MLS Youth Report

MLS Youth: McKenzie defender of the year? Williamson, Duncan, & Paredes shine

Young players continued to make the most of opportunities in MLS this season and many of the league's best teams feature young, homegrown players. Philadelphia is now the Supporters' Shield favorites behind Mark McKenzie and Brenden Aaronson. The Portland Timbers also have received huge contributions from Eryk Williamson and Jeremy Ebobisse. Meanwile, the 2003-birth year continues to bear fruit. ASN's Justin Sousa walks you through it all in his regular feature. 
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
October 26, 2020
12:45 PM
THIS WEEK WAS an oddly quiet one in terms of action for young Americans across Major League Soccer in comparison to the last three months. The Philadelphia Union held off the New England Revolution and steamrolled their way through Toronto FC with Mark McKenzie and Brenden Aaronson putting in another pair of solid performances in both games. Anthony Fontana scored what proved to be the game-winner against the Revolution while DeJuan Jones and Henry Kessler both started in defense for New England. Both defenders also started in the Revolution’s 1-1 draw against Nashville SC on Friday.

Derrick Jones started and got an assist in Nashville’s 3-0 win over FC Dallas in midweek action and came off the bench against the Revolution. Tanner Tessmann, Bryan Reynolds and Jesus Ferreira all started in Dallas’ two disappointing games this weekend as they lost to Nashville and played to a scoreless draw against Real Salt Lake. Ferreira’s struggles in 2020 continued through both games, Tessmann had a tough week in midfield and Reynolds followed up the loss to Nashville with an individually decent performance on Saturday. Aaron Herrera started and went the full 90 for RSL, completing the most dribbles (3) of any player on the field.

Jeremy Ebobisse’s 75-game streak of consecutive appearances for the Portland Timbers was ended Thursday night as he missed their match against the Seattle Sounders due to a concussion. Eryk Williamson and Marco Farfan started for the Timbers in their draw against the Sounders. Up north, Jackson Yueill started while Cade Cowell and Siad Haji saw time off the bench in San Jose’s 2-1 loss to the Vancouver Whitecaps. Julian Araujo and Jonathan Klinsmann both started for the LA Galaxy as they fell to LAFC in the fourth El Trafico of the season.

Kevin Paredes got his first-career assist for DC United on Gelmin Rivas’ game-winning goal against Atlanta United, and Donovan Pines started at center back for DC again. Miles Robinson, Brooks Lennon and George Bello started in defense for Atlanta.

Dylan Nealis started for Inter Miami, and Robbie Robinson played 15 minutes off the bench in a big 2-1 win over Orlando City. Daryl Dike started and scored Orlando’s only goal on the night while Joey Dezart played just over 10 minutes as a substitute. Keaton Parks started in NYCFC’s 3-1 win over the Montreal Impact before he was subbed off in the 90’ for 21-year-old Juan Pablo Torres. It was Torres’ first appearance for NYCFC since his substitute appearance against the Union last June. Mauricio Pineda returned to the starting lineup and Djordje Mihailovic started in the Chicago Fire’s draw against the New York Red Bulls. Kyle Duncan started and scored for the Red Bulls, and Caden Clark played 30 minutes off the bench.

Zico Bailey made his first start for FC Cincinnati at right back, and Frankie Amaya started in their 1-0 loss to Minnesota United. Aboubacar Keita started and Aidan Morris came in off the bench for the Columbus Crew. Gianluca Busio and Jaylin Lindsey started in Sporting Kansas City’s 4-0 walloping of the Colorado Rapids. Cole Bassett and Sam Vines played 90 minutes for the Rapids for the first time since Sept. 24, and Auston Trusty and Jonathan Lewis made 15-minute cameos off the bench.

McKenzie’s case for Defender of the Year

Given the circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic the schedules for all MLS teams have been thrown out of whack and imbalanced more than in seasons past. That makes awarding players with individual awards an even more interesting conversation in 2020, and this year’s MLS Defender of the Year Award has sparked some debate.

Jonathan Mensah of the Columbus Crew seems like the frontrunner for this year’s award, but the Philadelphia Union’s 5-0 win over Toronto FC on Saturday should also bring focus on the team’s defensive structure as well as their fruitful offense. It’s no secret Mark McKenzie took a massive leap in his development this season, though. Both in his ball-playing ability and leadership in maintaining the Union’s high defensive line have been standout qualities in his game as rumors of a potential move to Europe persist.

