Series Overview

This is this third 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. 

2005 Class — Top 20

The 2005 class is an emerging group. They have not always received the most acclaim, but I think that this class is developing into a really nice class with some top end talent and depth in key positions, most notably at striker. The 2005s will be the senior class for the next U20 cycle which will kick off in late 2023 and run up until 2025 if this group qualifies for the U20 World Cup. Right now this class is a little bit in limbo. The top 2005s are getting some time with the U20s and they are also getting camps and games with Marko Mitrovic and his staff. This is also the class that has started to receive homegrown deals from MLS clubs or are leaving MLS Academies to join USL clubs. This group will start to turn 18 next year, so players that do not have EU citizenship, once they turn 18 they can sign contracts with clubs in Europe, as either Academy players or professionals. The top players may go to big clubs in Europe or sign homegrown deals in MLS. The players that are a tier below have to decide between MLS Next Pro deals, USL deals and potentially going the NCAA route. Most, if not all of these players will get professional deals soon if they don’t have one already. 

It looks like this group will compete in the Vaclav Jezek Tournament in Czech Republic which will be the second time we’ve seen this group together to play against International Competition. Expect many of the players on this list to participate in that tournament.

#1 | AM/SS, Serge Ngoma, New York Red Bulls

There are not many players in the US youth pool that have shown as much positive development between last season and this season as Serge Ngoma. Serge is a Gabonese-American that developed within the NYRB system and was signed to a homegrown contract in February of this year. Last year Serge logged over 800 minutes for NYRB II and scored three goals, but he did not look like the player that he is this year. He’s improved greatly both physically and technically and looks more than ready to deliver at the MLS level. He can play both as a 10, inverted winger and second striker. NYRB uses all positions and he has played a little bit of each in the minutes he has received this year. 

On the youth international side of things, Serge last participated in a U15 camp. He has not yet participated in a U19 camp because he has been injured when those camps have been scheduled, nor has he appeared for the U20s. Serge will be a key figure for the next U20 cycle and could sneak his way into this cycle if he can stay fit and continue to perform with NYRB. 

What makes him special? 

Serge is a prototypical NYRB player and prospect. He is explosive, relentless and can stretch the defense. He has looked like a grown man when he has played in MLS this season and often times looks like the most electric player on the pitch. He has also shown decent vision and ability slip a pass through the heart of the defense. I also love the pressure he puts on defenses both in his instinct to push forward and in his pressing, counter pressing and when he tracks back to support the first and second lines. He has also showed nice composure in front of goal. 

Biggest opportunity for improvement? 

The biggest challenge for Serge this year has been staying on the field which is always a concern with explosive, muscular soccer players. He injured himself in a NYRB II game, I believe it was a knee injury and then he hurt hamstring after an electric 30 minutes in his first start for NYRB. His timeline for return is unclear. Serge needs minutes to continue to grow and he needs to stay healthy to be able to do that. 

On the pitch, I love his confidence, but I have not seen him take on a ton of defenders 1v1 and his ball manipulation skills still seem fairly average, so winger may not be the ideal position for him long term, he might be better served more centrally as a 10 or second striker. 

#2 | DM/CM, Obed Vargas, Seattle Sounders

Obed is another 2005 that has had a very positive first year in MLS. Obed is a Mexican-American that plays both defensive-mid and central-mid. Seattle’s system is a 4-2-3-1, so he has both responsibilities depending on who he is partnering with in midfield. Obed is from Anchorage, Alaska which I think is pretty cool. He has been developed within the Seattle Sounders Academy system and was signed to a homegrown deal in July of 2021 after impressing for the Tacoma Defiance in USL. He played over 1800 minutes for Tacoma last year and surprised a lot of people this year by leaping Danny Leyva and Josh Atencio in the Seattle midfield depth chart. Obed started off the season with a splash, earning a big role in Seattle’s Concacaf Champions League Championship run. He came on early in the second leg of the final after Joao Paulo went down with injury. From that time on Obed was a pretty consistent starter for Seattle in MLS league play before injuring his back. He has been out now for several months and his timetable for return is unknown. 

At the youth international level Obed has made a very good impression with the USSF staff as well. Obed has only represented the United States so far, but Mexico is sure to come knocking very soon, if they have not already. Obed is one of the few 2005 players that was invited to U20 camps, two years above his age level and he was on track to be part of the U20 Concacaf Championship squad before the back injury. Obed will be pushing for a midfield spot on that team for the U20 World Cup next summer. 

