ASN Feature

MLS Youth Report: Buck, Wolff, & Ku-DiPietro stand out in opening weekend

MLS enjoyed a positive opening weekend with big crowds, good games, and slick TV production but ASN's Brian Sciaretta kept a close eye on how the young American players performed in the games. Here is what caught his eye.
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
February 28, 2023
12:25 PM

MLS OPENING WEEKEND was a good one for young American players. Typically, young players tend to break into teams in the middle third of a season, but 2023 now sees a bunch of U.S. youth national team eligible players making big strides in February.

Here are some notes that I jotted down from the games.


Buck is the big winner

Perhaps the most impressive young American player in the opening weekend was Noel Buck, the 17 year old American central midfielder for the New England Revolution. In Saturday’s 1-0 away win over Charlotte, Buck put up big numbers:

  • 90 mins
  • 52 touches
  • 26/36 passing
  • 4 passes into final third
  • 3/3 tackles
  • 4 interceptions
  • 5/12 ground duels won
  • 4 fouls
  • 2x fouled


The big moment came in the 89th minute when he won the ball to start the buildup to Henry Kessler’s goal.



It's just the opening weekend but Buck is a top prospect in the league and he could play his way onto the U.S. U-20 team with a late push. That team has good midfielders, but Buck has all the makings of someone pushing for a late inclusion – if not, he will make the 2025 U.S. U-20 team as he is playing up a cycle in 2023.

Also from this game, potential U.S. U-23 midfielder Ben Bender did not get off the bench for Charlotte while Damian Rivera started and played 68 minutes for New England but didn’t stand out. 2005-born midfielder Esmir Bajraktarevic did not get off the bench for the Revs.


Ku-DiPietro’s big effort

Ted Ku-DiPietro, 21, came into the game for DC United against Toronto FC in the 68th minute with the score 1-1. After Toronto took the lead, Ku-DiPietro assisted on a stoppage time equalizer and then found the winner later.

It was a dramatic victory and it should build Ku-DiPietro’s case to start for DC United.

He's always been a talented player to watch but with him being Olympic eligible, he is certainly one to make a push for Paris next year as that team needs forwards.

DC United manager Wayne Rooney went with youth in the dramatic push for an equalizer and eventual winner. In the 86th minute, Rooney subbed Kristian Fletcher, 17, and Jackson Hopkins, 19, into the game. Fletcher was especially sharp and went 7/7 passing and helped keep possession at key points. Hopkinks has spent time with the U.S. U-20 team but might have a tough time making the World Cup team this summer. Fletcher, meanwhile, probably won't make the U-20 team this year but should be a key player next cycle as he is still young enough for the 2025 U-20 World Cup. 


On the flip side, Rooney started 16 year old Matai Akinmboni in central defense and it is clear Rooney rates him. Without questioning his talent, Akinmboni struggled in this game and conceded a penalty. He looks like someone who might just need more development at the youth levels before getting first-team minutes.


Young Yanks in Orlando – RBNY

Orlando defeated the New York Red Bulls 1-0 on Saturday night in Florida. The game featured a number of player who should be pushing for starting spots this season and spots on U.S. youth teams.

Orlando’s Oscar Pareja started Michael Halliday at right back and the homegrown fullback looked far improved from when he was with the U.S. U-20 team at the 2021 CONCACAF U-20 Championships. There, Halliday played as the backup right back to Mauricio Cuevas (of Club Brugge’s reserve team) but he looked more mature and polished in this game. If he can show a similar level in weeks ahead, he might book a spot on the U-20 World Cup team as Cuevas hasn’t been noticeably progressing in Belgium. There is a need at right back.

For the Red Bulls, Serge Ngoma was injured and U.S. U-20 captain Dan Edelman went as an unused substitute.

Likely Olympic team left back John Tolkin started at left back and while he was strong in most areas, his crossing was off. Meanwhile, Cam Harper (also eligible for the Olympic team) started at right back despite normally being a winger. He also played well despite not getting the best crosses into the box. Olympic-eligible midfielder Peter Stroud made his anticipated professional debut (after a very good run with Duke University) when he played the final 11 minutes for the Red Bulls.


Atlanta United vs. San Jose

Atlanta United won a 2-1 thriller over San Jose on Saturday. It was a great game with Thiago Almada scoring twice to win it and Miles Robinson returning for Atlanta and going a full 90. From a youth NT game, it was okay.

Caleb Wiley, 18, started at left wing for Atlanta. Normally a left back, he is starting on the wing because Andrew Guttman is still one of the best left backs in the league.  On the wing, Wiley isn’t naturally as good but in his 56 minutes, he created one dangerous chance in the first half. Defensively, he was good – which isn’t surprising. He is still a top American prospect in this league.

