Major League Soccer

The Pitch: Top Things to Watch in MLS this Week

September 5, 2023 - Major League Soccer (MLS) News Release

CONMEBOL qualifiers for the 2026 FIFA World Cup begin on September 7, with six South American nations earning automatic qualification to the Group Stage of the tournament. Venezuela is the most represented nation among MLS players called up for the first round of qualifiers with eight players, followed by six for Peru, four for Paraguay, and three for Argentina.

Inter Miami CF forward Lionel Messi and Atlanta United midfielder Thiago Almada return to Argentina's roster as La Albiceleste begin their World Cup title defense. Messi has carried over his Leagues Cup 2023 form into regular season play with a goal and two assists in three games while Almada continues to build his Landon Donovan MLS MVP award resume with a league-leading 14 assists on the season. Additionally, FC Dallas forward Alan Velasco earned his first Argentina call-up following an outstanding individual Leagues Cup 2023 performance and will potentially make his debut against Ecuador (September 7) or Bolivia (September 12).

Among the league's young stars to earn call ups are 19-year-old Atlanta United homegrown defender Efraín Morales for Bolivia, 20-year-old Miami midfielder Diego Gómez for Paraguay, 21-year-old LAFC midfielder Cristian Olivera and 23-year-old Orlando City SC midfielder Facundo Torres for Uruguay, and 23-year-old New England Revolution defender Christian Makoun for Venezuela. Torres returns to his national team having scored four goals and provided an assist in his last four games for an Orlando side who is tied for second in the Supporters' Shield race.

Young MLS Stars Earn First International Call-ups

The September FIFA international window also allows young MLS players to break into their national teams' rosters. A trio of MLS-developed starlets will be looking to do so this month as Inter Miami CF midfielder Benjamin Cremaschi, New York City FC defender Tayvon Gray, and New England Revolution midfielder Noel Buck have made the United States, Jamaica, and England U-19 rosters, respectively.

Cremaschi was an ever-present force in midfield during Miami's run to the Leagues Cup 2023 title and has continued to be a key piece of the team in MLS play. The American-Argentine dual national is among 24 players called up for a pair of friendlies against Uzbekistan (September 9) and Oman (September 12) and would be the first player to rise through the MLS pyramid from MLS NEXT and MLS NEXT Pro to play for the U.S. Men's National Team.

For Gray, the American youth international earned his first call-up for Jamaica, who face Honduras (September 8) and Haiti (September 12) in a pair of Concacaf Nations League A Group 2 matches. The New York-born defender was a starter for NYCFC when the club won the 2021 MLS Cup and has since followed with 18 starts in 22 appearances during the 2023 regular season.

Buck, an American-English dual national, has had a breakout 2023 season for the Revolution, with the 18-year-old homegrown midfielder starting 18-of-25 appearances for a side that is tied for second in the Supporters' Shield standings. While participation in the camp will not cap-tie him to England, Buck will have the opportunity to impress against high-profile nations in Germany (September 6) and Switzerland (September 9).

Shining St. Louis Travel to the Decorated LA Galaxy

Weekend MLS action features a matchup between the most decorated club in MLS history in the LA Galaxy and the league's newest club, St. Louis CITY SC, (8 p.m. ET, MLS Season Pass), who currently sits first in the Western Conference standings and tied for second for the Supporters' Shield in their inaugural 2023 MLS season. These sides first met back on Matchday 18, with forward Nicholas Gioacchini scoring his sixth goal of the season for St. Louis before midfielder Daniel Aguirre rescued a point for LA.

Ahead of their rematch, forward Samuel Adeniran is in a fine run of form for St. Louis with three goals in his last four appearances for the club. With a goal against Sporting Kansas City last time out, Adeniran became the third St. Louis player to score six goals this season, joining Gioacchini (10) and midfielder Eduard Löwen (6). Adeniran's strong run of form has been emblematic of St. Louis' next-man-up mentality throughout their first MLS season, with homegrown and MLS NEXT Pro players rising to the occasion when called up for lead the lines.

The Galaxy will look to extend their current three-game unbeaten run (2-0-1) behind the in-form midfield pairing of Tyler Boyd and Riqui Puig. The duo has scored in four of the Galaxy's last five games in MLS regular season play, with Boyd leading the club with six goals on the season. With nine games remaining in the Galaxy's regular season, a point or win against St. Louis would go a long way in closing the five-point gap between them and the last 2023 Audi MLS Cup Playoffs spot in the Western Conference.

End-of-Year Awards Watchlist: MLS Young Player of the Year

As clubs around MLS enter the home stretch to earn their spots in the Audi 2023 MLS Cup Playoffs, players are continuing to pad their 2023 year-end awards résumés with game-changing performances, including the rising stars who have had breakout seasons for their MLS clubs.

Below are five stand-out players eligible to be nominated for MLS Young Player of the Year to keep an eye on throughout the remaining two months of the 2023 MLS regular season:

Aidan Morris (CLB): A handful of Columbus Crew players have evolved during the first year of head coach Wilfried Nancy's tenure but none to the extent of Morris. After a difficult return to play from injury in 2022, Morris has formed one of the best midfield duos in MLS with Darlington Nagbe and added goal contributions to his game with eight (four goals, four assists) this season.

Duncan McGuire (ORL): Orlando City SC's sixth overall pick in the 2023 MLS SuperDraft presented by adidas has come to life in his rookie season, providing a much-needed goal scorer with eight in just over 1,000 minutes played. As Orlando continues to find its stride down the stretch, McGuire is likely going to find himself on the scoresheet more consistently ahead of the postseason.

Obed Vargas (SEA): Another 18-year-old midfielder finding his feet in MLS, Vargas has started a career-high 12 games in 2023 for a second-place Seattle Sounders FC side in the Western Conference. Often surrounded by more veteran players in the starting lineup, Vargas has still managed to stand out with poise and creativity beyond his years for the Sounders.

Owen Wolff (ATX): Austin FC's homegrown midfielder has started a career-high 16 games in his third MLS season and is just four appearances short of reaching 50 at the age of 18. In a turbulent year for Austin, Wolff has continued to be a bright spot from midfield and will be crucial to their late push to make the 2023 Audi MLS Cup Playoffs.

Thiago Almada (ATL): The 22-year-old has had a phenomenal sophomore season, with his 23 goal contributions (nine goals, 14 assists) one short of FC Cincinnati's Luciano 'Lucho' Acosta for most in MLS this season. Almada also leads the league in assists and has been the heartbeat to an Atlanta United offense that has produced 51 goals through 28 games played.

By the Numbers

Below is a breakdown of several standout numbers pertaining to players called up to their senior national teams ahead of the September FIFA international window as well as the league's standout teams and players ahead of this week:

8: Venezuela's eight MLS players are the most of any nation to feature players from the league on their rosters for the September FIFA international window. Following Venezuela are Peru (6), Jamaica (5), Honduras (5), the United States (4), Paraguay (4), and Panama (4).

9: Of their 13 Western Conference opponents, St. Louis CITY SC has defeated nine of them at least once during their inaugural MLS regular season. They are (0-3-1) against the remaining four sides - the LA Galaxy, Los Angeles Football Club, Minnesota United FC, and Seattle Sounders FC - and face each of them over their last seven games.

9: The MLS club to earn the most senior international call-ups for September is Inter Miami CF with nine players representing eight different countries. Atlanta United and the Philadelphia Union are tied for second with six players earning call-ups.

67: There were 67 MLS players called up to senior international teams for September, which expands 28 countries playing in four different federations - Concacaf, CONMEBOL, UEFA, and CAF.

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