By Favian Renkel and Justin Ruderman

Welcome back to week thirteen of Justin and Favian’s Weekly MLS Awards where SBI staff writers Justin Ruderman and Favian Renkel bring you a glimpse at the best of each week in MLS. As we continue rivalry week, week thirteen represents the first week this season to include two matchdays with a full slate of games, Wednesday and Saturday. With all those extra options, these will be the toughest choices yet!

Player of the Week

Justin Ruderman: Federico Bernardeschi (Toronto FC)

Four shots. 0.53 expected goals. First MLS hat trick.

That was Federico Bernardeschi’s abbreviated stat line in Toronto FC’s 5-1 battering of Canadian rival CF Montreal. Despite missing Toronto’s first game of the week in Nashville due to a red card suspension, his return was better than any other player in the league could manage across two games.

Rather than producing a goal-of-the-week contender as his xG may suggest, it was all the little things that led to a hat trick for the Italian superstar. His first came when Montreal allowed him too much space on the counterattack so he quickly shifted the ball onto his strong left foot and buried the shot. The second was a picture-perfect example of why every footballer is taught from an early age to aim crosses at the back post. If your striker can’t connect, the keeper can’t react in time, and you’ve got your second goal of the game. To complete his hat trick, Bernardeschi ensured arrival at the right place at the right time by trailing the play on another counterattack to complete a nearly unmarked run at the back post.

It’s all in the aura of the bleached cornrows.

Favian Renkel: Chicho Arango (Real Salt Lake)

Arango, just so hot right now. Arango. (Yes, this is a Zoolander reference.)

The Rocky Mountain Rivalry has never been hotter. An eight-goal thriller between the Colorado Rapids and Real Salt Lake fed MLS fans across the league with a goalfest. Chicho Arango delivered a similar performance with two goals and an assist against the Rapids in what has been a phenomenal season for the Colombian. With Just and me selecting Chicho Arango multiple times this season, you all already know what this player is capable of week in and week out. Arango has completely transformed this Real Salt Lake team, which was already sneakily good in the playoffs under Head Coach Pablo Mastroeni. Now, with Chicho Arango playing like someone with a vendetta and having a great supporting crew like Luna and Gomez, RSL looks like legitimate contenders for the 2024 MLS Cup.

One could say he’s locked in. The “tongue out and peace sign up” guy is gunning for the MVP, even with the reigning Ballon D’Or winner in the league. Arango is certainly brimming with confidence, as many pundits around the league believe that he’s now leading the pack in the MVP power rankings, being three goals ahead on the season of 2nd place Lionel Messi.

The guy truly feels at home in RSL and even had his kids join the press conference after the win. This could only mean good things for Salt Lake, as their superstar wants to involve his family in his work. There hasn’t been a better transfer to a “smaller market” team in the last five years; Chicho Arango lives and breathes Salt Lake. We all should just enjoy this perfect matrimony. 

Young Player of the Week

JR: Andrés Gómez (Real Salt Lake)

Two game-winners in one week? Yeah, I’ll take that guy.

Real Salt Lake’s 21-year-old Colombian Young DP has had the breakout season everyone in Utah was hoping for in 2024. This week is just the latest notch on his belt.

Beginning against Seattle on Wednesday, Andrés Gómez opened the scoring within half an hour which RSL would not relinquish, in part due to the Colombian’s defensive workrate. Those skills were once again on display Saturday when Gómez put up a goal of the week nominee with a full volley connection from Diego Luna’s corner to bring RSL back level 2-2 at halftime. When Chicho Arango did the same for 3-3 in the 85th minute, Gómez took his opportunity, combining with his striker to create an 88th-minute winner in the Rocky Mountain Cup.

In all honesty, Gómez could’ve simply been my Player of the Week.

FR: Jacen Russell-Rowe (Columbus Crew)

First off, Jacen Russell-Rowe is one of the players who is truly blossoming under Wilfried Nancy. Jacen has been such a significant part of this Crew run in the CONCACAF Champions Cup that it’s a shame I haven’t written about him once in this section. Jacen is a player that Courtois was looking to bring over to Montreal once he took the job. The 21-year-old is loaded with talent and now has three goals in the MLS season, including CCC, bringing his total to five goals in 16 games. It’s a breakout season for the young Canadian and a significant player for the Crew. This selection is long overdue.

Goal of the Week

JR: Jake Davis (Sporting Kansas City)

Jake Davis only scores bangers.

Andrés Gómez scored an incredible volley, Cameron Harper scored a similar rocket, but the goal Davis scored against Austin was otherworldly. There’s just something intangibly beautiful about it. If you look up the definition of “top bins” in the dictionary, you’ll see a video of this goal.

I just want to watch it over, and over, and over again. It’s as simple as that.

FR: Leo Campana (Inter Miami)

I was on the verge of writing my first piece without mentioning Inter Miami when I thought, “Hold up, I can’t go one WHOLE week without talking about Miami.”

