Late in last week's 1-0 loss to Austin FC, Minnesota United coach Adrian Heath called upon rookies Justin McMaster and Patrick Weah, searching for something, anything.
The Loons nearly scored the tying goal and earned a precious point they so badly need on Weah's first MLS touch.
Heath didn't hesitate to select Weah, last winter's 17th overall SuperDraft pick and a homegrown player, in the game's final minutes.
"They're so excited about being in and around the first team, sometimes they go out and play with no fear and just try to create something," Heath said. "Patrick came off the bench and his first touch was nearly a goal."
Weah made his MLS debut in the 81st minute. His diving, dangerous header — off McMaster's curving pass, no less — from just outside the 6-yard box was blocked by the Austin keeper.
"It didn't go in, but it's just a start," said Weah, who was Liberia-born, Minnesota-raised and played at Wayzata High School. "My whole life I've been working, visualizing and waiting for that moment to come. Finally, Coach put me in. That was a great moment for me and my family."
Heath says he won't hesitate to do the same with a group of young players that also includes newly acquired midfielder Aziel Jackson, first-round pick Nabi Kibunguchy and former USL Championship defender D.J. Taylor. Don't forget, either, 17-year-old homegrown goalkeeper Fred Emmings.
"We've been pleased with a few of the kids," Heath said. "If need be, I wouldn't hesitate putting them on the field."
Heath has suggested the former Wake Forest and Philadelphia Union Academy striker would have received No. 1 overall pick conversation if McMaster hadn't torn his ACL late in the 2019 college season. He has earned second-half substitute minute in each of the Loons' game during their 0-3 start. He replaced injured Emanuel Reynoso in the 58th minute last week.
"He's a good kid, and he wants to do well, which I always think is important," Heath said. "He has not been phased by working with the first team. He's still probably not 100 % sharp as he'd like or we'd like. But he had a really good preseason. I think the future is quite exciting for him, I really do."
He's 21 and calls himself a "young guy" who is "adapting to the intensity" of MLS play.
The Loons traded general-allocation money to New York City FC for the 17th pick to draft McMaster. They traded up from the 25th pick with Toronto FC to the 18th to select Kibunguchy out of Cal Davis. He is listed out with a concussion for Saturday's game at Colorado.
Heath said he isn't sure yet if Kibunguchy is a defensive midfielder or a center back or versatile backline defender. But he knows he's 6-3 and reminds Heath of Manchester United's Aaron Wan-Bissaka.
"He's very long-limbed, and he's got the long legs that always seem to get in the way of stuff and he's extremely quick," Heath said. "We've been really pleased with him."
The Loons traded a 2022 third-round pick to New York Red Bulls for Jackson's homegrown rights. Now 19, he joined the Red Bull Academy at age 14. At 16, he and his family move to France and he played with Toulouse FC for two seasons. He trained with Seattle in 2020 and had been a trialist with the Loons this preseason.
Heath compared Jackson with Weah, noting both have talent but need to learn the pro game.
"Az has put himself out there for a kid so young," Heath said. "He has been to Europe. He has been to decent-sized clubs and he has been there a year or so. He's got talent. He has been a handful for our guys to train against."
Jackson's mother was there when her son signed a two-year MLS contract with three club options. He "reconnected" with her when they lived together in Seattle for a year.
"It was really important for her to be there," he said. "It means the world to me. It's not every day you sign a MLS contract. It's something special. I feel a lot of things special are going to happen this year."