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2022 Youth Series: Top 20 Born In 2003



Series Overview

This is this first article in a series of articles that looks at the landscape of United States eligible youth soccer players. Notice I used the term US eligible. I am defining this as a player, that to my understanding, has the ability to play for the United States and has not yet been cap-tied at the senior level. This means there will be some players on this list that might surprise and may never play for the United States, but they could and isn’t that possibility what makes tracking all of these guys fun?

In this series I will be reporting on players born in years 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2007 — the U19 to U15 levels from the 2022 season. The first part of this series will focus on who I grade as the top 20 prospects for the 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2007 class and then it will commence with a youth talent ranking of all the United States MLS clubs, specifically looking at the talent that each club has within their 2003 to 2007 classes. 

Youth Grading Framework

Let’s start by saying it is really difficult to scout and grade youth soccer players and it gets even harder the younger you go, which is why I don’t typically scout players below the U15 level. My grading system is comprised of three categories: physical profile, technical ability and soccer intelligence / intangibles. There are a lot of sub-categories within each, but I won’t go that deep here. The grades that I give are based on where the player is at relative to their age level, not where I project them to be. With this framework, it’s possible that a player grades out as an elite U17 player, but doesn’t progress in any of the aspects of the game and turns out to be a very average player. 

2003 Class — Top 20

The 2003 class is one of the most talented groups in recent history and probably the second most talented group of the five classes that I will be covering. This is the group that is eligible for the U20 World Cup next summer, so it is an important one to get to know. Additionally, many of these players were on the U20 team that won the Concacaf tournament that qualified the United States for both the 2023 U20 World Cup and the 2024 Olympics. What you might find interesting is that many of the players on this list were not on that roster. The reasons for that vary, but the most common are that they were not released by their clubs, they were in offseason training overseas or they were injured. This shows how deep this class is and that there is another level they can hit if some of these other players are available for the 2023 tournament. 

#1 | CF, Ricardo Pepi, FC Augsburg

I think a lot of us forget how young Ricardo Pepi is and have become impatient with his progress in the German Bundesliga, but it’s important to remember that Pepi was eligible for the U20 Concacaf Championships. Paxten Aaronson dominated the tournament, but doesn’t start for Philadelphia — imagine what Pepi would have done in that tournament? The point here is that he is still very advanced for his age. He is the only player on this list to impact the USMNT and he is the only player to carve out a role in one of the big 5 leagues in Europe. And let’s not forget he was sold for a base of 18M! We should all still be very excited about Rico and give him time to adjust and develop in Germany.

What makes him special? 

I believe that it is Rico’s mentality that makes him a special young player. Yes, he has all of the tools to be a great striker, but it is his work rate, determination and his desire and understanding for how to get in dangerous positions that make him a special talent. 

Biggest opportunity for improvement? 

I think Rico can become a little more effective in creating his own space for his own opportunities. He is still a little rough with the ball at his feet and so often times he is reliant on others to find him in dangerous places. World class strikers can create their own opportunities and be in the right place at the right time. 

#2 | LCB, Bryan Okoh, RB Salzburg

Bryan Okoh is a Swiss-American that has never played for the United States, but he still could. Bryan was days away from not being eligible for this list because he was about to get his first start for Switzerland senior team in a World Cup Qualifying game, but unfortunately hurt his knee in training and has not played a competitive game since. The fact that Switzerland was going to get Bryan a senior team cap in WCQ before he ever played a single Austrian Bundesliga minute tells you how highly they think of him.

All reports are that he is recovering well and getting back to fitness. Bryan has not yet penetrated the RB Salzburg first team, but if he gets back to full fitness, I think that could happen towards the end of this season or next season. He seems pretty committed to Switzerland so I think it is a real long shot that he ever plays for the red, white and blue, but you never know! 

What makes him special? 

There are quite a lot of things to like about Bryan Okoh’s game but it’s hard not to start with the physical profile. If you were going to put together a modern day center-back, they’d probably look a lot like Bryan. He has a strong frame, he is quick and fast and he is plenty big enough to be effective in the air. Did I mention he is left-footed? Yeah, he’s got all of the tools to be a special LCB for a long time. 

Biggest opportunity for improvement? 

I believe that the biggest thing for Bryan right now is more game time at a higher level of competition. As a center-back, developing instincts and decision making at a high level of competition requires minutes and he hasn’t had a lot of opportunity to play highly competitive soccer yet. He is still very young for a center-back and as long as he stays fit this will likely come very soon. 

#3 | RW, Kevin Paredes, VfL Wolfsburg

Kevin Paredes is a Dominican-American who moved from DC United to Wolfsburg during the 2022 winter transfer window. Many pundits thought that the move was premature and that another half season or full season in MLS would have better prepared him for a move overseas and a big year could have net a bigger return for DC United. I was one of the people in that camp, but I will never criticize a player for moving to Europe, especially when it is to a big club because you never know what will happen in life and you never know if an opportunity will come again. So far, Kevin hasn’t had much of a chance at Wolfsburg. He played in 2 games last year in blowouts. This year, the goal for Kevin is to get consistent minutes and earn the trust of his manager to have a consistent role. 

What makes him special? 

Kevin is one of the best dribblers in the entire USMNT pool. His combination of technical ability, creativity and quickness make him a nightmare to defend 1v1. This is a major reason why I see him best suited on the wing because it is where he can leverage his best trait most often. The next step for Kevin is to get stronger. Once he does that, he could be pretty unstoppable in 1v1 situations. 

Biggest opportunity for improvement? 

Kevin really needs to find a positional home and get a chance to develop there. For DC United he was primarily a left-wingback and for Wolfsburg we have seen him play both as an attacking midfielder and a right-wing. I think his game is best suited to be a left-footed right-wing that can leverage his dribbling ability to cut in and shoot off of his dominant foot. Hopefully Wolfsburg will provide some consistency and opportunity to grow. 

#4 | LB, Jonathan Gómez, REAL SOCIEDAD B

Jonathan Gomez or JoGo, is the top Mexican-American dual national that has yet to declare his commitment to either national team. He has played in senior friendlies for both countries and has also been in camps for both U20 teams. He did not play in the Concacaf U20 tournament because of a knock, but it was looking like he was going to play for Mexico, but that is not 100% confirmed. Mexico did not make the U20 World Cup, so JoGo can still play for the United States in that tournament if he does not declare for Mexico before then. There will be upcoming decisions for JoGo to make and the fans from both federations will be watching with bated breath. On the club side of things, Jonathan is trying to break into the Real Sociedad first team. It is looking like he will get some opportunities with the first team this season and split his time between the first team and B team. The sooner he starts impacting the first team, the sooner the dual national race will heat up even more. 

What makes him special? 

Whenever I have talked to people that have followed JoGo’s development about what impresses them the most, they all say the same thing: how quickly he adapts when moving from one level of competition to a higher level of competition. This narrative speaks to his elite soccer intelligence and his work ethic.

Biggest opportunity for improvement? 

JoGo is asked to be a left-back in defensive line of four people, which means he has critical defensive responsibilities. This is an area where JoGo can improve to make him more ready for LaLiga and for International soccer. More specifically, JoGo physicality on the defensive end is where he needs to be more reliable. As of right now, bigger attackers can get the best of him in duel situations and moments where you need your fullback to hold up physically — for example when a fullback needs to rotate and cover on the weak side of an attack. 

#5 | CM, Jack McGlynn, Philadelphia Union

American soccer academies have not historically produce a lot of players that are elite technically, but Jack McGlynn is just that. Jack, like Paxten mentioned above, came through the Philadelphia Academy and is in his second professional season. Jack is having the most productive second season of the young Philadelphia products and is started to get some consistent starts. Jack was also part of the recent U20 Concacaf Championship team. Jack is another player that is certainly on the European radar. He has the type of profile that will be coveted by certain clubs in certain leagues, specifically the Spanish LaLiga and Italian Serie A.  

What makes him special? 

To put it simply, his left foot, but to be more specific I think it is his vision and array of passes that he is capable of completing. He is an elite passer by any standard, you name the type of pass, he can execute at a very consistent rate. He can also a strike it, but I think his passing ability is what really makes him special. 