What makes him special? 

Obed is a very mature soccer player for his age, just turning 17. He has a very well rounded game and is skilled on the ball and displays a range of passes in his arsenal. What has impressed me and what has impressed his coaches, is his ability to rise to each new challenge and level that is presented to him. He learns quickly, is unafraid to be aggressive in games, especially the big ones. Obed does not possess elite traits persay, but his soccer IQ and mentality are certainly elite. 

Biggest opportunity for improvement? 

This was mentioned by Keith Costigan on the Scuffed Podcast and I agree, if Obed is going to stick as an 8 instead of 6, he needs to work on being more goal dangerous in the final third. He does a good job in the middle part of the pitch progressing the ball through clever first touches, dribbling and passing, but he hasn’t shown a ton in the final third yet. 

#3 | CM/AM, Niko Tsakiris, San Jose Earthquakes

Niko Tsakiris is the son of U20 Assistant coach Shaun Tsakiris. Niko has Greek and Portuguese heritage and is working on getting his Portuguese citizenship which would allow him to move to a European club before he turns 18 if the opportunity presents itself. Niko started his academy career with Bay Area power, De Anza Force and the IMG Academy before moving to San Jose’s Academy. He was signed to a homegrown deal in January 2022 and also made his MLS debut this year. He has not played a ton of first team minutes this year, but he has been a regular in the squad. He has also played in the US Open Cup and has made some appearances with Quakes II in MLS Next Pro. 

Niko has had a bigger year at the Youth International level. He was the only 2005 to play a full cycle up with the U20s at the Concacaf U20 Championships. If you haven’t watched Niko play you might think this is a case of nepotism, but Niko proved he belonged, playing very well as a box to box midfielder in the tournament, scoring 3 goals. History tells us that players who look like they belong playing a full cycle up is a very good sign for that player. Niko can play both the 8 and the 10 and while he says he prefers playing the 10, I think his future is at the 8. 

What makes him special? 

Niko has a great physical profile of a box to box midfielder. He is quick, has a good center of gravity and he is strong, evidenced by his ability to retain ball control through contact. He is an efficient and tidy dribbler that has the ability to progress the ball really well both in the middle of the pitch and in tight spaces in the final third. Another area of his game that is very advanced for his age is his movement off the ball. As soon as he releases the ball he is looking to move into pockets of space. His final third production and decision making in the box is pretty good as well, which is why he can also play a more attacking-midfield role. 

Biggest opportunity for improvement? 

There are two areas that I would love to see Niko focus and improve on. The first is his pitch control as a defender. Niko is not someone that dominates his areas of the pitch defensively, like Alex Alvarado for example. Niko has the mentality and the physicality for it, he just needs to assert himself more consistently. Also I think Niko is a good passer, but he has the ability to be a very good progressive passer. Right now his instinct is to dribble through pressure, but if he can also pick his head up and pass through pressure more he will be a real menace in the midfield. 

#4 | CB, Josh Wynder, Louisville City

Josh Wynder is a really cool story and a very good soccer player. Josh is the first bigtime USYNT prospect that has been developed completely through a USL Academy system. Many prospects have left MLS academies to join USL, but Josh has been completely developed through the Lou City Academy system. Josh signed a professional deal with Lou City in June 2021. Last year he received just over 500 minutes of time and this year he has been a starter at LCB for arguably the best club in USL. This is remarkable for a couple of different reasons, the first is that he plays one of the hardest positions to play at a young age, center-back. Center-backs rely so much on intelligence, instincts and physicality, all things that take a lot of time to develop. Second, this isn’t Atlanta 2, this the most well run organization in USL, so for him to earn a starting CB job at the age of 16 says a whole lot about Josh as a player and as a person. 

Looking for another data point that indicates Josh is a big time leader? He has been the captain for the newly formed USYNT U19 group. At this trajectory, Josh is on pace to be a key figure for the next U20 cycle and I would not at all be surprised if he pushes his way into the current U20 team and potentially makes a push for the 2023 U20 World CUp. 

Josh is a right-footed center-back that plays on the left side for Louisville, which tells you that they trust his ability to play with both feet, and from what I have seen he has put in a lot of time to ensure his left foot is useful when needed. 

What makes him special? 

