Series Overview

This is this second article in a series of articles that looks at the landscape of United States eligible youth soccer players. US eligible players have the ability to play for the United States and have not yet been cap-tied at the senior level. This means there will be some players on this list that might surprise you 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 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 consists 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. 

2004 Class — Top 20

The 2004 class was the class most impacted by the Pandemic. Many players struggled to find competitive games during that period and MLS Next Pro was not yet established in 2021, so many players were either not playing or not playing at the right level. To add to that, this has never been one of the most talented groups, but like most groups, there are players emerging as very good prospects. This group, like the 2003s, are eligible for the U20 World Cup next summer. 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. This is a class that is very deep with high end Goalkeeping talent, it won’t surprise many to find that the #1 prospect is a keeper that was recently sold for 10M+ to Chelsea. It’s also a class deep with center-back talent. There might not be a ton of stars that come from this last, but there are a decent amount of exciting lottery tickets that could become USMNT/European players.

#1 | GK, Gabriel “Gaga” Slonina, Chicago Fire (Chelsea FC)

Gaga Slonina is a Chicago Fire Academy product and Polish-American who recently committed his allegiance to the United States of America. Gaga also recently became the first player from the 2004 class to ink a professional contract to a big European club. He recently signed with London giant, Chelsea, where he will be considered their Goalkeeper of the future. As part of that deal Gaga was loaned back to Chicago for the remainder of the 2022 season and is planning to join Chelsea in January of 2023, though it is possible he could return to Chicago on another season long loan for the 2023 season. Expect Gaga to go on loans for the next several seasons as he works his way up the competitive ranks. Remember that Gaga is only 18 years old and is in his first full season as a starter. Starting in any professional league as an 18 year old is unheard of, which speaks to Gaga’s maturity and ability. Gaga was not released by Chicago for the Concacaf U20 championships, but would have certainly been the preferred #1 keeper for that team. We will see if he is released for the U20 World Cup next summer. 

What makes him special? 

Gaga is a very well rounded keeper, especially at his age, but I think what makes Gaga special is his mentality and work ethic. For a keeper of his age to earn the trust of his manager to start says a lot about Gaga as a player and a person. All reports indicate that he is a great leader, an incredibly hard worker and someone who is willing to do whatever it takes to be the best. A good example of his mentality came during the middle part of this season when he was in a really bad stretch of form. For most young players, that could have really spiraled, but Gaga worked through it and regained his good form and has been playing well not for the last month or two. That says a lot about his mental toughness. 

Biggest opportunity for improvement? 

There are a few key areas for improvement for Gaga, first I think he can get a little more consistent with his long range passing. It’s very good for his age, but it can be better. Second, his consistency and focus. During that bad stretch of form there were some goals that can just never get past a professional keeper. As he gets older and gains more experience, that stuff will smoothen out. 

#2 | LB/LW, Caleb Wiley, Atlanta United 

Caleb Wiley started his Academy career at DDYSC Wolves and moved to the Atlanta Academy in 2016. He signed his homegrown deal in January of this year and is in his first season as a professional and it has been a pretty impressive debut season for Caleb. At the beginning of the season it looked like Caleb would be a key sub playing mostly as a left-winger, but he was then injured for some time and when he came back, starting left-back Andrew Gutman was injured and Caleb has been the left-wingback starter ever since. He is one of, if not the youngest consistent starter in MLS this season he has really held his own. It is worth mentioning that Caleb was born in December of 2004, so he is almost a 2005. He has made some mistakes, but the positives have outshined the negatives, especially as an attacking player comfortable getting up and down the left sideline and he has the propensity to cut in and initiate attacks in the half space. Caleb would have been one of the favorites to start at left-back for the US U20 team at the Concacaf U20 Championships, but because Atlanta was so depleted with injuries, he was not released. Mikey Varas and company will hope Caleb can be released for the U20 World Cup, but his role may be too critical to Atlanta next summer. 

What makes him special? 

Caleb is a player that does almost everything at an above average level, but does not have any elite aspects to his game at this time. His well-rounded game speaks to why he is having good success in the MLS at such a young age. He has a very good physical profile for a full-back. He is physical and willing defensively. He is very good on the ball, not an elite ball manipulator but very controlled. Has shown high level passing ability and moves really well without the ball. 

