National Writer: Charles Boehm

Young Players: Who were top performers in Matchdays 17 & 18?

Young Playres - Jack McGlynn - Philly Union 1

Sometimes it’s just one touch of the ball, one header, one challenge won that can make the difference between points seized and points dropped.

Timing is everything. It’s a lesson that can often take many years to fully grasp. Yet there are youngsters across MLS who seem to have internalized it while still in their teens, including several of those featured in this week’s rundown.

We’ll start in the Windy City, the site of one of the weekend’s most surprising results. And remember, you can have your say on this list; just look for a post like this and tell us which young players caught your eye:

Brian Gutiérrez
Chicago Fire FC • Midfielder

How often does a team bid farewell to their top star, a globally-known name whose salary ranks as the fourth-highest in their league, and immediately produce improved performances and results? Well, that’s exactly what’s gone down in Chicago.

The Men in Red are undefeated in three matches since, uhhh... allowing Xherdan Shaqiri to depart early for Switzerland’s national team camp, a move that seems to have empowered Gutiérrez as the Fire’s central playmaker.

Guti was solid in 1-1 draws with D.C. United and Orlando City, then broke out in earnest against the LA Galaxy at Soldier Field on Saturday, leading the charge as Chicago rallied from an early deficit to bag their first league win since early April.

Though the nature of the play meant he wasn’t credited with an assist, the 20-year-old’s fingerprints were all over Chicago’s equalizer, and then he showed razor-sharp instincts and cold-blooded composure to net the game-winner with that fine solo effort.

Guti also completed 92% of his 49 passes, one of them a chance created and 10 of them into the final third, and added five defensive actions and five recoveries on the day.

Daniel Edelman
New York Red Bulls • Midfielder

The Red Bulls rebounded from last month’s Hudson River Derby loss with a six-point week that keeps them in the thick of both the Eastern Conference and Supporters’ Shield races. Their hard-working, no-frills homegrown central midfielder was quietly essential to the wins, in both of which RBNY allowed less than one expected goal on the night.

After completing 92% of his 52 passes in the 3-1 midweek win over Charlotte FC, Edelman connected 46/52 passes (88%) as RBNY defeated Orlando City 1-0, completing three key passes across the two matchdays.

The 21-year-old won four of his six duels and made five recoveries against CLT, then provided eight recoveries and five defensive actions against OCSC, repeatedly showcasing his relentless engine and defensive instincts to sniff out danger and extinguish it. Just listen to the glowing praise from his coach, Sandro Schwarz:

Diego Luna
Real Salt Lake • Midfielder

Dear readers, we’ll keep it a buck with you: The YPPOTW selection committee was flat-out gobsmacked to see US Under-23 national team coach Marko Mitrović snub Luna from his June camp roster, the final gathering before he submits his roster for the Summer Olympics in France next month. How many attacking players on that list are more creative, more tenacious, more internationally experienced than Moon Boy?

It would be completely understandable if Luna allowed that emotional uppercut to cloud his mind as RSL visited the Seattle Sounders later that day. It’s not like Luna played poorly at Lumen Field: 64 minutes played, 96% pass completion rate on 25 attempts, two chances created, four recoveries, 5/8 ground duels won, and two fouls drawn.

But his contributions to the Claret-and-Cobalt’s 5-1 demolition of Austin FC back home in Utah on Saturday were that much harder to ignore. Luna played the full 90 minutes, posting a game-high four chances created, seven recoveries, five defensive actions, 3/3 tackles won, and he took part in a startling 16 ground duels, setting the stage for Chicho Arango’s star turn.

“For me, it's really just another thing in your career: [Whether] it happens or not, it's out of your control. I think just keep performing, continue to perform here for RSL,” said Luna of missing out on the pre-Olympic camp. “That's what I'm focused on. Everything else will always turn out the way how it wants to be. But I think there's always benefits and things in other – if I don't go to the Olympics, there's other things that I can be selected for. If I get selected for the Olympics, then that's great as well. So I think it's just staying positive and continuing to work.”

Hopefully, Mitrović gives that decision a second thought.

Esmir Bajraktarevic
New England Revolution • Forward

Congratulations to Esmir on earning a call-up to the aforementioned Olympic camp, and also on his first career MLS goal – and it was a banger, conjured up at a very timely moment for his hard-luck Revs:

That’s a 19-year-old, smashing a clinical finish into the top corner with his weaker right foot despite the attentions of two defenders, to cap a picture-perfect transition sequence from New England that doubled their lead in Nashville. It proved crucial in the Revs banking just their third league win of the season, because NSC later earned two penalty kicks, and it took Aljaz Ivacic denying Hany Mukhtar on the first spot kick to preserve the victory in a match that ended up 2-1.

Esmir logged 26 touches, 13/17 passing, two defensive actions, two recoveries, 3/5 grounds duels won and two fouls drawn on the night. He was also solid in a substitute appearance in last weekend's 1-0 loss to New York City FC: 17/19 passing (89%), one chance created, 2/4 successful dribbles, three defensive actions and four recoveries after coming off the bench in relief of the injured Tomás Chancalay. When Concacaf Champions Cup play is included, the kid is up to 2g/4a overall in 2024.

Jack McGlynn
Philadelphia Union • Midfielder

Another week, another YPPOTW nod for Yung Jack, who is also in Mitrovic’s U-23s camp and looks more and more likely to be a midfield linchpin for the Olympic-bound Yanks. There just aren’t that many young US players who can distribute with the level of vision, incision and volume McGlynn is showcasing week in, week out.

The homegrown was quite good but not quite great in the scoreless midweek draw with Toronto, creating three chances and connecting on 6/7 long balls out of a 37/39 (95%) overall passing display. McGlynn then stepped it up in the wild 2-2 draw with CF Montréal, logging over 100 touches, completing 90% of his distribution, winning all his duels and racking up nine deliveries.

It was McGlynn’s raking through ball to Mikael Uhre that instigated the play on which Philly earned a penalty kick. And after one particularly gorgeous turn onto that educated left foot in the 15th minute, McGlynn played a clever cross/shot across the face of goal that found the net as Dániel Gazdag bedeviled Sebastian Breza with a dummy, but the tally was disallowed by Gazdag having strayed offside.

As the hard-working @USMNTReport astutely notes on Twitter, McGlynn has logged the most minutes of any MLS prospect in his birth-year cohort, and that doesn’t seem likely to change – at least, not until a European club arrives with the right transfer bid.

Honorable Mentions

Caleb Wiley: Yet another rough home loss for Atlanta United spelled the end of the road for head coach Gonzalo Pineda on Monday. But at least the Five Stripes secured that impressive 3-1 road win over league leaders Inter Miami on Wednesday, where Wiley assisted on Jamal Thiaré's goal, one of Wiley's three key passes amid a 91% overall completion rate, plus 6/8 duels won and six defensive actions in a wingback role.

Quinn Sullivan: After entering the match at halftime, the Philly youngster played in Uhre for the Union’s second goal against Montréal, his fifth MLS assist of the year and his sixth across all competitions, the highlight of a 16/22 pass-completion outing.

Julián Aude: The LA Galaxy’s 21-year-old left back was his usual steady self over the past week. The Argentine played particularly well in the midweek win over FC Dallas, where he tabbed 12 defensive actions, won all 12 of his duels and drew two fouls en route to a bench spot on the MLS Team of the Matchday. Aude completed 88% of his passes across both of the Galaxy’s matches.