If it was clear enough above, I am really impressed that Wynder has not only been able to breakthrough as a CB starter for Lou City, but that he is also performing at a very good level. I think this speaks to his maturity, intensity, instincts and awareness on the pitch. I also think it speaks to how he prepares and handles himself in training. But he is not just a cerebral player, he hit a growth spurt and is now well above 6-0 and he is adding muscle. His movement is okay, he does well enough in space and in high line and he does well with the ball at his feet. He sets himself up with clean touches and he is aggressive and accurate with his passing. 

Biggest opportunity for improvement? 

Josh’s biggest opportunity area is to get more dominant in the air. I think that will come as he adds more muscle to his frame and as he continues to learn how to read the ball and time his jumps. He has the height to be a good aerial player, I believe that in time this will come. 

#5 | CF/WING, Kris Fletcher, DC United

Kris Fletcher is a British-American that developed in the Bethesda Academy, one of the primary feeder Academies to DC United. Kris has gone on trials with Manchester United and Borussia Dortmund, two of the best Academies in the world and it was rumored that he was offered a spot with Dortmund and I have heard that was a U19 offer for when he turns 18 next August. Kris signed with Loudoun United, DCs USL affiliate this summer to start getting some professional minutes and I think that was a good decision. Kris has acclimated pretty well to big a leap in level and recently tallied a brace. It has been reported credibly that he is going to sign a contract with DC United, giving Kris the chance to play at an even higher level before weighing offers from Europe. 

Internationally, Kris has joined both U20 and U19 camps. He has an outside chance of working his way into the U20 team before the 2023 U20 World Cup, especially as a number 9, where I think he is  best suited to play. Krist plays both left-wing and striker, though I truly believe he is at his best as a striker. 

What makes him special? 

Kris is physically very advanced for his age. He has a strong lower body, he is explosive and smacks the hell out of the ball. His right foot is special and he moves well into pockets of space that allow him to quickly strike the ball. He has the confidence and mindset of a striker. He is also looking to get a shot off from any angle and he usually hits it true. 

Biggest opportunity for improvement? 

The reason why I don’t think Kris is a winger is because his ball manipulation ability is okay, but not what you need out of a left-winger. I think his dribbling ability will translate better as a 9. He does cut in pretty well on his left foot, but he gets dispossessed a lot as well. 

I’d also like to see Kris give more consistent effort. He floats in and out of games at times. When he is on, he is dominant, but he can get lost and he can look a little disinterested at times. If he does settle in as a 9, I also think he’ll need to work on his hold-up play and how interplays with his fellow attackers. 

#6 | WING, Bora Aydinlik, Fenerbahce SK U19

Bora is a Turkish-American born in Miami who has developed through one of the best Academies in Turkey: Fenerbahce. Bora plays predominately with the U19s, but has made the bench for the first team. Bora recently signed a professional contract with Fenerbahce, but the details on length have not surfaced. I would imagine that if Bora shows development and plays well with the U19s, he’ll likely make his first team debut with Fenerbahce at some point this season, which would be very impressive for a 17 year old. 

At the International level Bora has only represented Turkey, but he has confirmed that the United States has been in contact and it has been reported that he has been invited to a U20 camp and there were also whispers that he was going to be on the Concacaf U20 Championship squad, but that did not materialize. Bora has recently been called to the Turkey U19 team and while he is not provisionally cap-tied to Turkey, it’s looking like that will happen eventually if United States cannot do it first. Their next opportunity would be the U20 World Cup in 2023, but I think that there is a low probability of that happening. 

Bora is a winger though he does show the ability to tuck in and play more centrally. I think his profile suits either wing really well. 

What makes him special? 

Bora is an explosive and strong winger that dominates full-backs in 1v1 situations. His combination of short area quickness, controlled and creative ball manipulation and a strong lower body makes him a handful for players his age and it also allows him to compete with professional players. Bora is very adept at making dangerous runs into the final third. Bora’s ability to dribble and pass with both feet allow him to be dangerous on both wings, left and right. 

Biggest opportunity for improvement? 

Bora has improved in the final third but it is still an area where he can get better. As of now, his instinct is to dribble until he can’t any longer. I’d like to see him pick his head up a little sooner and work on his early and late crossing. I think he can be more of a chance creator if he adds a little variety to what he is trying to do in the attack. His finish is okay and he can do it with both feet, but this is another area where I think he can still improve. 