Biggest opportunity for improvement? 

I’d like to see Caleb become a bit more aware and instinctual defensively and to become a more consistent crosser. He has some great crosses but he also too often delivers errant crosses

#3 | CB, Brandan Craig, Philadelphia Union

Brandan Craig is a Philadelphia Academy product through and through. He signed his homegrown deal in January of 2021 and unfortunately dealt with injuries last year. This year he has been healthy and playing with Philly 2 in MLS Next Pro. He is currently the third center-back on the Philly depth chart behind potentially the best pairing in MLS. Brandan is close but probably not quite ready for a key MLS role — I think he is 1-2 years out before being ready. As the third CB, he is one injury or suspension away from getting MLS minutes and I think that is a good position for him to be in right now. If Philly were to bring in a more experienced third center-back next season, which they very well could, I could see a loan to a USL club being a great next step in his career. On the Youth National Team side of things Brandan was the starting left center-back for the US U20 team that won the Concacaf U20 Championship and Brandan played really well. I would expect him to be one of the favorites to start at the U20 World Cup in 2023. 

What makes him special? 

This one is pretty easy because Brandan Craig is probably the best passing center-back in the entire youth pool and potentially of any US-eligible center-back not named John Brooks, or maybe Tim Ream. Brandan is truly an elite passer and he can do it in a number of different ways. He can break lines through driven passes on the ground, he can drive a long diagonal and he can whip in a bender from a set piece. He can also hit freekicks really well, a pretty rare thing for a center-back. 

Biggest opportunity for improvement? 

The knock on Brandan has always been his physical strength, but he did put on some good weight this past year, especially in his lower half and that strength has paid off. He still has more weight to put on and he likely will as he continues to develop. Once he adds that, he will be pro ready and will be a truly exciting center-back prospect. 

#4 | GK, Chris Brady, Chicago Fire

Chris Brady is the second Chicago Fire goalkeeper on this list and is the likely successor to Gaga Slonina once he leaves for Chelsea. Chris is a Chicago Academy product that signed his homegrown deal in 2020. This year, Chris has been the starting keeper for Fire 2 when he has been available. Chris was the number one keeper for the US U20 team that won the Concacaf U20 Championship and while he did not have a ton to do for the majority of the tournament, he was very solid. It’s very exciting that Chicago just sold an 18 year old keeper to Chelsea and have another elite keeper prospect to slot in when the time comes. 

What makes him special? 

Chris is big and very athletic with good reactions which makes him a very good shot stopper. In fact, for most of his youth career he was thought of as the better shot stopper in comparison to Gaga Slonina, who is a very good shot stopper at his age.  

Biggest opportunity for improvement? 

Chris has worked hard to improve his ball playing skills, but you can see at times during the U20 Championships that he still has a ways to go with his touch and initiating play from the back. 

#5 | SS, Quinn Sullivan, Philadelphia Union

Quinn is another Philadelphia Union Academy product that signed a homegrown deal in January of 2021 and is in the middle of his second season with the first team. Quinn is a German-American that has only represented the United States. Quinn has been a consistently used sub for one of the top teams in MLS and recently scored his first goal of the season. He was also part of the U20 Concacaf Championship team and scored a ton of goals in that tournament. The big question for Quinn right now is, “what is his best position”. He has played as an 8, 10, winger and striker. I rate him as a second striker type. I don’t think he profiles well as a box to box midfielder because I don’t think he really does the work defensively for that position. I can definitely see him as a box arriving 10, but I am not sure I love his passing enough to keep him there. I don’t think he has the ball manipulation ability to be a dynamic winger and his best attribute is his work in the final third, so I am going with second striker. 

What makes him special? 

As mentioned above, Quinn has a goal-scorer’s mentality. He strikes the ball well with both feet and is fairly quick to get shots off. He is very confident and audacious in the final third and that is why I want to keep him high up the pitch. He doesn’t quite have the physicality yet to be the lone striker, but he could get there. 

Biggest opportunity for improvement? 

