The MLS season is upon us, and there was no shortage of excitement across the United States this weekend. Matchweek 1 always brings a chance for newcomers to leave a strong impression, and several of last year's MLS NEXT Pro stars did just that.
Columbus Crew's Patrick Schulte, Mo Farsi, and St Louis CITY SC's Kyle Hiebert all earned their first-ever MLS starts on Saturday’s opening day after earning MLS NEXT Pro Best XI honors in 2022. Inter Miami’s Shanyder Borgelin came off the bench to score his first MLS goal as the Herons defeated CF Montreal 2-0. Noel Buck also impressed in the New England Revolution’s 1-0 road win over Charlotte FC.
Several other players appeared off the bench for their respective clubs including Jacen Russell-Rowe, Ali Ahmed, Miguel Perez, and Josh Yaro.
Here is a closer look at some of the top performances from former MLS NEXT Pro players featured during MLS opening weekend:
St. Louis CITY SC’s life in MLS kicked off with a bang as Bradley Carnell’s squad defeated Austin FC 3-2. Kyle Hiebert started alongside veteran Tim Parker in the backline, logging 90 minutes, winning five of his eight individual duels, and making three clearances. The 25-year-old impressed throughout MLS NEXT Pro and will now fight to keep a starting job in MLS.
Inter Miami called on Shaynder Borgelin to help close out Saturday’s home win against CF Montreal and the Haitian international needed only eight minutes to make a major impact. Boreglin scored the Herons' second goal in a 2-0 victory, picking up a loose ball in the box and stroking a right-footed shot into the bottom-right corner. Borgelin delivered a lively cameo, winning five duels, creating three shots on goal, and drawing three fouls.
It’s not often you see a 17-year-old midfielder starting opening day in MLS, but Noel Buck defied those odds for the New England Revolution on Saturday. Buck played 90 minutes for Bruce Arena’s squad in a 1-0 win over Charlotte FC. Buck, who made 16 MLS NEXT Pro appearances last season, won five duels, completed all three of his tackles, and made four interceptions.
20-year-old Damian Rivera also got the nod from Bruce Arena on Saturday, logging 63 minutes as a right midfielder. Rivera led all players with nine duels won, while also drawing a match-high four fouls. He worked tirelessly for the Revs, and although didn’t come out with a goal or assist, still is a promising talent for Arena to work with this season.
Mo Farsi was one of Columbus Crew 2’s best players in 2022 and it looks like new Crew head coach Wilfried Nancy has been impressed with his short time with the 23-year-old. Farsi got the nod in Nancy’s first match in charge of the Crew, a 4-1 road loss to defending MLS Cup finalists Philadelphia Union. Farsi’s hand ball in the 45th minute unfortunately led to Daniel Gazdag’s equalizer before Philly opened the floodgates in the second half. Farsi finished the match with 76 minutes as a right wing back.
Orlando City looks to have competition for the starting right back job in 2023 and 20-year-old Michael Halliday earned the first opportunity on Saturday. Halliday played 90 minutes in Orlando City’s 1-0 home victory against the New York Red Bulls, winning five duels, completing two tackles, and creating one offensive chance. Halliday made five appearances in MLS NEXT Pro and looks to be reaping the rewards so far in 2023
Another key inclusion in St. Louis CITY SC’s first MLS victory was midfielder Miguel Perez. Perez, 17, signed an MLS contract last Tuesday and played the final 30 minutes for Bradley Carnell’s squad. He won six duels, completed two tackles, and created one offensive opportunity, showing plenty of promise as a spark off the bench.
Eloy Room’s absence for the Columbus Crew opened the door for Patrick Schulte to make his MLS debut on Saturday at Subaru Park. Schulte made one save in the Crew’s 4-1 loss to the Union, diving to his right to deny Daniel Gazdag’s attempt in the 35th minute. Schulte’s long-term role remains unknown for the Crew, but he could keep the job if Room’s absence continues through the winter.
The Columbus Crew handed Jacen Russell-Rowe his first appearance of 2023 as the Canadian international played 14 minutes off the bench. Russell-Rowe created one shot in his limited cameo, while also winning one duel and making one recovery tackle.
The Vancouver Whitecaps were condemned to a 2-1 home loss against Real Salt Lake on Saturday with Ali Ahmed playing the final four minutes off the bench. Ahmed, a standout defender for Whitecaps FC 2 in 2022, replaced Luis Martins in the 86th minute.
23-year-old Celio Pompeu played nine minutes off the bench for St. Louis CITY SC, bringing added urgency to the visitors’ comeback quest. Pompeu created one offensive opportunity, won two duels, and made two recovery tackles as he replaced Jared Stroud.
Josh Yaro played two minutes as a late substitute for St. Louis CITY SC, helping close out Saturday’s 3-2 victory. Yaro replaced Joao Klauss, who scored the winning goal for the visitors, shutting down any comeback hopes for Austin FC in stoppage time.
Harvey Neville was a late substitute for Inter Miami, playing the final minute of the Herons' 2-0 win over CF Montreal. The 20-year-old fullback won two duels and had five touches.
22-year-old Michael Baldisimo played the final five minutes for the San Jose Earthquakes in a 2-1 loss to Atlanta United. The former Whitecaps FC 2 midfielder completed all three of his passes and won one duel.