Against Toronto, McKenzie also scored his second-ever career goal for the Union from a corner kick and dominated the game defensively. He won all 12 of the aerial and field duels he contested and made 35 of his 47 passes in Toronto’s half, highlighting just how advanced both McKenzie and the Union were playing to suppress their opponents.

Comparing the Crew’s schedule to the Union’s, it’s clear to see that Mensah has had a tougher set of fixtures in comparison to McKenzie. However, the Union are within touching distance of their first-ever trophy in the Supporters Shield and winning it may be enough to push McKenzie past Mensah in voting.

Another big goal and game from Duncan

The depth at right back for the United States might be the deepest it’s ever been in program history, and the emergence of Kyle Duncan for the Red Bulls in 2020 has added another option to turn to in filling the role. While Duncan may be a fair way away from really pushing for a regular role with the senior national team, he has a strong case for being the Red Bulls’ player of the season in 2020.

Duncan is currently tied for second among the Red Bulls’ top goal scorers with his first having come against Cincinnati back in March and the second against NYCFC when the regular season restarted. After the 2-2 draw against Chicago this past weekend, the Red Bulls now have a four-game streak dating back to last September in which they are undefeated when Duncan scores in the match.

His numbers against the Chicago Fire:

• 72 touches
• 16/28 passes
• 10 ball recoveries
• 5 interceptions
• 5 fouls won
• 2/2 dribbles

He was the most fouled player that game, bombarding down the Fire’s left flank and taking advantage of a 35-year-old Jonathan Bornstein’s inability to keep pace with him. Duncan has also shown a remarkably instinctive ability to join in on the Red Bulls’ build-up play by taking up more central positions in the field when he isn’t finding the ball out wide. In a year where the Red Bulls have looked like a shadow of the teams Jesse Marsch coaches across the field, Duncan has been a bright spot incoming manager Gerhard Struber can rely on in 2021.

Williamson dominant in Cascadia Clash

Eryk Williamson’s rise to prominence as an outright starter for the Portland Timbers has been spoken about in depth already, but his ability to pump out 7/10 and 8/10 performances is outstanding consistency for a player in their first “full” year in MLS.

Thursday night’s draw against the Sounders saw Williamson produce another one of those performances, bypassing their defensive lines with ease to get the Timbers humming further up the field. He completed the most dribbles (4) of any player on the night and won eight of the 12 duels he contested on the defensive end of the ball.

Diego Chara’s defensive contributions obviously enable Williamson to progress the ball on the dribble or take up more advanced positions, but the 23-year-old midfielder is quickly developing into one of the best box-to-box midfielders in MLS. His own work rate in behind the Timber’s front four allows them to focus solely on opening their opponent’s defense and allows them to hold possession in the opposition’s half. The criticism could be that he needs to add to his two goals and three assists on the season, but Gio Savarese would probably be more than content in Williamson could hit five in both categories by the end of 2020.

The Timbers have dealt with a lot of injuries and adversity throughout the 2020 season but if they can keep Williamson healthy heading into the MLS Playoffs, they have a strong shot of following up their MLS is Back tournament title with an MLS Cup title as well.

Most Minutes Played by Under-23 Americans

• Mark McKenzie – 1440 minutes
• Jackson Yueill – 1440 minutes
• Mauricio Pineda – 1424 minutes
• Keaton Parks – 1404 minutes
• Henry Kessler – 1395 minutes
• Brendan Aaronson – 1382 minutes
• Kyle Duncan – 1382 minutes
• Aaron Herrera – 1345 minutes
• Brooks Lennon – 1337 minutes
• George Bello – 1239 minutes

Most Goal Involvements by Under-23 Americans

• Brendan Aaronson – 4 goals, 3 assists
• Jeremy Ebobisse – 5 goals, 2 assists
• Cole Bassett – 4 goals, 3 assists
• Daryl Dike – 5 goals, 1 assist
• Djordje Mihailovic – 2 goals, 4 assists
• Anthony Fontana – 6 goals
• Brooks Lennon – 2 goals, 3 assists
• Eryk Williamson – 2 goals, 3 assists
• Kyle Duncan – 3 goals, 1 assist
• Gianluca Busio – 1 goal, 3 assists

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