I really like Quinn’s aggressiveness in the final third but sometimes his decision making is questionable. He doesn’t always make the right decision on when to try to combine, when to try and slide in the final pass and when to shoot. The instinct is to shoot, which is why to me, he is a striker, but oftentimes he leaves a better play on the table. 

#6 | RCB, Tony Leone, LAFC

Tony Leone is a Mexican-American who has not played with the United States since February 2020 at the U17 level. He has been playing with the Mexico U20s during this latest cycle for that level and played with Mexico at the Concacaf U20 Championships. It’s not looking great from a United States perspective, but with Mexico out of the U20 World Cup and the Olympics, the next opportunity to play in a competitive tournament will be at the senior level, so there is time for the USSF to recruit. At the club level, Tony Leone came up through the LAFC Academy and signed a homegrown contract in 2020. The last two seasons he has played in the USL for LAFCs affiliate club, Las Vegas Lights. Tony has been a regular at primarily center-back but he has also played some games as a right-back. LAFC has the deepest roster in the MLS and is also extremely deep at center-back, which makes you wonder if Tony will look to go elsewhere when his homegrown deal is up.

What makes him special? 

Tony is pretty fluid and physical defensively, he is a very instinctual defender and he is also an excellent passer. I’ve watched a few of his games when he played right-back for Las Vegas and he actually looks pretty good. He is an excellent crosser and has more ball manipulation ability than most center-backs at his age.  

Biggest opportunity for improvement? 

Tony is tall enough to play center-back at 6-0, but it’s not an ideal height and it can lead to challenges in the air. His ideal position right now is a RCB in a three center-back formation because it diminishes his lack of ideal height and promotes his ability in space and his ability on the ball. If Tony does not grow, he’ll need to continue to get stronger and more explosive to make up for that. 

#7 | GK, Jeff Dewsnup, Real Salt Lake

Jeff Dewsnup is another very high upside goalkeeper from this class. Jeff is a RSL Academy Product who signed his homegrown deal in January of 2021. Jeff played a lot for the Real Monarchs in USL in 2021 and had a very good season for a young keeper. Unfortunately Jeff has not played any competitive minutes this year due to an injury. He would have likely been in play to be the #2 keeper for RSL this year or the Real Monarchs starting keeper in MLS Next Pro if healthy. He also would have been competing for the U20 starting keeper spot. Hopefully Jeff regains fitness and can come back and have a strong 2023 season. With David Ochoa gone, he is the keeper of the future for RSL. 

What makes him special? 

Jeff is a super well rounded keeper. He has good size, athleticism and positioning in the box. He is also good with his feet for his age.  

Biggest opportunity for improvement? 

At times, I saw Jeff make some questionable decisions when deciding to leave the goal mouth to punch or high point a ball which led to some messy situations. This is something that should get cleaned up with more minutes. 

#8 | CM, Owen Wolff, Austin FC

Owen Wolff is having a little bit of a breakout season in his second professional season with Austin FC. Owen is the son of Austin’s manager, Josh Wolff and brother of Tyler Wolff, Atlanta’s homegrown attacker who is on loan in the second tier in Belgium. Owen started in Columbus’ Academy, then went to the Atlanta Academy before joining Austin’s Academy and becoming their first ever homegrown in September 2021. His professional contract was not at the hands of nepotism — Owen is a very good player who has received almost 1000 minutes so far this season. Owen has not yet played with the US U20s, but has been to a U19 camp and played in a friendly for the U19s, but he could be a player that Mikey gives a look between now and the U20 World Cup next summer. Owen was born on December 30, 2004 — so he is very close to being part of the 2005 class. 

What makes him special? 

Owen is a very well rounded player that is stout physically, very clean technically and has a very strong understanding of his role and what is going on in the game. My favorite aspect of Owen’s game is both his vision and his ability to execute a variety of passes through the heart of the defense and in the half spaces sending early crosses in. 

Biggest opportunity for improvement? 

As is the case with a lot of young players that are playing at the senior level at a young age, Owen needs to continue to find ways to get more involved in games consistently. I have seen numerous occasions where Owen disappears and struggles to get on the ball. He has the skill to impact games, but he needs to assert himself a bit more to be able to do it. 

