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The Pitch (Matchday 6): Top Things to Watch in MLS this Week

March 28, 2023 - Major League Soccer (MLS) News Release


Lionhearted Loons Look to Swarm League-Leading St. Louis

A pair of unbeaten teams go head-to-head on April 1 (8:30 p.m. ET, MLS Season Pass) as St. Louis CITY SC hosts a Minnesota United side looking to go three-for-three in wins on the road to start the 2023 MLS regular season.

With wins at FC Dallas and the Colorado Rapids, the Loons fly into CITYPARK set on dismantling another home side for a third consecutive away victory. Minnesota has won three straight road games just once in the club's history - from June 29 and July 23, 2022 - and with a win over St. Louis, could match their best-ever start to a season through the first five games (3-0-2 in 2019).

The goal-scoring touch of Mender García has boosted Minnesota through their first four games of the season, with the Colombian forward leading the team with two scores. García scored the game-winning goal in the season opener at FC Dallas and scored his first career goal at Allianz Field on Matchday 5 against Vancouver Whitecaps FC. Forwards Bongokuhle Hlongwane and Luis Amarilla have also gotten on the scoresheet so far as the Loons front line continues to find its rhythm in the early parts of the season.

Defender Miguel Tapias has been a welcome addition to the club's defensive line as he is tied for eighth among MLS players in interceptions. Tapias became the Loons fourth-different goal scorer of the season on Matchday 5 when he got on the end of a Franco Fragapane free kick to head home a game-winning goal against Colorado.

Will St. Louis' record-setting run continue or will the Loons be able to put a stop to the newcomers' potent start to the season?

Young Crew Contingent Succeeds in the Spotlight

With several key players called into international duty on Matchday 5, opportunity was abound for young members of the Columbus Crew to step into the spotlight and shine for the first-team. Eight starters aged 23 or younger, including four players with five or fewer career MLS starts, proceeded to dethrone Eastern Conference front-runner Atlanta United in a 6-1 victory, marking the first time Columbus had scored six times in a game in nearly 20 years (October 26, 2003 vs. Chicago Fire).

For the first time since MLS's inaugural season in 1996, four players on the same club recorded their first career MLS goals in the same match, as Max Arfsten, Aidan Morris, Philip Quinton, and Jacen Russell-Rowe each scored for the Crew in their 6-1 victory on Saturday.Quinton and 2022 MLS NEXT Pro MVP Russell-Rowewere instrumental to the success of MLS NEXT Pro's Columbus Crew 2, which took home MLS NEXT Pro Cup in the league's inaugural season in 2022.

MLS NEXT Pro continues to be an important part of the pro player pathway in North American soccer, as evidenced by the 36 players that have signed MLS first-team contracts after playing in MLS NEXT Pro, including three members of Crew 2 - Quinton, Russell-Rowe, and Mo Farsi. In their first full seasons in MLS, Quinton (23 years old) and Farsi (23 years old) join the midfield duo of Morris (21 years old) and Alexandru Matan (23 years old) as a quartet Columbus players aged 23 and younger to start each of the Crew's first five games of the 2023 season, the most in MLS this season.

In the closing moments of their winning effort against Atlanta, there were four Crew academy products on the field together, while two MLS SuperDraft picks had found the back of the net and another, goalkeeper Patrick Schulte, was slowing the hottest attack in Major League Soccer entering Matchday 5. A collective team effort, powered by a deep, youthful roster, led Columbus to its largest victory in 20 years.

With reinforcements in the form of Lucas Zelarayán, Milos Degenek, and Eloy Room returning from international duty this week, the Crew will be back to full strength around their stable of emerging stars as they welcome Real Salt Lake to Lower.com Field on Saturday night (7:30 p.m. ET, MLS Season Pass).

Héctor Herrera and Houston Dynamo Hitting Stride

Under new head coach Ben Olsen, Houston Dynamo FC have produced consecutive shutout victories led by the efforts of captain Héctor Herrera. In the two wins over Austin FC and NYCFC, Herrera bossed the midfield, completing 119 passes including an assist and scoring the game-clinching goal against Los Verdes.

Prior to the season, Dynamo general manager Pat Onstad called on Herrera "to be like he is with Mexico. When there's confrontation on the field, he's the first [person] there. That's what we need for him here, for him to bring that fight." The Mexican National Team legend has certainly brought that fight and energy in his second year in the league.