Biggest opportunity for improvement? 

The big knock on Jack is his speed and quickness shortcomings. There is still time for Jack to develop physically, but I don’t think it’s reasonable to believe he is going to get much faster or quicker, but he can get stronger and with the right supporting cast and in the right system, Jack is a major weapon. 

#6 | AM, Paxten Aaronson, Philadelphia Union

Paxten Aaronson is the brother of Brenden Aaronson if you didn’t know already. Paxten, like Brenden, is making a name for himself as a US soccer player. Paxten is in his second pro season with Philly Union and hasn’t had as big of an impact this year in MLS as many though, including myself, but he had a massive impact at the Concacaf U20 tournament earlier this summer and he won player of the tournament. Paxten has a lot of attention from notable clubs in Europe, but it may be another year before we see him leave. It would be nice to see him become a more consistent contributor for Philadelphia before he departs. 

What makes him special? 

Paxten’s ideal position is an attacking-mid similar to his brother, but he is a different kind of player. What I like most about Paxten’s game is his composure and technique in the final third. He’s very adept at setting up his teammates for big chances and getting in dangerous spots that give him good chances to score. 

Biggest opportunity for improvement? 

Paxten needs to get a little stronger on the ball so that he can make more of an impact with the ball at his feet. He is a fairly technical dribbler, not super creative, but efficient and that ability can be magnified in a positive way if he could protect the ball more from big and strong defenders. 

#7 | LW, Brian Gutiérrez, Chicago Fire

Brian Gutierrez (Guti) is a Mexican-American in his second professional season with Chicago after coming up through the Fire Academy. Brian has not always been touted as a noteworthy prospect, yet he has developed into a really good prospect and is becoming a very effective professional player at a young age. Guti has been a part time starter and consistent contributor this season and he continues to develop his game. He wasn’t released to play for the U20s this summer, but will be a preferred selection for this group if available. Another year or so of growth will likely initiate demand overseas and there are likely clubs monitoring him already. 

What makes him special? 

I really love Brian’s fearlessness and creativity when he is attacking a defense. This trait first caught my eye in the Revelations Cup against Brazil when the US team was getting dominated pretty badly. Brian came on in the second half and just a fearlessness about him and he really made things happen. I love an attacker that is courageous and is willing to try things because it shows a high level of confidence. 

Biggest opportunity for improvement? 

The ambition described above is a little bit of a double edge sword. While I love his fearlessness, as he continues to develop technically, I’d love to see him be a little more measured and clinical without taking that bravery away too much. Perfecting that balance is what makes a great attacking player. 

#8 | AM, Caden Clark, New York Red Bulls (RB Leipzig)

Caden Clark has long been a top prospect in this class. Talent has never been the question with Caden, more recently the question has been availability and consistency. Caden was off to a really hot start last season and was on track to join the USMNT for the Gold Cup before an Appendectomy sidelined him and derailed his season. He started to regain his form at the end of the season. This year was kind of the same, he had some nice moments early in the season but an injury at a U20 camp sidelined him and he still doesn’t look like he is back in form.

Last summer Caden signed a deal with RB Leipzig, but he has yet to join the club. There have been rumors that Caden isn’t happy with his role at NYRB and he’d like to move to Europe this summer. We’ll see if that happens and if that helps him continue to grow and eventually get a chance with RB Leipzig. 

What makes him special? 

There is a ton to like about Caden’s game but what I like most is his vision and ability to execute high difficulty passes in the final third. To me, this is what makes him more of a 10 than a wing or an 8 because he can find and execute that final ball to unlock a defense. 

Biggest opportunity for improvement? 

Good things tend to happen when Caden is on the ball, but he doesn’t get on the ball enough. He needs to continue to learn how to make himself available and more consistently impact a game. Even in the U20 tournament there were times where he went missing for stretches in the game. 

#9 | CM, Alex Alvarado Jr, FC Vizela

Alex Alvarado is another Mexican-American that could likely be coveted by both Federations, but as of right now, Alex has only played for the US and I have not heard any reports that he is thinking otherwise. Alex came up through the LA Galaxy system but left last summer to join recently promoted Portuguese club, Vizela. Alex spent some time in USL with LA Galaxy’s reserve team in 2020 and impressed, but he really came out of nowhere to get first team minutes with Vizela last year, one of the few teenagers to get time in the first tier of Portugal. Alvarado has become more of a known name after the Concacaf U20 tournament after having a very good tournament and showing a ton of ability. It has been speculated that Alex is inline for a big jump in minutes this year with Vizela who surprised many by avoiding relegation last season. Some people are even speculating that Alex might be a starter for Vizela. If so, Alex would be the first player in this age group to become a consistent starter in Europe. 

What makes him special? 

Alex is a really well rounded player but I think it is his ball carrying ability that I like the most. He is really smooth on the half turn and he knows how to break lines with his dribbling ability and more often than not he releases the ball at the right moments. 

Biggest opportunity for improvement? 

One of the other areas of Alex’s game that I really admire is his work rate and toughness, but sometimes that aggressiveness lacks control and he can go into challenges erratically. In order for him to stay on the field more by not accumulating cards and injuries, I’d like to see him be a little more precise and measured with his tackles. 

#10 | RB, Justin Che, TSG 1899 Hoffenheim

Justin Che is a German-American and a really challenging player to grade and is a player that a lot of USYNT pundits disagree on because of it. Justin came through the Dallas Academy and also had a loan stint with Bayern Munich’s U19s. He played half of a season with Dallas last year at RB and then went on a 18-month loan with Hoffenheim where they have an option to buy. At Hoffenheim he has played as a right wing-back and a right center-back in a back line of three. A big part of what makes Justin a tough grade is that his position is unclear. Unfortunately, it seems that the loan with Hoffenheim isn’t going to plan and it is unclear where Justin could go from here given he has a full season left on the loan deal. He could return to Dallas and likely get a decent amount of playing time there, or he could look to get another deal to Europe. 

What makes him special? 

Justin has as much talent as anyone on this list. He is big, strong, fast and he is pretty impressive on the ball as a dribbler and a passer. 

Biggest opportunity for improvement? 

The big question scouts and managers have had with Justin is his defensive instincts and awareness. He has really struggled to track runs over his young career and if the state of the Hoffenheim loan is any indication, it doesn’t seem to be improving at a fast enough rate. Justin has all the tools, but if he can’t be trusted defensively it is going to be tough for him to get minutes anywhere. As of right now, I think right-back is where he is best suited to make a positive impact on the pitch. 

#11 | AM, Diego Luna, Real Salt Lake

Diego Luna is Mexican-American and another star from the Concacaf U20 tournament. Diego has taken a different path to get to where he is at. He started in the San Jose Earthquakes Academy and then moved to the Barca Residency in Arizona. From Barca, he went to USL club El Paso. After a very impressive first season at El Paso and a promising start to the 2022 season, Diego moved to Real Salt Lake in MLS. Diego went on trial with a few clubs in Portugal as well before moving to RSL. Diego is slowly working his way into the RSL rotation. He has made six appearances and one start. It looks like it is going to take a little time to adjust to the higher level of competition. 

What makes him special? 

Diego is a really unique player and not just because of his body type, but because he is a very cerebral and creative player. It’s that creativity that stands out to me. He sees things and tries things that a lot of other players might miss and a lot of times that leads to numerical advantages and great opportunities for his team. 

Biggest opportunity for improvement? 

It’s the easiest and obvious thing to say, and I apologize for that, but he doesn’t have the typical body type of a professional soccer player — and that is more than okay — but he will need to maximize his fitness levels to reach his highest ceiling. 

#12 | LW, Dante Sealy, Jong PSV (FC Dallas)

Dante is Trinidadian-American and another Dallas Academy prospect that has been highly regarded for a long time. Dante is a left footed winger with a ton of physical and technical ability. Dante is currently on loan with PSVs U21 team and on a homegrown contract with Dallas. He debuted for Dallas in 2020, but did not play much in 2020 or 2021 before going on loan to PSV. His first season at PSV had a very high peak with a hat-trick performance, but he did not score the rest of the season (he played in 18 more games). It’s that inconsistency that has been the biggest criticism of him, he tends to disappear. If PSV is going to consider keeping him and giving him an opportunity with the first team, he is going to need to be a lot more consistent and have a big season for Jong PSV. 