#7 | AM, Esmir Bajraktarevic, New England Revolution

Esmir is a Bosnian-American and the pride of Appleton, Wisconsin. He has had a few stops in his Academy career starting with SC Waukesha before moving to Chicago Fire’s Academy and then he moved to Wave SC before joining the New England Revolution Academy. He signed his homegrown deal in May 2022 and he just became eligible to play for the Revs first team and he made his first start last weekend. You can see the clips from that game here. For the majority of the season Esmir has been a consistent starter for Revs II in MLS Next Pro where he has yet to record his first goal contribution. 

Esmir is one of four 2005 players to get an opportunity with the current U20 team. That list includes Obed Vargas, Niko Tsakiris, Kris Fletcher and Esmir. It will be difficult for Esmir to make the 2023 U20 World Cup roster because that team is currently pretty stacked with attacking-mids and wingers, but Esmir will likely be a key figure in the next U20 World Cup cycle. 

Esmir is a true number 10 and there are few prospects like him in the USYNT pool. Esmir can play second-striker and outside, but his skills absolutely fit that of a playmaking number 10. 

What makes him special? 

Esmir possesses the important characteristics of a good attacking-midfielder. He is very clean on the ball, starting from his first touch and half turn, through to his ability to weave within tight spaces. He also has very good vision and has the ability to slip in passes to create good chances for his teammates. He also has the ability to create space and create good chances for himself.   

Biggest opportunity for improvement? 

From what I have seen in MLS Next Pro, the biggest thing preventing Esmir from impacting games more regularly is his ability to command the ball and make himself more consistently available in pockets of space and then when he does get on the ball, he has problems with his balance through contact. Esmir needs to get a little more stronger so he can carry the ball more effectively against bigger and stronger defenders.  

#8 | WING/CF, Tarik Scott, FC Dallas Academy

Tarik Scott is a Jamaican-American who has developed through the FC Dallas Academy. Tarik is the highest rated player on this list to not have a professional contract. Tarik played the majority of this season with the FC Dallas U19 and he has made three appearances for North Texas in MLS Next Pro. In his first appearance he scored a brace off of the bench. In my opinion Tarik is without question deserving of a homegrown contract, even with the increased standards by which MLS clubs have for these deals, but I wonder how much Dallas rates him. They clearly rate him a bit. He is one of only two 2005s to play for North Texas and one of the few who played for their U19s, but I am surprised a homegrown deal has not happened yet. I do have one theory, Tarik recently played for Bayern Munich’s World Team and Tarik is the type of player that Bayern has been interested in from Dallas. Bayern in Dallas have a strong relationship in player development. 

At the International level, I am also surprised Tarik has not yet been selected to a USYNT U19 camp. It’s possible that he has and the timing has not worked out, but he is definitely one of, if not the top winger in this class, so I would expect that to come soon. Tarik has also not featured for Jamaica, of which he is eligible. I assume Tarik was recruited by Jamaica to play in the Concacaf U20 Championship and I am guessing Tarik passed because he is focused on getting an opportunity with the United States. 

What makes him special? 

Tarik might be the most dynamic athlete in the United States youth pool and that includes Cade Cowell. Cade is stronger, but I think Tarik is more explosive in short areas, has better long speed and is more dynamic in the air. Soccer is about much more than athleticism, and Tarik isn’t just about that or else he wouldn’t be this high on the list. He also has pretty control of the ball and can manipulate it well. He is pretty creative out on the wing. He also gets into good spots and has a goal poacher feel to his game. 

Biggest opportunity for improvement? 

Tarik does need to learn how to leverage his explosiveness within the game a bit more and he also needs to get a better feel for when to release the ball. He often tries to do the entire defense instead of beating one or two players and then releasing the ball to create a numerical advantage. When that instinct gets developed he will really be a handful. 

#9 | RCB, Grayson Dettoni, Bayern Munich U19

Grayson Dettoni is an Italian-American that currently plays for the highly acclaimed Bayern Munich Academy at the U19 level. Grayson started at San Diego Surf before moving to Germany to join the TSV 1860 München Academy. In July 2020 he joined Bayern at the U16 level and he has moved up the ranks since then, now looking like a starter for the U19 level, the last level before the professional ranks of Bayern II. Grayson started at RCB for Bayern U19s first game last weekend and played well. 

Grayson has yet to represent the United States or Italy at the Youth International level, which I find surprising, but I also don’t think that will last much longer. I would expect him to get a call to a U19 camp soon. 

Grayson is a center-back through and through, there is not a positional debate to be had for him. 

What makes him special? 

