The 2001-2005 Age Groups

Over the next few weeks I will be breaking down the 5 age groups that will comprise the two core cycles which are the u17 and u20 youth national teams starting with the 2001 age group.  These age groups are players born in 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, and 2005. Today we will be focusing on the 2001’s which the oldest age group and the core focus age group for the 2021 u20 World Cup cycle.  Every age group break down will feature a highlight of the top tier prospects, a 23-man roster, and a top 25 player ranking.   Overall, the 2001 age group are a very good group.  They have numerous players who have very high ceilings and can play themselves into the USMNT picture and into a strong top-flight European side. 

This age group’s strength is their very deep winger and midfield pool. With wingers like Uly Llanez, Konrad De La Fuente, and Cameron Harper they have better top end winger depth than all other age groups except the 2003’s. In the midfield they are loaded with talent at the 6, 8, and 10 like Johnny Cardoso, Taylor Booth, Tanner Tessmann, Cole Bassett, Jose Gallegos, Matko Milijevic, Thomas Roberts, Justin Haak, Marcelo Palomino, Bryce Duke, Owen Otasowie, and more.

The weaknesses for this age group are the strikers and the full-backs. The strikers have players with potential to play in Europe at a high level but none that I seriously consider to be long term USMNT prospects. The best two strikers in this age group are Charlie Kelman and Matthew Hoppe who both are good enough to play at the level of a league like the English Championship or the Eredivise. Right now both will have to work to keep their spots on the full-strength u20 side as Ricardo Pepi will likely have a big impact in this cycle. Full-back depth is another concern for this age group. They have two standouts in Julian Araujo and Travian Sousa but after that there is a lot left to be desired. When looking at the u20 cycle, Araujo and Sousa are locks and will also be joined by younger players like Kobe-Hernandez Foster, Jonathan Gomez, Mauricio Cuevas, and Joseph Scally.

 The 2001 age group will lead the current u20 World Cup and fans should be looking at this age group with optimism.  A successful age group produces two or three players for the USMNT and the 2001’s are currently on track to do that and potentially beat that number.  The players that USMNT fans need to keep an eye on are Uly Llanez, Julian Araujo, and Johnny Cardoso but there are other top tier prospects in the 2001 age group that USMNT fans should be aware of.  

Players to watch in the 2001 age group

Uly Llanez

Ulysses is one of the most dynamic winger prospects that the United States has ever produced and is the crown jewel attacker of the Brian Kleiban factory.  He is a silky-smooth winger who can fleece defenders 1v1 and create chances for himself and his teammates. Uly has the skill, ball control, soccer IQ, and athleticism that is needed to make it in Europe at the highest levels.  In the u19 Bundesliga Uly has been nothing short of dominant and has looked like a player who is ready for a harder challenge. Uly is now taking part in Wolfsburg’s first team training sessions and it is only a matter of time before he makes a Bundesliga debut. 

If Uly was at a club more prone to playing young players then Uly would have made his Bundesliga debut and potentially even be a regular in a Bundeliga squad. Uly is currently the best 2001 prospect and has a great chance to make the 2022 World Cup squad. If he is allowed to participate in the u20 World Cup next year then he will be the creative spark that drives the team to a deep run in the tournament.  Uly is a top tier prospect that fans should be very excited about, take a look at him.

Julian Araujo

Julian Araujo is one of the most well-rounded defensive prospects you will find in the youth national team pool.  He is a right back who was both a former winger and a center back. He was converted to a right back when arriving at the LA Galaxy in 2018.  Araujo is a great 1v1 defender, he has elite positioning and awareness, a very high soccer IQ, a very good distributor, and can contribute going forward.  The weaker areas of his game are speed and he is not a very skillful player . At the same time he is not slow and he is very capable of providing value going forward. 

He is a player who will not likely remain in MLS for long as the Galaxy already have his replacement ready in Mauricio Cuevas. Araujo will likely have European clubs gunning for his signature after he captains the u20 World Cup squad.  Araujo has what it takes to make it a club in a major European league, if you doubt this then watch the u23 USMNT game against the Netherlands u23’s where Araujo locked down Justin Kluivert. 

For the USMNT long term picture Araujo is likely to take the long-term backup spot behind Sergino Dest.  Araujo’s versatility will be key for getting USMNT looks down the road.  