What makes him special? 

Dante has a rare combination of quickness, strength and dribbling ability that make him a lot to handle in 1v1 situations. In an interview, Paxten Aaronson said that Dante was the most impressive player in camp during the initial U20 camp late in 2021. The talent is absolutely there. 

Biggest opportunity for improvement? 

This was noted above, but I’ll say it again, Dante needs to show that he can deliver high level performances more consistently. Is it a focus thing? Effort thing? I don’t know but this will determine how high he can take his career. 

#13 | RW, Jonathan Perez, LA Galaxy

Jonathan Perez is a Mexican-American that has come up through the LA Galaxy Academy and signed a homegrown contract in 2020. Unfortunately for US soccer fans, Jonathan is reportedly very committed to Mexico and it is pretty unlikely he suits up for the Red, White and Blue, but he fits the criteria for this list and he is a very good player. Johnny has not played for the US since the U16 level and has been a fixture for Mexico youth teams from that point on. Mexico did not qualify for the U20 World Cup or the Olympics, so that means Perez won’t have any competitive tournaments with Mexico for the remainder of his youth career, so his next decision will be his biggest decision, if and when that comes, and that will be at the senior level. At the club level, like many Galaxy products, he hasn’t received a ton of opportunity, only 18 league minutes — most of his time lately has come with G2 in USL. 

What makes him special? 

Perez is a coveted left-footed winger that plays on the right side which allows him to use his very good ball manipulation and ball control to beat defenders 1v1 and cut in on his strong left foot and he does have a good left foot. He is also good at going to the end line with a nice burst and getting dangerous crosses in. He is a pretty polished winger that can be very dangerous in the attack. 

Biggest opportunity for improvement? 

Jonathan can get bodied by bigger and stronger defenders, so adding a little bit of muscle to his frame will help him sustain longer play against more physical competition. 

#14 | RCB, Jalen Neal, LA Galaxy

Jalen is a LA Galaxy Academy product who has yet to receive his first team debut in MLS. He is in his third season for LA Galaxy II. Each season he has played more and more minutes at the USL level and this year he has been a starter whenever he is available. The LA Galaxy manager, Greg Vanney, spoke very highly of Jalen in the preseason which led me to believe that Jalen might get a chance to breakthrough with the first team this year. So far, there has been no sign of that. He has only made the bench twice all season. Hopefully Jalen will get a chance at some point this season or next. 

What makes him special? 

Jalen is a very well-rounded center-back prospect. There aren’t many big holes in his game, but there aren’t a lot of superlatives either. He has pretty good size, good mobility, he is aggressive, he has pretty good instincts and awareness and he is above average as a passer. 

Biggest opportunity for improvement? 

I think the biggest thing keeping Jalen from getting a shot with LA Galaxy is his strength and projection to be able to handle grown men attackers consistently. Remember that center-backs tend to breakthrough much later than other positions and the physicality of the position is a big part of it. He has shown growth in this area in USL where he does face grown men, but further filling out his frame will definitely help his case for MLS minutes. 

#15| WING, Cade Cowell, San Jose Earthquakes

Cade is a Mexican-American and a San Jose homegrown that is in his third season with the first team. He had a breakout season of sorts last year with 5 goals and 5 assists in only 1,600+ minutes, a pretty impressive output rate. He has been in and out of the starting lineup this year and has been contributing at a slightly lesser clip. There was a time when Cade was much higher on my 2003 list, but the development curve seems to be flattening out a bit, which is the big concern. There is still a good amount of interest overseas because of the elite physical profile — San Jose recently turned down an offer from Reims in Ligue 1. The best thing for Cade might be a change of scenery. Perhaps it is San Jose that hasn’t helped in his development? Not sure, but San Jose wants to cash in on Cade so they are likely waiting for his stock to pop back up a bit. Cade is still a very intriguing prospect with a high ceiling. 

What makes him special? 

As mentioned earlier, Cade is a very elite prospect physically. He does not look like most teenagers. I believe he was offered a football scholarship from San Jose St, but chose soccer instead. Cade is strong, quick and has good long speed, very few players can keep up with him in space. 

Biggest opportunity for improvement? 

The biggest thing keeping Cade from being an elite prospect is his ball control and touch. Right now, he doesn’t have a lot of ways to beat defenders 1v1 outside of using his speed and power and that approach won’t work at the highest levels. He needs to develop his technical ability on the ball and have a more of a diverse plan to beat defenders. 

#16 | RB, Kayden Pierre, Sporting Kansas City

Kayden Pierre is an ascending player on this list. I was not super impressed with him in his early U20 camps and appearances, but he’s hit a different level this year and Sporting KC has taken notice. He has been starting pretty regularly for a struggling KC team. He started his Academy career at Vardar before joining KCs Academy in 2018. This is his first season in the MLS after receiving a homegrown contract last year. The big change I have seen in Kayden is that he appears to have added muscle and he seems a lot more confident on the ball. Kayden has the looks of a late bloomer that could end up having one of the better careers from this class. 

What makes him special? 

Kayden is another with a well-rounded game, but doesn’t do anything at an elite level quite yet. He has a really nice physical profile for a RB, especially know that he has added some strength. He has always had great speed. I like his offensive skillset as well, he is tidy with the ball and he is an accurate passer/crosser. 

Biggest opportunity for improvement? 

Kayden is a pretty good defender, maybe not concretely above average, but he is getting there. I’d like to see his positioning and awareness continue to improve as a weak side defender. 

#17 | CM, Moses Nyeman, DC United

Moses Nyeman is a DC homegrown who was considered an elite prospect in his earlier academy years. The trend line for Moses hasn’t been great lately, mainly due to injuries. Moses is in his third season for DC and after starting the first two games of the season, he has not made an appearance since. He was injured for a while, but recently his absence have been due to coaches decisions. I still believe Moses can be a good professional player, but he needs to stay fit and get more consistent minutes to continue to develop. Moses has not yet played with the current U20 cycle due to availability and fitness, but I still think he has a chance to get into that squad and make the U20 World Cup roster. 

What makes him special? 

Moses has always been able to control the ball really well. He is a player that can beat a press or breakdown a defense with his quickness and his dribbling ability. 

Biggest opportunity for improvement? 

Moses will never be the biggest guy on the field, but that shouldn’t hurt him too much because he is very skilled and quick. He has also added some muscle in recent years. The biggest thing for Moses is to stay healthy and get minutes. 

#18 | CF, Quími Ordóñez, FC Cincinnati

Quimi is a Guatemalan-American who has only represented Guatemala at the Youth International level, most recently at the Concacaf U20 tournament where he was a standout, scoring 5 goals in 6 games. Quimi started at the Columbus Academy but moved to Cincinnati’s Academy in 2019. Last year he was signed to a homegrown deal. This is his first season where he has received first team minutes, but he is getting the majority of his minutes in MLS Next Pro and that is where he caught my eye. He was never invited to a US U20 camp from what I know and I think that was a mistake. Without Pepi, the U20 group was thin on strikers and I think Quimi would have been a really good option for the team, and he justified that thought in the U20 tournament. 

What makes him special? 

What first caught my eye with Quimi is his composure in the final third. He seems to make really good decisions and is pretty clinical when executing on those ideas. He is smooth on the ball and he is a good passer in tight spaces. He has also shown that he can score in a variety of ways. 

Biggest opportunity for improvement? 

The biggest thing Quimi needs is more game time against higher competition so he gets more experience understanding how he can beat more experienced and higher quality defenses. Unfortunately right now there are a lot of really good options at striker for FC Cincinnati so he isn’t getting a ton of opportunity. 