The most evident display of his fighter's instinct was against Austin, where he sprinted through the box in the 86th minute, played a pass to an open Dynamo midfielder before receiving the ball back and scoring his first MLS goal (Watch Here). With Herrera in terrific form, Houston is hoping to continue its strong start to the season with their eyes on ending a five-year Audi MLS Cup Playoffs drought.

The Dynamo aim for three wins in a row this Saturday when they travel to face San Jose Earthquakes at 10:30 p.m. ET on MLS Season Pass.

2023 Generation adidas Cup Brings Top Youth Talent to U.S.

A premier global youth tournament featuring representation from every MLS academy and renowned club academies from around the world, the 2023 Generation adidas Cup kicks off this weekend with representation from a record 49 different clubs from 12 countries and four continents. The tournament, featuring 40 clubs in each of the U-17 and U-15 divisions, will take place from April 1-9 at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.

The future stars of MLS and international soccer will take center stage in Bradenton, as all 29 MLS clubs will have academy representation in both the U-17 and U-15 divisions. Additionally, Strikers FC (Irvine, Calif.) of MLS NEXT will participate in the U-17 division. 2022 saw MLS teams win both the U-17 (Seattle Sounders FC) and U-15 (Portland Timbers) divisions for the first time in competition's 14-year history. The Sounders U-17 squad has also won the event each of the last two instances it was held (2022 and 2019) and look to join River Plate (2015-17) as the only clubs to emerge victorious in three consecutive tournaments.

For the first time in the 14-year history of the Generation adidas Cup, 19 prestigious international clubs will participate across the U-17 and U-15 divisions. Notable clubs who will compete in Bradenton include Arsenal FC (England), Boca Juniors (Argentina), Chelsea FC (England), Club América (Mexico), Manchester United FC (England), Palmeiras (Brazil), Real Madrid C.F. (Spain), and Remo Stars FC (Nigeria).

With growing numbers of Homegrown players from MLS academies playing meaningful minutes on their respective first teams, Generation adidas Cup offers a first look at the stars of tomorrow. Twelve players who appeared at previous Generation adidas Cups were on FIFA 2022 World Cup rosters, with eight on the U.S. Men's National Team, including Brenden Aaronson (Philadelphia Union/Leeds United), Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas/LAFC), Tyler Adams (New York Red Bulls/Leeds United), and Jesús Ferreira (FC Dallas). Additionally, 2022 FIFA World Cup winner and Manchester City forward Julián Álvarez was the top scorer for River Plate (Argentina) when they won the U-17 age group in 2017.

Twenty-eight Generation adidas Cup games, including championship matches in both divisions, will stream live on MLS Season Pass, the subscription service from Apple and Major League Soccer on the Apple TV app. These games will be available in more than 100 countries and regions.

By the Numbers

From a memorable performance by the Seattle duo of Jordan Morris and Léo Chú on Matchday 5 to leaders and standouts from the first five matchdays of the season, below is a sampling of notable stats and figures from the first month of the 2023 Major League Soccer season.

1: Leading the charge for expansion club St. Louis CITY SC, forward João Klauss (five goals, two assists) is the only player in MLS to record at least one goal or assist in each of his club's first five games this season.

2: The Sounders duo of Jordan Morris (four goals) and Léo Chú (four assists) became just the second pair of teammates in MLS history to see one player score four goals and his teammate assist on each of those four goals in the same match. The Houston Dynamo duo of Brian Ching (four goals) and Dwayne De Rosario (four assists) previously accomplished the feat against the Colorado Rapids on April 2, 2006.

4: Four goalkeepers are currently tied atop MLS in clean sheets with three apiece: Cincinnati's Roman Celentano, Seattle's Stefan Frei, New England's Djordje Petrovic, and Nashville's Joe Willis.

10: Ten clubs have had multiple players aged 23 or younger start all of their club's matches this year, paced by Columbus (four players 23 or younger), FC Cincinnati (three), NYCFC (three), New York Red Bulls (three), and Sporting Kansas City (three).

11: Helped by an MLS-best 15 goals scored this season, including multiple goals in every game this season, St. Louis CITY SC also leads Major League Soccer with a plus-11 goal differential (15 goals scored, four goals allowed), three better than the next-closest team (Seattle Sounders FC, plus-8).

318: LA Galaxy midfielder Gastón Brugman leads MLS with 318 completed passes in just four games this season and is tied with Seattle's João Paulo for the league-lead with an 89.8 accurate pass percentage (min. 300 pass attempts). Brugman is one of only two players to complete at least 300 passes this season, along with San Jose's Jackson Yueill (303).


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