Grayson is usually the biggest guy on the pitch. He’s tall. When I first watched Grayson play a couple of years ago, he was tall, but he hadn’t really grown into his body, meaning he didn’t move super well and wasn’t the most coordinated. That has changed and that has changed my view of him as a prospect. He moves a lot better now and he is starting to fill out and become stronger. Grayson isn’t just a big body, he’s a tactically sound player that is usually in the right spot. He’s aggressive in duels and times his tackles pretty well. He also has the potential to be dominant in the air, like Walker Zimmerman kind of dominant.  

Biggest opportunity for improvement? 

Grayson is by no means poor on the ball, but Bayern does not ask him to do a whole lot. They build through the other center-back most of the time and that CB isn’t magical on the ball, so that does say something about what they think of Grayson’s ball skills. I haven’t seen him have to use his feet under pressure and place a ball in a tight window, but he looks comfortable and smooth. 

#10 | CF, Marcos Zambrano-Delgado, Philadelphia Union Academy

Marcos Zambrano-Delgado is an emerging Ecuadorian-American prospect that currently plays for the Philadelphia Union Academy. Marcos is the second player on this list that is not on a professional contract, which I expect to change before the 2023 MLS season. Marcos has developed through a number of Academies in Ecuador including: Deportivo Azogues, CD El Nacional, CD Clan Juvenil and Club Sport Norte American. He joined Philadelphia in March 2021. Marcos has not yet played for Philly 2, while fellow 2005 center-forward, Nelson Pierre, number 13 on this list, has been a fixture with the MLS Next Pro club. Does this mean that Philly rates Pierre higher than Zambrano? Not sure, but it is something to monitor. Marcos had a big year for Philly’s U17s, where he was one of the leading goal scorers in MLS Next and he played very well in the big tournaments this summer (GA Cup, MLS Next Cup). 

At the Youth International level, Marcos has represented Ecuador at the U15 and U17 levels, but has represented the United States more recently at the U19 level, where it looks like he is the early favorite to play the number 9 position. 

Marcos is without a doubt a number 9, but he is a different kind of number 9 than we are used to seeing in the YNT circuit. I’ll detail what I mean, below. 

What makes him special? 

Marcos is a highly skilled striker. He is a better athlete than he gets credit for and he moves well in the final third. He finds dangerous spots and has a nose for where the ball is going. He connects well with his teammates. He has a nice first touch and interplays creatively. He can also create his own space through smart and technical dribbles and he can score in a variety of ways. He strikes the ball well, he poaches goals and he scores frequently with his head as well. He is a very well rounded striker for his age. 

Biggest opportunity for improvement? 

The one area I would like to see Marcos improve is in his hold up play. He connects well when it’s fast, but when he needs to hold up for a second or two to relieve pressure and help in the build up, he can struggle at times. This can be solved both through technique and him growing into his body and getting stronger. 

#11 | CM, Brooklyn Raines, Houston Dynamo

Brooklyn Raines has been a hot name in the USYNT picture for a while and it isn’t just because he has a really cool name. Brookly is a Liberian-American who started at the Inter FC Chicago Academy before moving to the Barca Residency in Arizona. He was loaned to El Paso, a club in USL last season, but only received 19 minutes of playing time. In February 2022 the Houston Dynamo purchased his rights from RSL and signed him to a professional contract, but he isn’t eligible to play in MLS league games until February of 2023 because of a weird MLS rule I don’t care to get into. This year Brooklyn has been consistently starting for Dynamo 2 in MLS Next Pro and he has played well, scoring 1 goal and adding 3 assists. He also started all of Houston’s US Open Cup games and he looked very good in those games as well. I predict that Brooklyn will have a key role with Houston’s first team next season. Interestingly Brooklyn’s contract ends at the end of 2023, which indicates that he may have a transfer lined up to European club once he turns 18 and he and the Dynamo front office have an understanding. 

Internationally, Brooklyn has been invited to all of the U19 camps that have been held recently and looks to be a key figure for the 2005 group moving forward. Brooklyn can play all over the midfield as 6, 8 and 10, but he’s likely best suited for the 8 right now, but I could see him moving to the 6 at some point in his career depending on how he develops. 

What makes him special? 