All jokes aside, Campana’s goal on his first touch of the game was phenomenal. The Ecuadorian ‘royalty’ truly saved Lionel Messi and company from embarrassment this past weekend.

Take a look at this strike for yourself; talk about “Saved by the Bell (Campana).”

He also takes off his shirt. Every goal celebration shirtless is just better. No ifs, ands, or buts.

Team of the Week

JR: Real Salt Lake

I’m trying my best to think of what could’ve made this week better for RSL but I’m not sure it’s possible.

Beginning the week with a two-point lead at the top of the Western Conference, RSL shut out the Seattle Sounders at home while their two young stars, Diego Luna and Andrés Gómez, stole the show with a goal each to secure the victory.

Now four points clear at the top of the West, RSL came out on top of the most entertaining, back-and-forth Rocky Mountain Cup of all-time to remain four points clear of Minnesota atop the West. Salt Lake got off to a rough start in the match, digging themselves into a 2-0 hole within 20 minutes. Behind Colombian DP connection Chicho Arango and Gómez, however, the comeback kings put on their crowns. By halftime, each Colombian had scored to bring RSL level but Djordje Mihailovic gave Colorado the lead back early into the second half. Down to the final five minutes of regulation with the Rocky Mountain Cup on the line, both Colombians scored again with a combination between the two proving the winner (while Anderson Julio tacked on a fifth for fun in stoppage time for the 5-3 win).

Within the week, Arango took sole possession of top spot in the Golden Boot race ahead of Lionel Messi and Luis Suárez with 13 goals on the year, Luna dropped his best performance of the season to snap back into form, and Gómez capitalized on the attention paid to others to dominate himself.

On-the-field success is a result of the off-the-field work and chemistry from RSL. Whether translating golazos from training to games like Gómez, getting in the right mental state with therapy like Luna, or promising teammates $80 per assist as Arango has with Gómez, everything seems to be clicking at the moment for RSL.

Of course, when Gómez returned serve to Arango, promising $100 for assists provided to him by the striker, Arango finding Gómez for the Rocky Mountain Cup winner was written in the stars.

FR: Austin FC

Do I love talking about Austin FC or what? I’m not sure if the fan base is more excited about being in 3rd place at this moment in time or the release of Emiliano Rigoni. Either way, it’s a party in the City of the Violet Crown, and it’s the same person always throwing the party like it’s “the Great Gatsby”, Sebastian Driussi. Driussi had a beautiful heading versus Sporting Kansas City and starting to get support from capable players around him like Obrian and Pereira to truly flourish into a MVP candidate like he was in his first season in MLS. 

Driussi has single-handedly brought this franchise from its knees, from begging to get rid of Head Coach Josh Wolff, back to enjoying the sport they all got into these past couple of years because the Longhorns are never any good anymore. I kid, I kid, Austin FC is the place to be right now, and Commissioner Don Garber agrees with me; he even put the 2025 MLS All-Star game in ATX.

The one gripe I do have about the Verde is that this type of winning is not sustainable, and they need to find a way to dominate Western Conference teams. Getting a whole bunch of 1-0 last-second wins is nice, but once playoff time comes around and teams start tightening up their loose ends, it will only get tougher. This may be understood with the release of Rigoni. This not only symbolizes the changing of the tide for the roster but also brings another wave of hope to the fan base, making them believe that the front office may hit another home run like their ringleader Driussi.

Come on down to Austin, check out a game, this is the time to see the green lights come on in Q2 Stadium as this entire city is believing again. You man even run into me there in June. 

Best thing we saw this week

JR: Raquiho

MLS + raccoon = fun.

For the second time this season, a raccoon has taken over MLS. If you don’t remember, earlier this season a raccoon fell from the ceiling of the press box at RSL’s America First Field with videos making the rounds on social media.

This time, the raccoon wanted to play.

Affectionately named Raquinho entered the field of play at Subaru Park, lasting the chase for a total of 161 seconds on the field before being captured in a trash can – an unofficial record for time spent by a raccoon on the field during an MLS match.

As if this wasn’t already enjoyable enough, Topps has given Raquinho his own official trading card which can be purchased for a whopping $8.99. 

FR: The Return of Pedro de la Vega

There is nothing better than seeing a player who was supposed to be one of the best players in the league come back from an injury. The Argentine was sidelined for over two months and has yet to play a full 90 minutes in MLS. Let me put this in perspective for you: new Quakes Argentine signing Hernan Lopez has played more MLS minutes than Pedro de la Vega. Plagued with injuries is an understatement, as the Young Designated Player was reinjured during his recovery and hasn’r had a chance to gel in Schmetzer’s style of play.

Everyone, get out the sage, and let’s pray together that this 23-year-old with luscious hair does not get injured anymore. The league needs “Pepo” to stay fit because this kid is so full of talent that many Argentine league fans were jealous that Pedro landed in MLS. You can never go wrong with more attacking talent when it comes to delivering a good product on the field, especially Argentinians. 

Argentina, just so hot right now. Argentina.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here