Johnny Cardoso

When a player is able to break through at a top-flight club in Brazil you should immediately place them on a USMNT radar.  Johnny Cardoso is a Brazilian-American 6 at Sport Club Internacional, one of Brazil’s most historically successful clubs. Cardoso is a deep lying distributor who is a bull dog defensively.  On offense, he can spray the ball across the field efficiently and is very good at retaining possession. On defense, he is a bull-dog who provides a shield for his defensive line. Cardoso grew up playing as a 9 so he also has the finesse and flair that you often see in Brazilian players.  Cardoso came out of nowhere when Gregg Berhalter convinced him to accept a u23 USMNT call-up.

When Gregg speaks highly of a young player who plays his soccer outside of the MLS you should take note, he is a very good player. When a young player is able to break through in the Brazilian top flight as a teenager then it isn’t long before European clubs will be trying to poach him.  Cardoso has the bite and the skill that is needed to make it to the highest level in Europe. Cardoso is one of the many up and coming defensive-midfield prospects that are pushing for a USMNT spot.  

Taylor Booth

Taylor Booth has been a top-rated prospect for the 2001 age group for a long time and for very good reason.  Booth is currently at Bayern Munich playing for their u19’s and occasionally for their u23’s. Taylor Booth is a press-resistant 6 who is also capable of making plays in the middle and offensive thirds as well.  Booth is one of the cleanest players you will see in the USMNT pipeline. He is very similar to Darlington Nagbe in the sense that he rarely loses the ball.

Booth’s future is very uncertain as he is not a good enough prospect to make it to Bayern’s first team. This is nothing against him, the Bayern first team only takes midfielders in their prime who are one of the 30 best players in the world. He is good enough to play in the Bundesliga for other clubs down the road. 

Booth will need to move away from the Bavarian giants at some point (before 2022) to get first team minutes before his development starts to stall. Booth and Johnny Cardoso will be fighting for the starting 6 role at the u20 World Cup and the 2024 Olympics. Both will be competing against each other for a USMNT roster spot for a very long time as they are both quality players.  

Jose Gallegos

When people think of Gallegos comparisons will always be made to Richie Ledezma because like Ledezma, he is a skillful Mexican-American 10 who is making a name for himself in the USL.  Gallegos is a lesser known player who many will start raving about soon enough when he carves up defenses in the USL on a regular basis later this year. Gallegos is a short and stocky player who is a dynamic play maker.  Jose can beat you on the dribble, he can play the killer pass in the final third, he has the vision of an elite attacking midfielder, and he has the work rate to keep involved and continuously affect the game. 

Gallegos is hyped by many USMNT fanatics while being severely underrated as well. People will doubt his game because he plays in the USL but make no mistake, this kid is the real deal. Gallegos is rumored to be on track to be the first large signing from a USL club by a MLS club but he is also good enough that he should be thinking about taking his talent overseas to Europe. 

Konrad De La Fuente

Konrad is a player who like Taylor Booth has been in the heralded prospect spotlight as he has been climbing up the La Masia ranks since 2014.  Like Uly Llanez, Konrad is an electrifying winger capable of being a playmaker and running an attack. Konrad is technically sound and possesses the high IQ that is required to progress in FC Barcelona’s youth system.  KDLF does not quite posess the dynamic ability that Llanez does but he is a player who is capable of blazing down the wing and beating players at will 1v1. He was a consistent starter on the 2019 u20 World Cup team that was loaded with talent while playing up a cycle. 

When Tab Ramos gives a player that vote of confidence then you need to take him seriously as a USMNT prospect, the kid can ball. Currently, he was weighing the decision to move to a club in the Bundesliga or to stay at FC Barcelona and play for Barca B; he elected to stay at the Catalan side.  There are still rumors circulating everywhere online that Konrad could be on the move to a club in the Bundesliga but his current club situation is just fine. De La Fuente will have a future at a top flight European side and will provide significant depth for the USMNT winger depth chart.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oD8kxxw-dAs

Tanner Tessmann

You probably heard of Tanner Tessmann when he signed to kick for Dabo Swinney and the Clemson Tigers.  Tessmann has since decided to forego the NCAA pathway and signed to play at FC Dallas and has immediately been inserted into the first team and started the first two matches of the season while filling in for a rehabbing Paxton Pomykal.  Tanner looked the part in those matches which is a testament to his ability as Paxton Pomykal was lighting the league on fire last year but at 18 looked out of his depths. Tessmann is one of the most physically gifted athletes in the USMNT system and was even praised by Dabo Swinney for his superb athleticism. 