Brooklyn has a very well rounded and mature game. He isn’t someone that is going to immediately jump out at you when watching, but if you watch him enough you really start to appreciate how good he is at many things. Brooklyn isn’t the most imposing players, but it doesn’t seem to impact him too much on the pitch. Even when he was playing in the US Open Cup against bigger and stronger players, it never seemed too much. Usually, when smaller players don’t struggle physically it is because they are highly intelligent players, and I think that is true of Brooklyn. He gets in good spaces, he is very clean on the ball and he knows when to dribble and when to release the ball. He isn’t super goal dangerous but he is very reliable defensively and he keeps things fluid offensively. He may never be great, but he is going to be very solid for many years to come. If he can add some dynamaciscm to his game he could really be something. 

Biggest opportunity for improvement? 

The one area that is missing from Brooklyn’s game right now is high impact offensive production. He does not arrive in the box with bad intentions. He can be pretty passive in the final third. He won’t make mistakes that kill chances, but he isn’t going to create chances at a high volume right now. 

#12 | CM/DM, Benjamin Cremaschi, Inter Miami Academy 

Benjamin Cremaschi is an Argentinian-American who started at the Weston Academy, one of the biggest independent clubs in Florida. After a great 2020-2021 MLS Next season, Inter Miami plucked him from Weston in July 2021. Last year was his first full season in the IMCF Academy and he has not disappointed. He is one of the fastest rising prospects in the 2005 class. Ben played for the U17s and for Miami II, IMCFs MLS Next Pro’s team. He’s recorded over 500 minutes and 3 goals in MLS Next Pro. Ben is not yet on a homegrown deal, but I’d bet some money that he will before the start of the 2023 season. Benjamin has also been a regular on the newly formed U19 team and will likely be a key player for the next U20 cycle. 

I can see Ben panning out as a 6 or an 8. For now, he is playing more as a 8, which I like. Let him develop there as much as possible and if the offensive game does not develop enough, he would be just fine as a 6, but I’d bet he is going to work out as an 8. 

What makes him special? 

Ben is another well rounded midfielder and he has a strong physical profile. He’s strong and quick and is very physical. He reads the game really well as evidenced by the amount of times he intercepts balls during the game. He just seems to have a good understanding of what the offensive is trying to do and he gets to spots before others do. Offensively he is effective as well. He is a better dribbler than passer right now and he also makes his presence felt in the final third. He strikes the ball well and arrives at the right time. 

Biggest opportunity for improvement? 

I’d like to see Ben have a better sense of when to release the ball and not rely as much on the dribble. I think that he has the technique to be a good passer, but lacks the instincts for it right now. I definitely think this is something he can add to his game pretty quickly. 

#13 | CF, Nelson Pierre, Philadelphia Union Academy

Nelson Pierre has developed through the Philly Academy since 2014. He split time this year between the U17s and Union II. He signed a MLS Next Pro contract in March 2022 and has appeared in 15 games, just under 600 minutes and he has scored 4 goals, not bad at all for a 17 year old. Philly has two really good strikers in their 2005 class between Pierre and Zambrano. It will be interesting to see if Philly commits to both at the first team level or if they will decide to give a homegrown deal to just one. 

USSF has yet to bring Nelson into a camp. He doesn’t fit the US game model as much as Zambrano, so it makes sense, but he does fit the Philly model well. He’s a highly vertical player that plays with a lot of tempo. He plays mostly as a 9, though I have seen him play as a winger. With Philly he’ll often play in a two striker system. 

What makes him special? 

Nelson has a really strong physical profile. He is tall, strong and he moves really well. He is at his best in counter-attacking situations or when the opponent is playing a high line and he can run behind the back line. He also strikes the ball with venom and he is pretty good in the air.  

Biggest opportunity for improvement? 

Nelson’s touch leaves a little to be desired. This leads to challenges in hold up play and connecting in low blocks. I think this is the biggest reason he hasn’t been called to the U19s. If he can become more clinical in build up, he has a really bright future. 

#14 | AM/CM, Reed Baker-Whiting, Seattle Sounders

Reed Baker-Whiting, otherwise referred to as RBW, has been a well known prospect in the USYNT system for a while, so it may surprise people that he is this low on the list. RBW developed within the Sounders Academy. He went on loans to the Tacoma Defiance in 2020 and 2021 and then signed a homegrown deal in May of 2021. He made his MLS debut in 2021 and received 200 minutes in total. I was expecting more from him this year, but he has only logged 94 minutes, which kind of sums up my concerns with Reed. He has played 800+ minutes in MLS Next Pro and has scored once and assisted another. For the most part he looked pretty average or slightly above average at that level which I kind of expected him to dominate. For a player that has been reportedly scouted by Liverpool, Manchester City and Dortmund, you’d expect a bit more. On the International side of things RBW made three appearances at the U15 level and two appearances at the newly formed U19 level. 

