National Writer: Charles Boehm

Young Players: Who were the Matchday 10 standouts?

Young Players - Matchday 10

It’s not just about goals and assists.

That’s an obvious takeaway from this week’s edition of #YPPOTW, where some defensive stalwarts made light of their relative inexperience as they anchored important victories. We’ll start with the weekend’s most one-sided result, a 4-0 thrashing at Soldier Field in which the visiting side’s makeshift backline inflicted further misery on the struggling Chicago Fire.

Remember, you too can have your say on this list – just look for a post like this in the wake of a typical MLS matchday.

Gavin Beavers
Real Salt Lake • Goalkeeper

Sure, RSL’s visit to the Windy City ended up looking like an easy stroll to three road points, especially if you’re just scanning the scoreboard. But that’s far from the whole story. With half a dozen players on the injury report, the Utahns had to field two fullbacks in central defense ahead of Beavers, who, despite his eight MLS starts, is still just 18 years of age.

And the Fire did indeed test the homegrown goalkeeper, including two Chris Mueller shots on target early on, before Chicho Arango heated up and took over the game. By the final whistle, Beavers had made five saves, posting his first MLS clean sheet despite Chicago having generated 1.5 expected goals. The pick of the litter was probably this denial of Fire club-record signing Hugo Cuypers:

Anyone who tuned in to get a glimpse of a leading contender to start for the US Olympic team in France this summer might well have been surprised to learn this phrase describes Chris Brady rather than Beavers, and that’s no small compliment to the RSL man.

Devin Padelford
Minnesota United FC • Defender

Full disclosure: The YPPOTW politburo is absolutely thrilled to have MNUFC in the mix here, after so many years in which the Loons hierarchy just didn’t seem all that interested in elevating any young players, let alone those rising in their own backyard. And it’s not hard to see how useful even a modest injection of youthful energy has helped Minnesota rack up some positive results out of the gate in 2024.

So it was again on Sunday, as the Loons traveled to North Carolina and delivered a 3-0 whuppin’ to a Charlotte FC side that hadn’t lost at home in nearly a year. Working as a center back, Padelford was one of his team’s top performers, completing 33/45 passes including one key pass, and winning a game-high 5/5 tackles, 6/8 ground duels and all three of his aerial challenges.

The 21-year-old academy product made 21 defensive actions in all, earning a bench spot in the Team of the Matchday in just his fifth career MLS start.

Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty
Toronto FC • Winger

JMR played match-winning super-sub for the Reds this time out, as TFC snapped a three-game losing streak with a much-needed 1-0 win over New England at BMO Field. Prince Owusu’s absolutely filthy heel-flick finish was the decider, and Marshall-Rutty’s quick-thinking headed pass made it possible.

In 28-plus minutes on the right flank, the 19-year-old Canadian international logged one assist (his second of the season), 9/13 passes completed, three recoveries, 1/1 duels and 1/1 tackles won, and also won the penalty kick that would’ve iced the W much sooner for Toronto had Federico Bernardeschi been able to convert the spot kick.

“You’ve got to tip your hat to Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty,” TFC boss John Herdman said postgame. “His aggression really stifled them. He was able to bring a new level of energy and pressure with his unique fitness. He can go both ways and that’s the exciting thing. He brings intensity defensively and then when the game shifts, he can go the other way. There was real energy and desire from Jahkeele tonight.”

Tomás Avilés
Inter Miami CF • Defender

Inevitably, the Herons will be led by, and most associated with, Leo Messi and friends for as long as the GOAT is wearing pink. Still, as we’ve said in various forms already, don’t let the ubiquity of those 30-somethings completely distract you from the reality that the full ambitions of the IMCF project hinge on the contributions of youngsters like Avilés.

Heading into the weekend, Miami were tops in the league in their use of Under-20 players, with nearly 20% of their minutes soaked up thusly. Avilés is a big reason for that, and the gangly center back took care of business in the 3-1 win over Nashville, completing 87.5% of his 49 passes, winning the lion's share of his duels and totaling 13 defensive actions.

The 20-year-old even earned a hefty mention from Armchair Analyst Matt Doyle, who pointed to him and his central partner Nico Freire as IMCF’s overlooked linchpins:

“The best, most important players on the team are obviously Messi, Suárez and Busquets. The swing players – the guys who will determine whether Miami go into Leagues Cup and the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs as 'this team has a shot because of Messi' vs. 'this team are huge favorites and it’ll be shocking if they lose' – are Freire and Tomás Avilés,” wrote Doyle. “Their ability to create both rhythm and space with their distribution is the differentiator.”

Julián Fernández
New York City FC • Forward

Even when New York City FC are hosting foes at Citi Field rather than Yankee Stadium, we’re still inclined to call Fernández the Pigeons’ Mariano Rivera, because the 20-year-old Argentine has played the closer role to perfection.

For the second straight week, Fernández came off the bench to score a late, back-breaking second goal in a 2-0 win, this time stroking a lovely strike past Alex Bono after an inviting center from Santi Rodríguez to ice D.C. United. The kid also bagged a key assist in a 2-1 win over TFC in a similar assignment last month.

Fernández was lively both with and against the ball, winning 3/5 ground duels and 2/2 tackles and making five recoveries.

Honorable mentions

Diego Luna: Speaking of supersubs, it was only by the thinnest of margins that Luna falls in this section rather than the top five after he rifled home his first goal of the campaign to round out that 4-0 RSL rout. Moon Boy’s cameo finished with 32 touches, 15/16 passes completed and some committed contributions on the defensive side as well.

CJ Fodrey: Congratulations are due to Austin FC’s 20-year-old attacker from San Diego for notching his first MLS goal contribution – and it was quite the moment for it. In the dying minutes of a game in which the Verde & Black had largely been made to suffer by their instate rivals the Houston Dynamo, Fodrey’s flick-on sent Emiliano Rigoni clear to rifle home an unexpected winner

Daniel Edelman: Featuring in the starting XI for the first time in over a month, the New York Red Bulls’ midfield engine produced a characteristically committed two-way outing as RBNY bagged a 2-2 road draw vs. LAFC on their tricky cross-continental jaunt to Los Angeles, passing at an 85% clip and contributing 14 defensive actions.