#19 | DM/CM, Danny Leyva, Seattle Sounders

Danny Leyva is a Mexican-American and a Seattle homegrown and was one of the first 2003s to receive a pro deal in 2019, the same year he made his MLS debut, but he didn’t really start getting minutes until last year. Danny has been considered a top 2003 for a long time, but his start has faded a bit over the last couple of years. He is still a very good prospect with some really impressive tools. He has struggled to carve out a significant role in Seattle, and frankly, Seattle has struggled to give young talents a significant role. This year, he was surpassed in the midfield depth chart by 2005, Obed Vargas, who recently has been sidelined due to a back injury. That has given Danny a little bit more of an opportunity, but not as much as I would have like to see. It’s possible that Danny may need a move to get more of an opportunity because the midfield group is pretty crowded in Seattle right now. 

What makes him special? 

Danny has a similar profile to Jack McGlynn, but his technical tools are not quite as elite and his physical tools are a little bit better. Danny has a really nice touch and ball control and he is a very, very good passer. He can play both the 6 and the 8, though he needs an athletic partner in midfield to be most effective. 

Biggest opportunity for improvement? 

Danny can look like a liability at times defensively and while he may never be more than average physically, he can up his reading of the game so he is one step ahead of his opponents to make up for a lack of quickness. 

#20 | DM, Daniel Edelman, New York Red Bulls

Danny Edelman started with PDA and moved to the RB Academy in 2020. He received his homegrown deal at the beginning of this season. Danny is a true Red Bulls type of player: high energy, aggressive and a non stop motor. Danny profiles as more of a destroyer type as a 6, but his ball skills have improved in the last year or two. Danny has received spot minutes this year which I think is appropriate for where he is at. He was part of the Concacaf U20 championship team and split time with 2004, Rokas Pukstas as the 6 for that team. That is a position that should have a good amount of competition heading into the U20 World Cup between Vargas, Leyva, Edelman, Pukstas and even Alvarado who can play there. 

What makes him special? 

Like a lot of Red Bull prospects, I love Danny’s motor and aggressiveness. He does a great job of managing danger on counter attacks and triggering counters himself. He has a nice athletic profile and his mentality on the pitch is one a manager will love.

Biggest opportunity for improvement? 

In order for Danny to move from a good prospect to a very good prospect, he needs to continue to improve on the ball. Right now he is efficient and makes the smart and safe plays, which is nothing to complain about, but if he can become a more dangerous and brave passer, he could become a very good player from this age group. 

Honorable Mentions: RB, Mauricio Cuevas, Club NXT / GK, Alex Borto, Fulham U21 / WING, Vaughn Covil, Hull City / CB, Casey Walls, San Jose Earthquakes / CB, Marcus Ferkranus, Phoenix Rising FC (LA Galaxy) / AM, Tyler Wolff, SK Beveren (Atlanta United) / WING, Tyler Freeman, Loudoun United / WING, Edson Azcuna, El Paso Locomotive (Inter Miami)




Pedro Soma is bringing Ginga flair to the USMNT



Last weekend, all hope seemed lost for the U.S. Under-17 Men’s National Team in Guatemala City when they trailed Mexico 2-0 in the second half of their regional final clash. But in one moment, faith was restored. A corner kick met the head of 16-year-old Pedro Soma, who towered over the opposing defender, and the ball flew into the net at the back post with impressive power and accuracy. While the Baby Nats couldn’t complete the comeback and ultimately had to settle for a silver medal, Soma was the star of the tournament, and it was something of a coming-out party for the young midfielder from Coconut Creek, Florida.

The son of a Brazilian mother, Pedro already had a soccer ball at his feet by the time he was 18 months old. His love for the sport was passed on directly from his parents, and growing up surrounded by soccer helped him get an early start.

“I started playing soccer when I was one-and-a-half years old,” Soma told us last week in an exclusive interview via video call. “When I was six or seven, I joined a team called Boca United, now called South Florida Football Academy.”

Pedro, or Pedrinho, as he is also known, was born in the suburbs of Boca Raton and spent his early years playing in that city. The rich soccer culture in South Florida created many opportunities to compete against fierce competition, with a number of strong academies located in the area. In October of 2018, though, a new opportunity presented itself.

“There was a student exchange program in Barcelona, so I moved there in 2018,” says Soma. “I played there for two years, and then Cornellà scouted me. I was able to go to Cornellà, and now it is my third season there.”

UE Cornellà is a small third-division club located just a short fifteen-minute drive west of the famous Camp Nou. It is known for its development and has produced players such as Jordi Alba, Keita Baldé, and Victor Ruiz.

“I’m really enjoying it, it’s one of the top teams in Catalunya. It is a great environment there. There are hundreds of teams [in Catalunya], you always play against Barcelona, Espanyol, Girona… Cornellà is always right there with those teams in contention to win the leagues. It’s really exciting to be playing overseas, barely any kids get to do that.”

While very few teenage Americans have the opportunity to hone their skills in Europe before they are 16, the city of Barcelona has the anomaly of currently being home to three talented U.S. youth internationals. In addition to Soma at Cornellà, both Adrian Gill and Diego Kochen are currently playing for FC Barcelona’s famed academy, La Masia. Soma describes Kochen, a fellow Floridian who is now the backup goalkeeper for Barça B, as his best friend and added that having those two other Americans living nearby has been beneficial for him.

Cornellà is not the end goal for the top players that come through the Academy. Its youth system has traditionally served as a feeder for bigger clubs in Cataluyna and adjacent regions. La Liga mainstays like Valencia and Villarreal often look for talent in clubs like Cornellà, in addition to Barcelona-based teams like FC Barcelona and Espanyol. For Pedro, a move to a club like that is the eventual next step.

“Absolutely, that is a great thing that would happen. Right now, I’m focused on the U.S. and Cornellà and getting the best out of every single game.”

Saying that he has made the most of his opportunities would be an understatement. Pedro received his first USYNT call-up last January (with what he called an “unexpected” email) and hasn’t looked back since. He was a standout in his first camp and on a trip to South America in March, which earned him a recall for the UEFA Development Tournament in May. Soma was one of the best players on the field as the U.S. cruised past Belgium 3-0 and then soundly defeated Portugal 2-1.

“Pedro has been exceptional,” says U-17 Men’s National Team head coach Gonzalo Segares. “We’ve seen him grow throughout this whole process; he’s become a role model and a leader of this group, not only with his behavior off the field but also on the field with his professionalism and approach.”

An excellent cycle resulted in a call-up to the CONCACAF U-17 Championship in Guatemala last month. The U.S. coasted through the group stage, defeating Barbados, Trinidad, and Canada, and advanced to the knockout stages. Soma was a rock in the midfield as they defeated the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, and Canada, securing qualification for the U-17 World Cup in Peru later this year. Soma was, by almost all accounts, the standout player of the competition as he showed incredible technical and physical proficiency throughout the U.S.’ run to the final.

Segares added that Pedro is “someone that is very good in aerial duels, good in tackles, very comfortable under pressure… whenever teams decide to press us high, he recognizes where the pressure is coming from, and where he can find our outlets. He had a very strong tournament.”

Soma’s defensive prowess and passing range make him a perfect fit for the #6 position in the way the U.S. wants to play, but he is also capable of playing as a #8 slightly further up the field. Pedro says that he views former USMNT captain Michael Bradley as a role model, and alongside Xavi and Iniesta, he outlined Brazil’s Casemiro as one of his favorite players.

“People say that I have the Brazilian Ginga,” Soma said with a smile. “Maybe I was just born with it, I love to play, and it comes out naturally.”

With the CONCACAF Championship now firmly in the rear-view mirror, it’s now back to Cornellà for the rest of 2023, building up to the FIFA U-17 World Cup in the Fall. While the Final in Guatemala didn’t go as hoped, it should be said that the sky is still the limit when the U-17s travel to Peru to compete on the global stage.

“This is a really, really good group,” Soma stated. “There are a lot of top guys who aren’t even with this team [in Guatemala]. We could do some really good stuff in the World Cup… Anything is possible.”

The strength of the 2006 age group that competed in Guatemala last month makes it only more impressive that Soma was able to stand out in the way that he did. For most USMNT fans, it was the first time they were introduced to his game. It almost certainly won’t be the last. Soma will be 20 years old when the senior men’s World Cup comes to the United States in 2026, and he relishes the opportunity to compete for a once-in-a-generation opportunity to play in the world’s most prestigious sporting event on home soil.

