end as Miami rallied yet again to secure a 3-2 victory in Quebec. It wasn’t Messi who applied the finishing touch on the comeback, however, but Cremaschi.

Watch the teenager’s off-ball movement on that play – he’s tuned in, sees the IMCF transition taking shape, recognizes the space to be exploited and runs half the length of the pitch to get on the end of things and bundle home the game-winner. That’s a rare blend of awareness, athleticism and execution at his age, and it is particularly useful when playing alongside the elder legs and wizardly soccer IQ of Messi, Luis Suárez and Sergio Busquets.

In addition to his second league goal of the season, Cremaschi tabbed 60 touches, 43/49 passing (88%), six recoveries, 2/3 ground duels won and one foul drawn on the night.

Kevin Kelsy
FC Cincinnati • Forward

Some of you may be saying something to the effect of “what? he only made eight touches in 23 minutes! And that was a point-blank header over a player 10 inches shorter than him!” But longtime readers will remember we value quality of involvement just as much as quantity, particularly when it comes to big occasions like the Hell is Real derby. And no one in MLS did more with less over the weekend than Cincy’s Venezuelan newcomer as FCC won in Columbus for the first time ever.

This was only Kelsy’s second MLS appearance, and you can already see how valuable he may prove to be in filling the gap left by Brandon Vazquez’s sale to CF Monterrey. He was an inviting target for Lucho Acosta’s delicate back-post cross on the game’s opening goal, then played a quieter but still vital role on the Acosta strike that would prove the winner. You can go watch the full buildup on MLS Season Pass, or check out Armchair Analyst Matt Doyle’s breakdown in his always-essential weekend wrap:

Let’s go point-by-point through Kelsy’s contribution here (and shouts to Taylor Twellman for basically calling it out as it happened):

  • Brings down the long-ball and cycles possession.
  • Good run into the pocket to provide a half-space option.
  • Drives forward an extra touch to collapse the defense and give Luca Orellano the edge.
  • After release dives into the middle to occupy multiple defenders.
  • Occupying those defenders makes Steven Moreira shade a step central, which makes him too far to close down Lucho Acosta.
Honorable mentions

Niko Tsakiris: Doyle also wrote up a smart breakdown of how the San Jose Earthquakes produced their game-winning goal at Colorado, and how essential Tsakiris (who was a spotless 24/24 with his passing and also won two fouls and 3/5 ground duels) was in the buildup. The homegrown kid’s still just 18 and already looks like one of the Quakes’ most important players.

Julian Aude: It wasn’t the best-ever outing for the LA Galaxy left back, just another reliably composed and committed display as the Gs rallied from 2-0 down to snatch a 2-2 draw with West-leading Real Salt Lake. He also won 11/14 ground duels, 4/4 aerial duels and tabbed nine defensive actions overall. So we weren’t too surprised when this intriguing report broke on Monday morning:

Jack McGlynn: Things are not good in Philly right now, but it’s not because of McGlynn. The homegrown regista continues to serve up highlight-reel distribution week in, week out. In Saturday’s 3-2 loss to Orlando City, he logged one assist and three key passes amid an 89% overall completion rate on 81 pass attempts, some of them downright gorgeous.