#9 | WING, Luca Koleosho, RCD Espanyol B

Luca Koleosho is a Canadian-American and next to Chituru Odunze, goalkeeper at Leicester, probably the most talented Canadian-American player that has an international allegiance decision to make. Luca has participated in a United States U20 camp and a senior camp for Canada and he has openly said that he has yet to make his decision. Because Luca did not play for Canada in the recent Concacaf U20 Championships, he is still eligible to play for the United States. And because Canada did not qualify for the U20 World Cup, the United States can still provide him the opportunity to play at the U20 level. Luca started his Academy career with the Manhattan Kickers before moving to Spain to join the Espanyol Academy. Luca has moved through the Academy system successfully and earned both his Espanyol B and Espanyol first team debut last season. This preseason he trained with the senior team and has been assigned to the B team, but it is possible that he gets some senior minutes at some point this season. 

What makes him special? 

Luca is an attack minded winger that has loads of pace. He is a strong and compact player that has good balance through contact and a very aggressive style. He isn’t a super creative ball manipulator, but more of a player that takes good angles and smart touches to beat his defender.  

Biggest opportunity for improvement? 

Like most young wingers, Luca’s biggest area of improvement is his final product. He does well to beat defenders, but oftentimes his final pass or final strike can leave you wanting. 

#10 | WING, Dantouma Toure, Colorado Rapids

Dantouma “Yaya” Toure is a Guinean-American who started at the Player Development Academy before moving to the New York Red Bulls Academy. Colorado signed Yaya to a homegrown deal from the NYRB Academy in March 2021. Yaya has developed nicely while at Colorado and is having a very encouraging year. He has played mostly with Colorado 2 in MLS Next Pro where he has 9 goals and 4 assists. He also scored his first senior team goal recently with the Rapids. Yaya has not been invited to a United States Youth National Camp since the U17 level, but he has to be catching the eyes of the U19 and U20 staff and I would expect him to get a look in the next 6 months or so. Yaya can play both wing positions and can also play as a second-striker. 

What makes him special? 

Yaya has very good short area quickness and he has very good ball control with the ability to manipulate the ball in a variety of ways. This year he seems to have tightened up his final third execution as well.  

Biggest opportunity for improvement? 

There are two areas I would like to see Yaya improve in the coming years: first, I’d like to see him improve in how he connects with his striker and moves and reads the game off of him. I would also like to see him continue to add strength so that he doesn’t have to purely rely on blowing by people, but can also keep his balance and control through contact. 

#11 | CM, Rokas Pukstas, HNK Hajduk Split

Rokas Pukstas is a Lithuanian-American who started his academy career with Sporting KC before moving to the Barca Residency Academy in Arizona. From there he signed a deal with Croatian giant Hajduk Split. Rokas made his first team debut last season with Split and should get a bigger role with the senior team this year. He has yet to feature for the club, likely because he is still rehabbing the injury he picked up during the Concacaf U20 Championships. During that tournament, Rokas played as a defensive- midfielder even though his more natural position is that of a box to box midfielder. Like many 6s, they usually start as 8s and move their way back. For the most part Rokas played very well during that tournament, especially in counterpress moments and winning the ball back before the opposing team could threaten the US backline. 

What makes him special? 

Rokas is an athletic midfielder that plays with a fearlessness and aggressiveness that is very fun to watch. He times his tackles really well and is unafraid to get stuck in. The move to a more defensive midfielder made a ton of sense and was a smart move by Mikey to add some movement to the midfield. Rokas is also very good in the air. I made a comment during the U20 Championships that he is kind of like a young Weston McKennie in that he wins a ton of balls in the air on set pieces and it sort of catches the defense by surprise. 

Biggest opportunity for improvement? 

The most glaring weakness in Pukstas’ game is his ball progression. It starts before he receives the ball and was something that got him in trouble during that tournament. He wasn’t always checking his shoulders to see where the danger was coming from so he either didn’t turn away from pressure or did not one time pass back to the center-back to avoid danger. From there, his half turn is okay, but could be better and his ball control and progressive passing can all be improved. The defensive part of his game is sound, but improved ball progression can make him a very exciting prospect. 