“[2026] is an opportunity for us to win it all,” Soma says. “Being there is a goal, it’s an objective. I have three years to work towards that. Every single game matters until that point, I need to give it my all to see if I can make that team.”

Between now and then, there’s lots of work to do. But if Pedrinho continues on his current trajectory, there’s no doubt he’ll be a key part of the bright future that exists for U.S. Soccer in 2026 and beyond.

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2022: Year in Review




2022 Ended for the Americans with a painful knockout loss to Holland 3-1. The young team had shown well in the Group stage. While they were unable to close out the Wales match due to a defensive error providing a game-tying penalty, they showed well against England and earned a victory in a must-win over Iran to enter the knockout tournament. The USMNT were the only CONCACAF side to move out of the group stage.

There are a lot of mixed feelings from fans, as many believed this to be the most talented group that the US has brought to a tournament and that the opportunities were available in the Holland match to draw or win that game near the end of regulation. The lack of Brendan Aaronson and Gio Reyna minutes brought a lot of tense feedback from fans. 

After the exit, more controversy rose as US Coach Gregg Berhalter’s comments, thought to be off the record, were released about Gio Reyna. Fans mixed feelings about the manager already well documented over the last few years will make for an interesting 2023 as USSF and Berhalter decide what their next steps are.  

The young core of this American side will be in their prime in 2026 at home for the next World Cup. They no longer will have to qualify as they host the event. They will lose very few contributors to qualifying or their experience in Qatar as they determine who to include for 2026. This provides a great opportunity to build over the next four years on top of the team’s confidence and core that has developed in a really strong core. 

The Team 

A shout to the contributors of 2022 to, here’s my favorite contribution from each writer.
Marcus Chairez filled a mountain of a gap with a little support from Alex Calabrese and Chris from Football Report to keep us informed on the YNT up-and-coming stars all year long.
Daniel Smith’s Luca de la Torre piece getting a RT from none other than Luca himself. The timing of Daniel’s analysis was incredible as shortly after LDLT began to be included in Gregg’s side. A coincidence? I don’t think so.

Consistent entries from Patrick Keeler, Chris Kerr, Benton Newman and Nicholas Carr helped keep us updated on happenings and players like Gio Reyna and the upcoming Josh Wynder. The ever-consistent annual entry from Grace Ott was finally rewarded with an MLS CCL finals winner. 
We welcome some new entries including Thomas Deschaine’s incredible historic and data-driven contributions to the USMNT. Tom Byer is doing incredible work in Japan and for the Houston Dynamo – definitely, one to watch as he works to transform the game domestically from the cradle to the pitch. Great work from Josh Hertz and Karun Sagar with debuts to   

Patrick Keeler:

Alex Calabrese:

Daniel Smith:

Chris Kerr:

Tom Byer:

Josh Hertz:

Karun Sagar:

Chris from Football Report:

Nicholas Carr:

Grace Ott:


The march begins a new to 2026. The core group now has World Cup experience, they’ve won, and they’ve advanced to the knockout stage. The next step in their development is ahead and it could be as early as December’s transfer window that might have an impact on the USMNT and the upcoming stars who have aspirations to join this group. 

The belief continues to grow in this youthful side, and that belief is spreading to the next generation. Those who hope to follow in these great young Americans’ footsteps in the world’s top leagues and top clubs. Can they be the depth to rest some of our players in the group stage that we desperately lacked? 

There is much to look forward to as early as next year as the next young Americans’ quest for glory. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you and your’s!  

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MLS 2022 — American U21 Impact Rankings — Season Wrap Up



At a high level, this was a down year for high impact American U21s in MLS, especially compared to last year. A lot of the big time prospects moved abroad or had a down year, but there were still some great seasons to highlight and some players that are likely to get a move abroad. Additionally, there are signs that next year we could see a bounceback in impact as there were some emerging performances at the end of the season. 

#1 | LB, John Tolkin, New York Red Bulls (2002)

Minutes: 2744
G+: 0.35
G+A / 90: 0.14
xGA / 90: 0.13
Goals: 1
Assists: 3

John takes home the number one spot after an incredibly productive and consistent 2022 season. He was one of the best left-backs in MLS.  John was at or near the top of this list the entire season and he was an iron man for the Red Bulls, starting 31 of 34 games and logging over 2700 minutes, good for third most minutes of eligible players behind Gaga Slonina and Leon Flach. 

This was John’s second season as a starter and he improved his goal contributions from 2 to 4, logging 1 goal and 3 assists, right in line with his expected numbers. John does not get on the ball as much as other full-backs in different systems, but he has the ball playing ability to play in a more possession heavy system. John finished the year with a positive G+ at 0.35. I was surprised to see that he scored negatively in both dribbling and passing, areas I think he is strong in based on what I see. Perhaps this is due to him not getting on the ball that much? He takes crosses for NYRB and does a good job with them. He is clearly a good passer. He scored positively in fouling, receiving and shooting. He does strike the ball very cleanly. 

John has one more year of eligibility on this list and if he stays in the MLS he would be a favorite to top this list again next year. If I had to guess, I would say John is going to get a move abroad in January. I don’t think he has much left to prove in MLS and I think a different system would be good for his development. There is reported interest and I would expect the time is now. On the National team side of things, John seemed close to getting a chance with the USMNT, but ran out of time. With the backup left-back spot still unresolved, John may start getting considerable looks after the World Cup. In the meantime, he is eligible for the U23 Olympic team and is the favorite to start for that group. 

#2 | GK, Gaga Slonina, Chicago Fire (2004)

Minutes: 2790
G+: -0.92
GA / 90: 1.41
PSxG +/- /90: +0.04
Clean Sheets: 12

It’s incredibly rare for a 17/18 year old keeper to start at any first team level and play as well as he did. Gaga started 32 of 34 games for Chicago and really only had two spells of poor form, but he was always able to work through it and return to good form. 

Gaga was 10th in MLS in post-shot expected goals minus goal allowed per 90, which I believe is the best measure of shot stopping performance. It’s unprecedented that he stopped more goals than expected and ranked in the top third of the league at such a young age. He was also 3rd in the league in clean sheets with 12, only behind the best goalkeeper in MLS, Andre Blake and fellow USMNT player Sean Johnson. He ranked average at claiming, fielding and sweeping and was below average at handling and passing, two areas he’ll need to work on. Shot stopping was by far his greatest strength this season. 

Gaga is due to start his career at Chelsea now and it will be very interesting to see what their plan is for him. There is word that Chicago would like to bring him back for another season long loan, but they have another highly talented teenage goalkeeper named Chris Brady that looks ready to take the #1 spot for Chicago. I’d love to see Gaga finish out the season starting for the U21 team and then get a loan in the Championship next season. 

Gaga is eligible for both the U20 World Cup in 2023 and the Olympics in 2024 and could be the favorite to start both tournaments if available. 

#3 | CM, Leon Flach, Philadelphia Union (2001)

Minutes: 2755
G+: -2.65
G+A / 90: 0.07
xGA / 90: 0.07
Goals: 0
Assists: 2

This was Leon’s second season with Philadelphia and his second as a full-time starter. Leon plays as the left-sided midfielder in a 4-4-2 diamond which means he plays both centrally and floats out wide and while Leon played a ton this year, second most of any eligible player on this list, his G+ was poor and he wasn’t all that effective offensively. Defense is his strong suit and I believe he is played out of position for Philadelphia. He is really a defensive-midfielder, but Philly has one of the best in MLS in Jose Martinez, so he is played out of position. 

Leon’s G+ data backs up the eye test. His strongest category is interrupting and it was his only positive category. He graded very poorly in passing, interrupting and shooting. Leon does a ton of the dirty work for Philly and while that does not show up easily in the stat sheet, it is appreciated by manager Jim Curtin. It will be interesting to see what the plan is for Leon next year. Both left-back Kai Wagner and defensive-mid Martinez could be on the move and Leon could be the replacement at either position. 

Leon will not be eligible for this list next year. Leon will likely be a fringe player for the U23 Olympic team, but his versatility could get him a few looks. 