Tanner is clean on the ball, able to cover ground, and is a dominating physical presence in the middle of the field. He will be a commanding presence for the FC Dallas and u20 World Cup team’s midfield. Tessmann is another player to come out of the FC Dallas academy and will be Europe bound at some point as his ceiling is very high.  He could very well play his way into the USMNT picture for the 2026 World Cup. Take a look at his all touches video against the Montreal Impact on March 7th:

Owen Otasowie

Otasowie has been a player on USMNT super fan’s minds for a long time and has already made his Premier League debut for Wolverhampton, the 6th place team in the Premier League.  Owen is an absolute mountain and has numerous major clubs inquiring about his services which prompted Wolverhampton to bring him into the first team to secure his long-term loyalty.  He typically plays as a 6 at Wolverhampton but can also play as a center back where he will likely line up in a USA jersey. Otasowie is not the most creative player but possesses a high IQ and freak athleticism which will help him earn a spot at both positions for the Premier League side. 

Otasowie is a great defender, a commanding field presence, and a good distributor of the ball which makes him the perfect center back or ball winning 6. It may take a year or more for Otasowie to become a first team regular but Wolverhampton rate him highly so USMNT fans should be following his progress closely.  If Otasowie can remain injury free (he has had his struggles) then he will be a lock to start at center back for the u20 World Cup squad and could very well cement himself into USMNT rosters.

David Ochoa

David Ochoa is the locked in starter for the u20 World Cup squad and should have started every game for the u20’s in the 2019 World Cup as well.  Many rate Ochoa as the top youth national team goalkeeper prospect and for good reason. He has the size, the reactions, the foot skills, and the distribution of a top-class keeper prospect.  Ochoa is currently being groomed to take the helm as the heir to Nick Rimando at Real Salt Lake as the clubs starting goal keeper and could very realistically claim that spot before the end of 2020. 

David may even earn a spot on the Olympic team playing up a cycle which is extremely rare for players, especially goalkeepers. Ochoa does have some long-term competition in Damian Las, Chirutu Odunze, Luca Lewis, Gabe Slonina, Chris Brady, and Jeff Dewsnup but as it stands right now, Ochoa is the number one goalie prospect in the youth national team pool.  Fans should expect him to move over to Europe before the 2026 World Cup and potentially even push out Zack Steffen as the starter for the USMNT.

Here’s an Underdog Soccer Podcast Interview with David Ochoa

Cameron Harper

Cameron Harper is a long term prospect to watch out for. In this age group he is not a starter on the wing but he would be in almost every other age group. Harper is a lightning quick winger who can slice and dice a defender in multiple ways. He can cut inside and create danger as well as taking a defender on out wide and serving the ball in from the end line. Cameron Harper is a relatively unknown player who many USMNT fans will likely be begging for a USMNT call up by the end of the year.

At the u20 men’s national team camp in January Harper was considered to be the standout performer by everyone. If Uly Llanez is withheld from the u20 World Cup either by Wolfsburg or by the USMNT then expect Harper to slot right in and become the danger man that no one is expecting. Harper is currently at Celtic FC in Scotland and is progressing well through their ranks. Fans should not be surprised if he is a full-time first team player for Celtic FC during the start of the 2020-21 season, he is that good. While he not be as highly rated as Konrad De La Fuente, he could actually break into the USMNT sooner because of his positive club situation.

The 23-man depth chart for the 2001 age group

This is a very strong team that could do some serious damage at the u20 World Cup level.  When you add in the top 2002’s and 2003’s into this side then you will be looking at a side that could make a very deep run at the u20 World Cup at full strength and could potentially break the three-consecutive quarterfinal streak and finally secure a top-four spot at the u20 World Cup. 

The Top 25 Ranking for the 2001 Age Group

  1. Uly Llanez– Winger
  2. Julian Araujo– Right Back/Center Back
  3. Johnny Cardoso- Defensive Mid
  4. Taylor Booth- Defensive Mid
  5. Jose Gallegos- Attacking Mid
  6. Konrad De La Fuente- Winger
  7.  Tanner Tessmann- Center Mid
  8. Owen Otasowie- Center Back/Defensive Mid
  9. David Ochoa– Goalkeeper
  10. Cameron Harper- Winger
  11. Travian Sousa- Left Back
  12. Cole Bassett- Center Mid
  13. Jacob Akanyirige- Center Back
  14. Indiana Vassilev- Winger/Striker/Attacking Mid
  15. Charlie Kelman- Striker
  16. Matko Milijevic- Attacking Mid/Winger
  17. Leo Sepulveda- Center Back
  18. Bryce Duke- Center Mid
  19. Thomas Roberts- Attacking Mid
  20. George Campbell- Center Back
  21. Justin Haak- Defensive Mid
  22. Marcelo Palomino- Attacking Mid
  23. Matthew Hoppe- Striker
  24. Luca Lewis- Goalkeeper
  25. Andre Reynolds- Left Back

And now check out the 2002s.