#12 | RCB, Kobi Henry, Stade Reims B

Kobi Henry started with the Orlando City Academy before moving to the Inter Miami Academy and from there signed with Orange County SC. He and Jonathan Gomez were really the first two big time prospects to leave MLS academies to sign a professional contract with a USL club and then get a move to a club from one of the top five leagues in Europe. Kobi was a part time starter for OCSC in 2021 and was mostly a full-time starter at the beginning of 2022 before signing a contract with State Reims after he turned 18. He signed a contract until 2027 and is starting out with the reserve team. Kobi has also been a consistent call up to the U20 camps over the last year, but he was not selected to the Concacaf U20 Championship roster. I heard he had a really poor camp and that hurt his stock with Mikey. He was recently called to a U19 camp. Kobi is a player to be very patient with. He has a lot of ability, but a lot of development is needed before he will be anywhere ready to play in Ligue 1 at center-back. 

What makes him special? 

Kobi has a really nice profile for the modern day center-back. He has a nice combo of size and mobility which make him effective in 1v1 duels, both on the ground and in the air. He has an above average touch and he is an ambitious passer, albeit inaccurate at times.  

Biggest opportunity for improvement? 

There are two big areas of development for Kobi and I mentioned the first above. While he can pull off really nice line breaking passes and long diagonals at times, he is pretty inconsistent and needs to develop more accuracy on his long range passes. Additionally, his off ball awareness and instincts need to improve. He can get call ball watching and can also make some very questionable decisions that lead to big chances or big mistakes. As a center-back, that is priority number one to get fixed. If you can’t be trusted, you won’t play at a high level. 

#13 | CF, Darren Yapi, Colorado Rapids

Darren Yapi is an Ivorian-American who has been developed within the Colorado Rapids Academy system. He signed his homegrown deal in March of 2021, but has mostly played at the USL and MLS Next Pro level. Darren has received minimal minutes with Colorado this season and has scored five goals with Rapids 2. Darren has represented the United States at the U17 level, but has not yet been invited to a U19 or U20 camp. His omission from these camps are surprising to me because the U20 team does not have a true number 9 and Yapi is a quality player that could fill that role. 

What makes him special? 

Darren has a great combination of size (6-1) of size and short area quickness that is ideal for the number 9 position and he is very comfortable with the ball at his feet, a trait that is fairly uncommon with young strikers. His ball control ability stands out the most to me in his combination and hold up play. He provides a strong target and is comfortable dropping deep into the midfield to help build up play and spring attacks. 

Biggest opportunity for improvement? 

I would like to see Darren more consistently offer dynamic runs in the box. In general, I’d like to see him assert his presence in the box more and create more chances for himself and others. 

#14 | CM, Zach Booth, Leicester City U18

Zach Booth is an Italian-American and the brother of Taylor Booth, midfielder for Eredivisie side Utrecht. Zach started his academy career at Real Salt Lake before moving to Leicester in 2020. He signed an extension with Leicecster earlier this year after playing very little after recovering from injury. That confidence from Leicester, even after not playing for a long period of time, speaks to how highly they think of his ability. Zach will likely split time this season between the U18 and U21 teams, just as he did towards the end of last season. I think Zach will play one or two more seasons within the reserve teams at Leicester before getting an opportunity to go out on loan to get his professional career underway. Remember, senior minutes come later in Europe than they do in the United States. Zach last represented the United States at the U17 level and has not yet joined a U20 camp. If Zach gets off to a good start and stays healthy, he has the upside to climb this list and become a factor in the U20 midfield before the 2023 World Cup. 

What makes him special? 

Zach is a true box to box midfielder with very good technical ability and above average quickness. He uses both his ball control and burst to get by people through the center of the pitch. My favorite part of Zach’s game is his passing ability and how he is able to be accurate and confident with both feet.  

Biggest opportunity for improvement? 

The biggest thing for Zach right now is to get minutes and stay healthy. He needs to have a season where he can develop on the pitch and not get sidelines for long periods of time like last season. 