#4 | RB, Nathan Harriel, Philadelphia Union (2001)

Minutes: 1768
G+: 0.70
G+A / 90: 0.10
xGA / 90: 0.09
Goals: 1
Assists: 1

Nathan was not a player on my radar this season and was not on my preseason top 25 list, but he won the starting RB job for the best team in MLS early in the season, but then lost that job towards the end of the year. Nathan started 20 games and logged over 1700 minutes. Nathan scored his first goal and contributed his first assists of his career this season, right in line with his expected numbers

Nathan’s strengths are as a defensive right-back and he is not as adept at getting involved in the attack and being a super threatening player out wide. Nathan had the highest G+ number of any eligible player, indicating that he was more useful than any other player given the time he received on the pitch. Unsurprisingly, interrupting was his strongest category and receiving was his second highest category, both scoring very positively. Dribbling was Nathan’s worst category. 

Nathan is a 2001 and will not be eligible for this list. He will likely be in a position battle again next year and will look to solidify himself as a full-time MLS starter. Nathan is eligible for the U23 Olympic team and will likely get a look as one of the back right-backs behind Joe Scally. 

#5 | RB, Tayvon Gray, New York City FC (2002)

Minutes: 1879
G+: -0.24
G+A / 90: 0.05
xGA / 90: 0.10
Goals: 0
Assists: 1

Last year Tayvon Gray got a chance to start at the end of the season after starting right-back Anton Tinnerholm went down with an injury. Tayvon had a chance to retain that job this season and started 22 games. The majority of games that Tayvon missed were due to various injuries, otherwise he was usually in the starting 11. He also played a few games at center-back when that position group was depleted. 

Tayvon is a more defensive minded right-back, but did record one assist. He was a bit unlucky because his expected totals were twice as much as his actuals. Tayvon did seem to improve on the ball all while continuing to be an above average defender. Tayvon had a G+ that was slightly negative and his worst categories were passing and receiving. His strongest were fouling and interrupting. 

Tayvon would greatly benefit from another year starting at right-back at the MLS level to see if his offensive production can take another step forward. Tayvon will be eligible for this list one more year and will likely be at the top half of this list throughout the year. Tayvon should also get a chance with the U23 Olympic team. 

#6 | AM, Brian Gutierrez, Chicago Fire (2003)

Minutes: 1637
G+: -0.53
G+A / 90: 0.38
xGA / 90: 0.34
Goals: 2
Assists: 5

Brian Gutierrez enjoyed a nice breakout season in 2022 starting in 22 games and appearing in all but one game. Brian split time between attacking-mid and outside on the wing. Brian was second amongst all eligible players in goal contributions with 7, 2 goals and 5 assists. Three of these contributions happened in one game where he had a goal and 2 assists. Brian did outperform his expected assist totals pretty considerably, showing a bit of luck. 

Brian’s G+ was okay, but not great. The data indicates that he is better playing through the middle of the pitch, not as much out wide, because his receiving and passing numbers are good, but his dribbling and shooting numbers are not as good. 

Brian is eligible for both the U20 World Cup in 2023 and the Olympics in 2024. He is certainly a top candidate to make the U20 roster if available and if his development continues at his current rate, he could be in the conversation for the Olympics as well. I hope Brian solidifies himself as a locked-in starter next year. Another step forward would likely see him get a move abroad in January 2024. 

#7 | AM, Ben Bender, Charlotte FC (2001)

Minutes: 1645
G+: -1.18
G+A / 90: 0.51
xGA / 90: 0.31
Goals: 3
Assists: 6

Ben Bender was the number one pick in the MLS SuperDraft and one of the surprise players to appear towards the top of this list for the majority of the season. Ben led all U21 American eligible players with 9 goal contributions. Ben started 18 games and accrued over 1600 minutes in a very good rookie campaign, though he did see his role dominish a bit towards the end of the year after Charlotte added some new players to the attack in the summer transfer window. 

Digging into the numbers, Ben did get a bit lucky on the assist side of things. His expected assist totals were 2.9 and he ended up with 6. His expected goals were on track with 3.1 and he ended up with 3 goals. He had 8 goal creating actions in total. His G+ wasn’t great at -1.18, struggling most with his dribbling and passing. His progressive passes and attempted passes were on the weaker side, which indicates that he didn’t get on the ball enough and he was not dangerous enough as a passer. This shows why assists can be a very misleading stat. Yes he had 6 but the underlying numbers indicate he was lucky and that he wasn’t a consistently dangerous player on the ball. 

Nonetheless, it was a great first professional season for Ben and there are clear areas for improvement. He won’t be eligible for this list next year, but he is eligible for the US U23 Olympic team and is likely a pool player for that squad. 

#8 | WING, Cade Cowell, San Jose Earthquakes (2003)

Minutes: 1554
G+: -0.65
G+A / 90: 0.35
xGA / 90: 0.26
Goals: 3
Assists: 3

I was expecting bigger things from Cade Cowell this year. This was his third year as an impact MLS player and the second one with a critical role, but unfortunately this year was more of a step back than a step forward for Cade. He had one more start (15), but less minutes and less goal contributions with 6 this year after 10 in 2021. Once again he outperformed his expected numbers, something we are starting to get used to with Cade. 

Cade’s G+ numbers were down this year. What that data tells us is that his dribbling continues to be an area of weakness, relying too much on speed and not enough on skill and feel. His shooting numbers were strong which speaks to his ability to outperform his expected goals. He was also negative in passing and receiving, all of which are technical areas he will need to improve to be an impact player at a higher level. His physical traits will only take him so far. 

Cade received a contract extension at the end of 2021 and there has been consistent interest overseas for Cade, but new manager Luchi Gonzalez appears keen to keep him and make him a big part of his plan. My question is whether San Jose is the right environment for Cade to develop. All signs point to no, but it could be one more year in San Jose and MLS before he goes abroad. Cade is still young, eligible for this list for two more years and he will likely be a key player for the 2023 U20 World Cup. 

#9 | CB, George Campbell, Atlanta United (2001)

Minutes: 1476
G+: -0.17
G+A / 90: 0.00
xGA / 90: 0.07
Goals: 0
Assists: 0

George, like the majority of the Atlanta United team, had an up and down season. George was the only center-back that finished in the top 25 list. It is a position that typically takes longer to become a starter and because you don’t really sub/rotate center-backs, if you are not starting, you are not playing.

George was playing a lot at the beginning of the season, especially when MIles Robinson went down with a season ending injury, but he was injured in July and never really regained his starting job back. In total he started 16 games and earned just under 1500 minutes. 

George’s numbers were solid. He did not have a goal contribution, but he was very courageous and successful in progressing the ball by dribbling and passing, two of his strong suits, though he is still inconsistent as a passer. He makes some elite level passes, but is also prone to poor decision making that leads to dangerous turnovers. Interrupting is another area where he struggled a bit. George is still young for a center-back and may get another chance to win a starting job next year. He graduates from this list next season, but is likely to be a candidate for the US U23 Olympic team.  

#10 | LB, Caleb Wiley, Atlanta United (2004)

Previous Ranking: 9

Minutes: 1497
G+: -0.98
G+A / 90: 0.12
xGA / 90: 0.21
Goals: 1
Assists: 1

Caleb Wiley was one of the better stories of the year for me. George Bello left for Germany last winter and Andrew Gutman returned from a season long loan with NYRB. This told me that Caleb would have a small role for Atlanta this year, but I wasn’t sure how big of a role he was ready for. It turns out he had a big role, in large part due to injuries, but also due to his development and ability. It was an up and down year for Caleb, but that is expected. He is a young 2004, playing at the age of 17 the entire year, making him one of the youngest players on this list. Caleb played as left-back, left wing-back and a left-winger, showing his versatility. 

Caleb had a goal and an assist, but his underlying numbers showed he was a bit unlucky to not have more. He had 1.4 expected goals and 2.1 expected assists. Caleb struggled towards the end of the year and his G+ accounted for that. It ended at a not so great -0.98. His passing was the biggest problem area, specifically I saw a lot of inconsistency with his crossing. His interrupting grade was excellent, showing his defensive ability. He is a pretty well rounded full-back that is only going to continue to get better. 