Reed can play as an 8, 10 and out wide as an inverted winger. He profiles best for me as an 8 or 10. He is more offensive minded but has the physical ability to play as a box to box midfielder. It looks like the U19 YNT has been playing him as a winger, which is generally where they slot 10s in the 4-3-3 system. 

What makes him special? 

Reed is a very well rounded player, but lacks any real elite qualities. Physically he is above average in terms of pace, short area quickness, size and strength is average. Technically he is very clean on the ball and is a pretty good passer. Tactically he has a good feel for the game and displays good vision and timing.  

Biggest opportunity for improvement? 

What worries me about RBW is that I have not seen real significant growth over the last two years. He kind of looks like the same player he was two years ago. It’s hard to say why. Is Seattle not providing the development he needs? Is he not putting in the work? Did he peak early? Who knows, but if we don’t see a bigger jump next season it might be time to start worrying. 

#15 | AM/WING, Álex Alcalá, LA Galaxy Academy

Alex Alcala is a Mexican-American from Stockton, California who started his academy career with the Stockton Rebels before signing with LA Galaxy. Alex’s current situation is strange. He is on a LA Galaxy II contract, but he has not played with LAGII all year. He has only played with the U17s. What is also interesting is that Manchester City owns the rights to Alex when he turns 18 if they decide to sign him. Alex has only played for Mexico and there have been reports that he is only interested in Mexico. I have no idea if that is true, but it may be that Alex never suits up for the United States, but until that becomes official, we’ll have him on our list. 

Alex is an electric playmaker that can play both centrally as a 10 and out wide as a winger. 

What makes him special? 

You might have come to know Alex after his highlight reel performance against Manchester United’s U17s in this year’s Generation Adidas Cup. Alex put on an absolute show, embarrassing players from one of the greatest Academies in the world, left and right. Alex probably manipulates the ball better than any player in the US-eligible youth pool. He is a wizard with the ball at his feet and it is the main reason Manchester City own his purchasing rights when he turns 18. He isn’t just a dribbler. He is also a very clever and gifted passer and he strikes the ball really well from his preferred left foot. His feel for the game and soccer IQ is extremely high as well. 

Biggest opportunity for improvement? 

The big question mark for Alex right now is his size. He is extremely small, which isn’t a deal breaker at all in soccer, especially when you possess the technical ability and tactical ability that Alex has, but it will be a question mark until he can prove that he can impact games against grown men, which he has yet to have the opportunity to do. If he does prove, he will be much higher on this list. 

#16 | CB, Santiago Suarez, Sacramento Republic Academy

I didn’t know anything about Santiago Suarez until the United States U19s called him into a camp recently. He happened to get his professional debut just around the same time for Sacramento Republic. Santiago grew up in Rocklin, California, about 45 minutes from where I grew up. I believe Santi is a Uruguayan-American, though Transfermarket does not show that. Surprisingly, Santi is not on a pro deal with Sacramento, he is on loan from the Academy this year, but I’d expect that to change, unless he has an arrangement in which he is planning to transfer out when he is 18. Santiago is a right-footed center-back who has played as a left side center-back for Sacramento. 

What makes him special? 

The first thing you notice about Santiago is that he is really tall, like 6-4 to 6-5 tall. Obviously being that tall has its advantages as a defender, but the concern is how he moves at that height, at a young age. Seeing him move fluidly was a big box check and got me really intrigued. Next is about how he plays soccer and there are lots of things to like there as well. The thing that has continued to show for me is his communication and anticipation skills, developed well beyond his years. He is constantly talking to his teammates, pointing and making sure everyone knows what is going on and knows their assignments. This is really impressive for a 17 year old center-back playing with a group of professionals. Santi plays aggressive and goals into duels with vigor and he has shown to be pretty good in 1v1 situations. He isn’t bad on the ball either. 

Biggest opportunity for improvement? 

Santi has a tall and lean frame and he will need to add muscle and strength as he plays better and better competition. He is pretty good on the ball, but I still think it is an area he can improve. At times he over-finesses passes, which usually signals nerves and potentially a lack of confidence. The skill looks to be there, he just needs more experience and confidence going forward. 

