Thursday, May 19

Top wonderkids competing in the MLS Cup final

The 2021 MLS Cup is set as the Portland Timbers take on New York City FC on Saturday at Providence Park.

This postseason has been anything but expected as underdogs eliminated league giants and underrated players stepped into the spotlight.

Players like Cristhian Paredes and Santiago Rodriguez stunned audiences with their contributions, proving age is just a number when it comes to the playoffs.

Here are Major League Soccer’s top wonderkids competing in the final – ranked.

Tayvon GrayTayvon Gray

Gray has become a standout at 19 years old / Ira L. Black – Corbis/GettyImages

Club: New York City FC
Age: 19

Gray has truly risen to the occasion during the 2021 MLS playoffs, becoming a staple part of the squad.

The 19-year-old has started all three matches in the postseason alongside team leaders. The US youth national team player may have gone under the radar during the regular season, but that is no longer the case. NYCFC head coach Ronny Deila trusted him to command the back line, which propelled the side to the Eastern Conference trophy.

The young figure will continue to be one to watch as he reaches his best form and his full potential.

Santiago Rodriguez, Jamiro MonteiroSantiago Rodriguez, Jamiro Monteiro

Rodriguez has helped NYCFC thrive / Tim Nwachukwu/GettyImages

Club: New York City FC
Age: 21

Young winger Rodriguez may be low key, but it was his possession work that facilitated NYCFC’s leveller and ultimate triumph against the Philadelphia Union.

Rodríguez stood as the player needed for Maxi Moralez and Valentin Castellanos to thrive. He recorded three goals and one assist in 21 regular-season appearances, leading NYCFC head coach Deila to incorporate him into the attack. He became a generous player, working to support the team’s greats through strategic passes and dynamic movement on the attack.

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His name might not be in headlights yet, but he can rest assured knowing his contributions lead NYCFC to their first ever MLS Cup final appearance.

James SandsJames Sands

Sands is set to compete in the final / Ira L. Black – Corbis/GettyImages

Club: New York City FC
Age: 21

NYCFC midfielder Sands has been a steady figure for his side throughout the 2021 MLS playoffs.

His silent but deadly tactics has inspired the New York side to stay alive this postseason as they fight for the title in the MLS Cup final on Saturday against the Portland Timbers.

He inspired the team to end their trophy drought after lifting the Eastern Conference silverware, leading to their first ever final appearance. Their postseason journey has not been an easy one, but Sands continuously proved a rock in the midfield can make the difference.

Santiago MorenoSantiago Moreno

Moreno stood out during the conference finals / Alika Jenner/GettyImages

Club: Portland Timbers
Age: 21

Winger Moreno has been the surprise star for the Portland Timbers as they compete for the Major League Soccer trophy.

Moreno stunned audiences during the Western Conference final against Real Salt Lake, looking dangerous on the attack before netting the second goal to seal the victory for his side and keep the championship dream alive.

The Under 22 Initiative signing looked comfortable grabbing the spotlight, going into the MLS Cup final with four postseason starts under his belt. He’s always been a stable and reliable figure for the Timbers, but Moreno proved his worth during the 2021 playoffs.

Club: Portland Timbers
Age: 23

Considerably one of the league’s most underrated midfielders, Paredes showed all the ways he can impact a game on Saturday in the Timbers’ triumph against Real Salt Lake.

He was combative on the attack, progressing through the pitch with the ball as if it were glued to his feet. The offensive could not match the rhythm.

The midfielder recorded three goals and three assists in 20 regular-season appearances, but it’s been his work throughout the postseason that earns him a spot on this list. He does not shy away from a challenge, giving head coach Giovanni Savarese reassurance that Paredes will leave his heart on the field in the MLS Cup final.

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