Caleb will likely have a part-time starting role next year assuming Gutman is back and healthy, but I am excited to see his development. He is eligible for this list for three more years though I would be surprised if he is in the MLS for three more years. I could see him making the move abroad in 2 years or less if he continues to progress. Caleb is my favorite to be the starting left-back for the 2023 U20 World Cup and he could be in play for the Olympics as well.

#11 | DM, Aidan Morris, Columbus Crew (2001)

Minutes: 1811
G+: -2.09
G+A / 90: 0.00
xGA / 90: 0.05
Goals: 0
Assists: 0

It was great to see Aidan Morris back on the pitch for the Crew. After a promising 2020 season and a great performance in the MLS Cup, we lost Aidan for all of 2021. He returned from his injury and took a little while to get back in the groove, but whenever I watched him I thought he played well. He was just as explosive and as aggressive as he was before the injury. Aidan is the prototypical sweeper/destroyer 6 in the mold of a Tyler Adams type. Aidan’s above the line and below the line stats are not impressive, but when you watch him you can see how he positively impacts the game. Perhaps the best data point to showcase this is that Columbus only lost one game that Aidan Morris started. That is a pretty incredible stat considering they did not make the playoffs. 

Aidan did not have a goal or an assist and his expected numbers were low as well. Aidan’s G+ was not great, but I have found that most defensive midfielder’s G+ in MLS aren’t usually too impressive. Aidan’s dribbling, passing and receiving were all quite low and his interrupting was much lower than I would have expected it to be. 

Aidan is a 2001 born player and is graduating from this list next year. I expect Aidan to be one of the defensive-midfielders in the mix for the Olympic 2024 team and a step forward in 2023 could start creating interest from abroad. 

#12 | AM, Bryce Duke, Inter Miami (2001)

Minutes: 1478
G+: -1.23
G+A / 90: 0.30
xGA / 90: 0.25
Goals: 1
Assists: 4

Bryce Duke moved from LAFC to Inter Miami this year and that move proved to be a good one for his career. Bryce never got much of an opportunity in LA, but did have a decent role for the playoff bound IMCF. Bryce started out the year with a knock, but ended up starting 16 games and appeared in 28. Bryce played as a 8, 10 and winger. 

Bryce had 1 goal and 4 assists on the year and his expected goals and assist totals were slightly lower than his actuals. Bryce had a low G+ and his dribbling was his biggest weakness. What is interesting is that Bryce does have the ability to make highlight carries and passes, but he is far too inconsistent and his decision making can be poor. If he can become more consistent I think those numbers would really improve because the technical ability is there. 

This is Bryce’s last year of eligibility on this list and he is likely a fringe player for the 2024 Olympic player pool. 

#13 | CM, Cameron Duke, Sporting Kansas City (2001)

Minutes: 1227
G+: -0.70
G+A / 90: 0.15
xGA / 90: 0.24
Goals: 0
Assists: 2

Cameron saw the most playing time of his young professional career this season, starting 13 times and earning just over 1200 minutes. He saw the majority of his time as a central-midfielder, though he also played a little bit at right-back. Cameron had zero goals and two assists, though he was a little unlucky in that his xGA/90 was 10 points higher than his actuals. He had 1.6 expected goals, but did not cash in on any. His G+ wasn’t great at -0.70 on the season and the areas he struggled the most were interrupting (-0.43) and passing (-0.62), both of which are key areas for an all-action midfielder. His strongest area was dribbling (0.19). 

Cameron looks to have a ceiling of a fringe-starter / impact sub at the MLS level. He graduates from this list this year and is unlikely to be at the top of the pool for the U23 Olympic team, though injuries and availability could change that. His versatility as a CM/RB is useful. 

#14 | GK, Rocco Rios Novo, Atlanta United (2002)

Minutes: 1395
G+: -4.63
GA / 90: 1.57
PSxG +/- /90: -0.28
Clean Sheets: 2

Rocco Rios Novo was loaned to Atlanta midway through the year after Brad Guzan went down with a season and potentially career ending injury. Rocco transferred in from Argentinian Club, Lanus. Rocco started 15 games for Atlanta and in large part struggled, specifically as a shot stopper. Rocco has below average size, but above average ball playing skills, but the shot stopping was a big problem. He had some nice moments, but overall it was a tough season for Rocco and I would not expect him back in Atlanta next year. 

Rocco had two clean sheets and gave up -0.28 more goals than expected per 90, showcasing those shot stopping struggles. His G+ was -4.88 and that grading system reiterated the shot stopping struggles while also highlighting that he was decent in all other categories, but at the end of the day, you have to make saves. 

#15 | CM, Jack McGlynn, Philadelphia Union (2003)

Minutes: 1018
G+: 0.68
G+A / 90: 0.35
xGA / 90: 0.22
Goals: 1
Assists: 3

I would say Jack McGlynn had a breakout-lite season. After a really strong Concacaf U20 Championship, he really picked up steam with the Philadelphia Union and had the best season of their talented young core. Jack started 9 games, all of which were in the second half of the season and he appeared in 23. I am excited to see how he is used in the playoffs. 

Jack had one goal and three assists on the season, outrunning his expected totals by a pretty considerable margin, but his G+ numbers were very good. He had the highest G+ of any eligible player on this list behind teammate Nathan Harriel and he did it with almost half of Nathan’s minutes. He was particularly strong as a passer and if you have ever watched Jack play, that should come as no surprise, he is an elite passer. His interrupting grade was surprisingly mediocre, which I expected to be worse, showing that the system likely masks some of those deficiencies. Receiving was his worst grade which speaks to his need to become a little tidier in tight spaces. 

It’s possible that Jack makes a move abroad this winter as there are many suitors, but I think another half year or full year in MLS would help prepare him more for that move, especially if he can earn a full-time starting job next season. Jack will be a key player for the 2023 U20 World Cup and if he takes a step or two forward, could be a good option for the 2024 Olympic team. 

#16 | WING, Indiana Vassilev, Inter Miami (2001)

Minutes: 1059
G+: 0.41
G+A / 90: 0.17
xGA / 90: 0.23
Goals: 2
Assists: 0

Indiana Vassilev returned to Miami from Aston Villa for the second season in a row on a season long loan. Indiana started 13 games and appeared in 24. He had a better stint with IMCF than last year and had one shining moment where he scored two late goals, his only two goals on the season to give Miami the win. Indiana had a strong G+, one of the few players to end the year on the positive side and he was particularly solid as a dribbler. 

Even if Indiana comes back to the MLS he won’t be eligible for this list next year and I do not expect him to be in the plans for the 2024 Olympic team. 

#17 | DM, Sebastian Berhalter, Vancouver Whitecaps (2001)

Minutes: 1023
G+: 0.32
G+A / 90: 0.00
xGA / 90: 0.05
Goals: 0
Assists: 0

Sebastian is the son of USMNT coach Gregg Berhalter. Sebastian was traded to Vancouver before the start of the season and a consistent starter for the majority of the season until an injury forced him to miss about half of the season. In total, Sebastian started 11 games and collected just over 1000 minutes. 

Sebastian isn’t a flashy player, but does a lot of the dirty work in the midfield to help his team. Sebastian did not have a goal contribution and only 0.5 expected goals and 0.3 expected assists. Sebastian did end the season with a positive G+ of 0.32, one of the few players to end the year with a positive G+. The biggest reason for the positive number was his interrupting number of +.42 which is quite good. Defensively is definitely where Sebastian shined this year. His worst category was passing. 

Sebastian is a 2001, so he is not eligible for this list next year. 

#18 | DM, Danny Leyva, Seattle Sounders (2003)

Minutes: 951
G+: -0.27
G+A / 90: 0.09
xGA / 90: 0.08
Goals: 0
Assists: 1

Danny was surpassed in the depth chart at the beginning of the year by Obed Vargas, but when Joao Paulo and Vargas went down with injury, Leyva stepped up and played pretty well in a bigger role in the second half of the season. He ended up with 12 starts and 19 appearances, adding one assist on the season.  