#15 | RB, Alex Freeman, Orlando City

Alex Freeman started his academy career at Weston, a notable Florida club that has fed a ton of big time talent to Orlando, Inter Miami and to Europe. Alex moved from Weston to Orlando City in 2020 and signed his homegrown deal with Orlando City at the beginning of this year. Alex is a former winger that has been converted to right-back, with a similar high upside profile to Bryan Reynolds. Alex has played in two friendlies for the United States U19 team. I think Alex has been underrated by USSF and Orlando City. I rate him higher than fellow Orlando RB and US U20 player, Michael Holliday. Alex will likely be competing with Halliday to be the RB of the future for Orlando and I’d bet over time, if Alex puts the work in, he wins that battle. 

What makes him special? 

Alex is a supremely gifted attacker with explosiveness, long speed and good ball manipulation skills. He is a very good 1v1 attacker and also has the ability to drive in a good cross. It’s easy to see the former winger in him as he has the ability to go on long runs with the ball at his feet.  

Biggest opportunity for improvement? 

Alex is still a bit raw and is adjusting to his position switch, which is completely understandable. His biggest areas of improvement are both in his offensive and defensive decision making. Offensively, he can make things happen, but too often he does not release the ball at the right time or make the right read/pass. Defensively, he can get lost off of the ball and commits fouls at times when a hard challenge isn’t needed in a dangerous spot. 

#16 | GK, Antonio Carrera, FC Dallas

Antonio Carrera is a Mexican-American and the brother of Nico Carrera who is a center-back for 2. Bundesliga club Holstein Kiel. Nico played on the United States U17 World Cup team. Antonio, like his brother, is a FC Dallas Academy product and he signed his homegrown deal in February 2022. Antonio is also the starting keeper for North Texas, Dallas’ MLS Next Pro affiliate team. Antonio is the fourth keeper to make the top 20 list for the 2004 group. He is someone that has shown a lot of improvement and development over the last couple of years. Antonio was the #2 keeper behind Chris Brady for the Concacaf U20 World Cup. 

What makes him special? 

Antonio has a lot of great tools to work with as a goalkeeper. He has pretty good size and his reaction time is strong and he has pretty consistent positioning. He is flexible and can get down on shots below his waist well. Additionally, he is advanced with the ball at his feet, possessing good touch and accuracy as a passer.

Biggest opportunity for improvement? 

The area in which I would like to see Antonio improve upon is his box control. He does not always stand out as a dominating figure in the box. He can get lost a bit in the chaos, most notably on set pieces when deciding whether to leave the goal mouth for a punch or high pointing for a catch, 

#17 | AM, Jackson Hopkins, DC United

Jackson Hopkins started out with the NYRB Academy before moving to DCs Academy in 2021. He was all but on his way to the University of Virginia before DC decided to sign him to a homegrown deal this year. Since that time Jackson has played quite a bit for DC United’s first team, playing mostly as right-side attacking-midfielder/tucked-in winger. He has experience playing as a 9, 10, 8 and right-winger. Jackson was the last man selected to the Concacaf U20 Championship team after they found out that Obed Vargas was not going to be able to play due to injury. Jackson didn’t play a ton in the tournament, but played pretty well in the final. 

What makes him special? 

Jackson is a big kid that controls the ball pretty well and he has a good understanding of the game. I’ve been really impressed with the power and accuracy of his long range passing, especially when he is crossing in a bending ball from wide areas. He tallied his first career assist for DC United on a set piece after delivering a really nice ball in. He also showed that ability when he was with the U20s.  

Biggest opportunity for improvement? 

Jackson has played a lot of positions and there is value in that, but I really can’t decide what position suits him best long term. He has the body of a striker. He is an average athlete from a movement standpoint, so a box to box midfielder isn’t a great solution for him. His crossing is really valuable, but he isn’t a player that is going to stretch the defense out wide or beat people 1v1 off the dribble often, so I wouldn’t focus him at winger either. That leaves attacking-mid where his average quickness isn’t as much of an issue and his soccer IQ and passing can be maximized. He does dribble well in tight spaces which I think also aligns well with what you need out of a 10. 