Jackson Conway, 21, got the start for Atlanta United at forward given that new DP Giorgos Giakoumakis doesn’t have his paperwork completely sorted out yet. Conway had a nice shot in the 40th minute from outside the box that was saved but he only had 13 touches over 56 minutes. When he was on the ball, he did a decent job in the hold up.

U.S. U-20 winger Cade Cowell was held in check by Atlanta over his 69 minutes and he didn’t generate much.


Philadelphia rolls over Columbus

The Philadelphia Union rolled over the Columbus Crew 4-1 on Saturday and very much looked like the top team in the league – which many (including me) are predicting. It’s tough for these young Philly players to get minutes when the club is so strong, but Jim Curtin is going to have to figure out ways.

Jack McGlynn and Quinn Sullivan are two of the top U.S. U-20 players this cycle and they were both simply limited to late-game cameos in this game. Potential U.S. U-23 right back Nate Harriel didn’t get off the bench.

It’s interesting to look at Leon Flach. Curtin has a lot of use for Flach and in an interview with me, Curtin said he loves Flach’s IQ of knowing where to be. Defensively Flach is an excellent midfielder. Offensively, he can often be invisible. In this game, he had just 27 touches and 10 completed passes (although he was dangerous a few times). That is very little involvement for a central midfielder.

Flach is one of those players who isn’t going to be useful to every manager or every club. But there are some clubs and managers where he is extremely valuable. He has to be careful with any move he makes in the future. Will he be on the U.S. Olympic team? Like with his club, it depends on the coach.

For Columbus, Aidan Morris, 21, started for Columbus and left in the 76th minute with his team down 3-1. Overall, it was a positive performance and he passed well but his team was overmatched. He’s probably more of a traditional defensive midfielder than Flach as he gets on the ball more. But it will come down to whoever the manager is.


St. Louis posts big 3-2 win at Austin

It was another game in Texas with several U.S. youth national team involvements. St. Louis came away with the big upset 3-2 win in Austin on a Joao Klauss 86th minute winner that was set up by Niko Gioacchini, 22,who won the 2021 Gold Cup with the U.S. national team.

Unfortunately, it was a tough beginning as former U.S. U-17 and potential U.S. U-23 midfielder Indiana Vassilev left the game for St. Louis in the 17th minute with an injury.

While always rated as a young player, Owen Wolff looks improved for Austin FC and he started and played 75 minutes an left with his club up 2-1. After turning 18 in December, Wolff looks physically stronger and that was reflective in his 8/9 ground duel winning. He also was 3/3 in his dribbling, 3/3 with is long balls, and completing six passes into the attacking third.

Wolff was one of the top young American players this weekend in MLS. He will also be another American player looking to make a late push for a spot on the U-20 World Cup team this summer.

Also in this game, Miguel Perez, 17, played the final 30 minutes off the bench for St. Louis and created one nice chance.


Seattle pounds Colorado 4-0

The Seattle Sounders destroyed Colorado 4-0 on Sunday night in Washington. The game was both a combination of Seattle playing well, like the team that won the CCL las year, and of Colorado playing terribly.

Fortunately for Colorado, their two best players were young Americans. Darren Yapi, 18, is one of the better U-20 eligible center forwards. In this game, he was lively and aggressive despite his team’s poor showing. He had two shots (one off the post in the fourth minute) and created two other chances.

Yapi is certainly a player who could get consideration with the U.S. U-20 team late this cycle as that team doesn’t have a center forward and tries to play without one. He would offer something different.

Cole Bassett was part of a Colorado midfield that was overwhelmed but Bassett was the best of the bunch – although that doesn’t say much. The Olympic-eligible midfielder is coming off a tough 2022 with a pair of Eredivisie loans that did not work out. But in this game, he was the only midfielder for Colorado able to muster anything positive.

For Seattle, there wasn’t much from its young midfielders. Obed Vargas was out with a quad strain and Daniel Leyva and Josh Atencio only made late cameos.  

Elsewhere around the league

Right back Tayvon Gray, 20, and Justin Haak, 21, both started for New York City FC in a tough 2-0 loss to Nashville. Gray played 82 minutes while Haak went the distance. Neither stood out and both will probably have a tough time making the U.S. U-23 team next year.

Two promising U.S. U-19 players made their professional debuts, albeit in late-game cameos.

Brooklyn Rains was subbed in late for the Houston Dynamo in a 2-1 loss to FC Cincinnati

Ben Cremaschi, who has also played for Argentina’s U-20 team as a 2005-born player, made his anticipated debut for Inter Miami but was a very late sub in the 2-0 win over CF Montreal.

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