Danny’s G+ ended up being pretty solid, slightly negative and scoring best in interrupting and worst in receiving. I find the interrupting data point interesting because many believe he is a weak defender, but I think it is an area he has improved a lot in. 

Danny is a 2003 and thus eligible for the 2023 U20 World Cup. It is hard to say if Danny is out of favor with Mikey Varas, the manager of that team, or if he just hasn’t been available, but he hasn’t been with the group for quite some time. It would seem that Mikey prefers others, but I think Leyva can help this group and provide some stability and distribution to the midfield. It’s been reported that he is getting his Mexican eligibility together as well. 

#19 | RB, Kayden Pierre, Sporting KC (2003)

Minutes: 953
G+: -0.41
G+A / 90: 0.09
xGA / 90: 0.04
Goals: 0
Assists: 1

Kayden Pierre was one of the most noticeably improved American U21 players in my eyes this year. He went from being a very fringe prospect to potentially the best U20 right-back in the US pool. He didn’t get an opportunity until midway through the season when Graham Zusi went down with an injury, but he played really well covering for Graham in the middle part of the season where he started 9 times and appeared 19 times overall. 

Kayden didn’t create a ton of opportunities, but was strong defensively and added his first career assist. Kayden’s G+ was okay, not great, just slightly negative. He was strongest in dribbling and interrupting and weakest in receiving. 

As I said above, I think Kayden and Justin Che are the two best right-back options for the U20 group, but he has not been with the group in a while. I think Kayden is a different player from the last time he appeared for the U20s and I would love to see him get another opportunity. Hopefully next year Kayden gets a chance to be the full-time starter for Sporting KC next as Graham Zusi ages out and is out of contract at the end of this year. 

#20 | DM, Daniel Edelman, NYRB (2003)

Minutes: 993
G+: –0.83
G+A / 90: 0.09
xGA / 90: 0.06
Goals: 1
Assists: 0

Daniel Edelman had a solid first pro season for NYRB and ended up having a bigger role than many, including myself, thought he would this year. The midfield was a revolving door and Edelman ended up being a consistent starter at the end of the year. He ended with 10 starts and appeared in 16 games total. Danny is more of a sweeper/destroyer 6 like Aidan Morris, so he doesn’t get involved a ton on the offensive side of things, but he did score his first career goal and has some good shots on goal. 

Edelman’s G+ wasn’t great, ending at -0.83. He struggled the most at receiving and interrupting. I go back to my point about Aidan Morris. Defensive minded midfielders tend not to score well with G+. 

Danny is a 2003 and a core player for the U20 team. He looks to be the preferred 6 for Mikey Varas in the most important games. It also looks like Danny might get a chance to be the full-time starter for NYRB next year. 

#21 | WING, Cameron Harper, NYRB (2001)

Minutes: 765
G+: 0.52
G+A / 90: 0.47
xGA / 90: 0.30
Goals: 2
Assists: 2

I had Cameron on my preseason top 25 list and a few people laughed at me, but I had seen flashes of potential in the past and thought this was the year he might start to make an impact. For the most part I think I got that right. Cameron received 6 starts and 745 minutes, but started the year off injured and finished the year injured, so he didn’t get as much of an opportunity as he could have. 

Cameron had an impressive goals and assists per 90 average of 0.47, with 2 goals and 2 assists. He was lucky as his expected goals were at 1.1 and his expected assists were at 1.5. Overall Cameron had a really strong G+ at 0.52, scoring positively in dribbling, interrupting and passing. His receiving grade was where he had the most room for improvement. 

Cameron is another 2001 which means he will not be eligible for this list. I also do not think Cameron will be a key player for the U23 Olympic team, as I think other wingers will likely be higher on the depth chart. 

#22 | CM, Obed Vargas, Seattle Sounders (2005)

Minutes: 851
G+: -0.81
G+A / 90: 0.00
xGA / 90: 0.06
Goals: 0
Assists: 0

Obed Vargas was one of the bigger young American stories in MLS at the beginning of the year. He had surpassed Josh Atencio and Danny Leyva in the midfield and had some impressive performances in both MLS and in the Concacaf Champions League championship run. He was the first player born in 2005 to really start to breakout in the MLS. Unfortunately Obed’s season was cut short due to lingering back issues that Seattle was rightfully very careful about. Hopefully a full offseason can help Obed get back to fitness and he continues to shine next season. 

Obed played a hybrid 6/8 role for Seattle as one of the two midfielders in a 4-2-3-1 setup. Obed isn’t a flash player, but one that does a lot of the little things well to help control the midfield. Obed did not have any goal contributions in just over 800 minutes and 10 starts. His G+ was not great at that time, but he showed flashes, which is all that you are looking for in a super young player like Obed. He had positive marks for dribbling and fouling, but was negative in Interrupting, passing, receiving and shooting. Passing was his worst category and after digging into the numbers it appeared he was very safe and lacked danger with his passing. 

Hopefully Obed can build off his early success and show improvement next season. He was one of the few 2005s getting time with the US U20s and he will attempt to get back into that mix ahead of the 2023 U20 World Cup. 

#23 | CM, Owen Wolff, Austin FC (2004)

Minutes: 913
G+: -1.60
G+A / 90: 0.10
xGA / 90: 0.23
Goals: 0
Assists: 1

Owen was a surprise player for me this year. I did not expect him to have as big of a role as he did with Austin. He didn’t have a huge impact, but he didn’t look out of place either. He had a good run of starts in the middle of the year and totaled 11 for the year and 24 appearances in total. 

Owen was a bit unlucky in that his expected goals and assists were twice what he actually tallied. He set up some big chances but did not have his teammates finish in many of those instances. Owen finished with a pretty poor G+ I think mainly because he struggled to really impact the game when he was on the pitch. He was poor in most categories other than fouling with dribbling being his worst category. 

Owen is a young 2004 and played all year as a 17 year old, one of the few 2004s with a key role for a winning club. Owen has not yet played with the United States U20s, but has been a key player for the U19s. I am not sure he is going to get an opportunity with the U20s before the World Cup, but if he comes out next year with a bigger role for Austin and a hot start, he could force his way into the picture. 

#24 | WING, Jackson Hopkins, DC United (2004)

Minutes: 904
G+: -1.77
G+A / 90: 0.10
xGA / 90: 0.23
Goals: 0
Assists: 1

Jackson was one of three in-season homegrown signings for DC United and the one who received the most playing time. I was surprised that Jackson received as much of an opportunity as he did as I do not rate Jackson super high, but he clearly built trust with the coaching staff and must train very well. Jackson started 11 times and appeared in 21 games. He tallied his first assist on a nice set piece cross in. Jackson had a poor G+ which mirrored what my eyes saw when I watched him play. He didn’t seem ready or deserving of the role he was given this year. Interrupting and receiving were two particularly bad categories for him. 

Jackson is another 2004 and a surprise player for me on the list. There must be something I am missing about Jackson. Rooney seems to rate him as he has been given more of an opportunity than other young DC players I rate higher and he keeps getting calls to the United States U20s even though he continually looks like one of the weaker players. In the end I don’t expect him to make the 2023 U20 World Cup, but he seems to keep getting opportunities, so who knows?

#25 | GK, John Pulskamp, Sporting KC (2001)

Minutes: 1028
G+: -3.21
GA / 90: 1.58
PSxG +/- /90: -0.09
Clean Sheets: 3

John Pulskamp is the third goalkeeper on this list. John started 11 games this year after Tim Melia had a very poor start to the season. Sporting KCs turnaround at the end of the year coincided with John starting to play better in goal. John’s underlying numbers weren’t great, but he really started to improve towards the end of the year. 

John had a negative post-shot expected goals minus goals conceded and his G+ was -3.21, not great. Shot stopping was the main problem area for John. John will likely get every opportunity to win the starting job next year, but he won’t be eligible for this list. John will also be in the keeper pool for the U23 Olympic team. 

Honorable Mentions

Justin Haak, Matko Miljevic, Josh Atencio, Caden Clark, Paxten Aaronson, Serge Ngoma 

Statistical sources 

Football Reference, American Soccer Analysis

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