#18 | LB, Noah Allen, Inter Miami

Noah Allen is a Greek-American and is another Florida product that started at the Weston Academy. This is a trend that you will get used to hearing throughout this series. Noah moved from Weston to IMCF in 2019 and signed his homegrown deal in February of this year. Noah played full time with Fort Lauderdale and had a great season and was rewarded with early playing time with the first team in 2022. He has not played a ton with Miami as of late, but he is well placed to be their LB of the future. The current U20 pool has a bevy of LB talent: Jonathan Gomez, Caleb Wiley and even Kevin Paredes can play there, but because all of these players were not available for the Concacaf U20 Championship, Noah Allen was called in as the only true LB player for the team. Noah didn’t start all of the games, but he played a key role for the Championship team. 

What makes him special? 

Noah is a speedy left-back that flies up and down the wide areas of the pitch. He is adept at providing overlapping runs and getting crosses into the mouth of the goal. His speed and tenacity also show up on the defensive side of the ball where he is a good 1v1 defender. His overall work rate and hustle really standout defensively.    

Biggest opportunity for improvement? 

There isn’t a lot of creativity to Noah’s game at the moment. He does not have a lot in his bag to beat players 1v1 convincingly to help him create big chances for himself or his teammates. Right now he wins with speed and his intention with the ball is to get crosses in. Nowadays full-backs are expected to contribute a lot on the offensive side of things and Noah will need to add some things to his game to be able to reach high levels of competition. 

#19 | LCB, Thomas Williams, Orlando City

Thomas Williams is a left-footed center-back that has come up through the Orlando City Academy. He was signed to a homegrown deal in January of 2021. He did not play with Orlando’s first time last year but has received some opportunities this year. He started an Open Cup game and played well and then got a chance to start a MLS league game and struggled. For the most part he has started for Orlando City B in MLS Next Pro. On the National Team side of things, Thomas has been invited to some U20 camps and has played in some closed door friendlies. He has also played for the U19s. I thought Thomas had an outside chance of making the U20 roster because he was the only viable option, outside of Casey Walls, that is naturally left-footed. I think Thomas is a player that could bloom late and become a USMNT level player at some point in his career. He reminds me of Auston Trusty a little bit. 

What makes him special? 

The size, strength, skill on the ball from the left-foot is a really great foundation to work from for a center-back. That combo does not grow on trees and for that Thomas will have the interests of sporting directors, managers and scouts for a long while.  

Biggest opportunity for improvement? 

As is the case with a lot of young center-backs, Thomas has a ways to go when it comes to sound positioning, awareness and having the instinct to snuff out danger and be in the right spots at the right time. This is the type of thing that comes with experience, focus and good coaching. 

#20 | CB, Jaziel Orozco, Real Salt Lake

The last player on the 2004 list is undersized center-back and Mexican-American Jaziel Orozco. Jaziel is a Real Salt Lake Academy product that was signed to a homegrown deal in January of this year. Jaziel made his pro debut earlier this year and received a run of four consecutive starts in place of an injured starting center-back and he did really well in that brief stint. He had one really poor game and three solid games. Jaziel was another player that was right on the fringes of making the Concacaf U20 Championship roster, but was beat out by Marcus Ferkranus. Jaziel size may lead to a position switch at some point, but his soccer intelligence and skill help him make up for the lack of size right now. 

What makes him special? 

As mentioned above, Jaziel has advanced instinct and intelligence for his age which is why he is still playing as a center-back and able to make up for his lack of height. Jaziel also possess comfortability on the ball and he has good range and accuracy as a passer. 

Biggest opportunity for improvement? 

Jaziel is likely destined to be a defensive midfielder in order to reach his highest potential and the highest possible level of competition. At well under 6-0, there just aren’t a lot of center-back success stories. His movement skills are average, but with his above average soccer IQ and passing ability he should be able to transition to the 6 pretty well.  

Honorable Mentions

WING, Korede Osundina, Orange County / DM, Efrain Moralez, Atlanta United / ST, Malick Sanogo, Union Berlin U19 / RB, Devan Tanton, Fulham U18 / AM, Evan Rotundo, FC Schalke U19 / CB, Anrie Chase, Stuttgart II / LB, Jackson Travis, Colorado Rapids / ST, Damion Downs, FC Köln U19 / ST, Federico Oliva, Atletico Madrid U19 

2003 Class Top 20 Rankings >>>