#17 | GK, Emmanuel Ochoa, San Jose Earthquakes

Emmanuel Ochoa, also known as Emi, is a Mexican-American from Salinas, California. Emi is the only goalkeeper that made the top 20 list for the 2005 class. Emi started his Academy career with El Camino FC and also played for the Santa Cruz Breakers. In 2019 he moved to the San Jose Earthquakes Academy and then on November 2019 he signed a homegrown contract. Emi has yet to make his MLS debut. He has been the number one keeper for Quakes II and has logged over 1,000 minutes in MLS Next Pro where he has allowed only 13 goals in 12 appearances with two clean sheets. Emi is highly contested youth international between Mexico and the United States. He has appeared for the United States most recently at the U19 level, but he has featured for Mexico at the U18 and U16 level. The big decision for Emi will likely come in 2023/2024 if he has to choose between the two for the next U20 Concacaf Championships. 

What makes him special? 

Emi has good length and appears to have good hands. He is an intense leader that is unafraid to get the defense organized and seems to have pretty good box control. Emi also is comfortable with the ball at his feet, he’s left-footed, and has shown the ability to deliver various types of long distance passes with some accuracy. His positioning and decision making are pretty good for his age as well.  

Biggest opportunity for improvement? 

While Emi has good length, I do think his reaction time and his explosiveness out of his stance can be improved so that he can more consistently get his hand to more difficult shots. His flexibility and ability to get to balls driven on the ground can be improved a bit as well. 

#18 | CM, Sergio Oregel, Chicago Fire

Sergio is a Mexican-American that is on a homegrown deal with the Chicago Fire. Sergio signed his deal in January of 2022 after developing through the Fire Academy. Sergio made his professional debut in the Open Cup this year, but has not yet appeared in a MLS League game. He has been a fixture for Fire II in MLS Next Pro where he has tallied five assists in just under 1200 minutes. Sergio is an 8 that could project to the 10 if he doesn’t develop enough physically to be a box to box midfielder. Sergio is another Mexican-American 2005 that has only played for the United States, but it is highly likely that there will be competition in the future. Sergio has been playing for the U19s and has scored in one of his appearances. He also played for the U15s a couple of years ago. 

What makes him special? 

Sergio is an incredibly intelligent player that has outstanding vision. He sees opportunities across the field and also has an elite ability to conceive and deliver a pass on point. Vision and passing are by far his super-powers as a soccer player. He’s also clean on the ball with a good first touch and half turn. He is not the most dynamic dribbler going forward, but he is secure. 

Biggest opportunity for improvement? 

Sergio is average at best physically, which is why a move to the 10 might be in his interest. Size, strength and quickness all leave something to be desired, but his IQ and skill definitely help make up for it. He is still young, just turning 17, so there is plenty of time for him to mature and develop physically. 

#19 | DM, Bryan Moyado, LAFC Academy

Bryan Moyado is a Mexican-American that has developed through the LAFC Academy. He is part of a pretty talented group of 2005s, none of which have been solidified a homegrown deal and none of which have been given time with LAFCs USL affiliates, the Las Vegas Lights. This entire group has played with the LAFC U17 team in MLS Next. I’ll be interested to see how this materializes for LAFC. Will this group struggle to adapt to higher levels? Bryan has committed to UCLA for the next NCAA season, but there is plenty of time for him to earn and explore other next steps in his career. He will have until August 1, 2023 to decide what his next steps will be. On the international side of things, Bryan has only represented the United States and he has done that at the U19 level and the U15 level. 

What makes him special? 

Bryan is a quintessential holding midfielder that controls the game well on the defensive and offensive side of things. He reads the game extremely well and is the ultimate calming presence on defense and in build up. He is clever and tidy with the ball and he has great vision and ability to execute a wide range of passes. He also has the ability to strike a ball from distance. 

Biggest opportunity for improvement? 

While Bryan reads the game really well and can see things materialize before others, his biggest challenge is his explosiveness and strength. His IQ makes up for that in most cases, but we’ll see if his physical profiles holds him back once he starts playing against men that are older, faster and stronger. 

#20 | CB, Tyler Bindon, LAFC Academy

Tyler Bindon is another 2005 from the LAFC Academy that I really like. As far as I am aware, Tyler has been in the LAFC Academy for some time, but I am not 100% sure of that. Tyler is a right-footed center-back that has played mostly as a left-sided center-back for LAFC U17s. Tyler is not on a professional contract and from what I am aware of, has not committed to a NCAA program. Tyler has been in attendance at US U19 camps. Tyler caught my eye in a Generation Adidas Cup game against high-powered Flamengo where he showed a ton of poise and skill under immense pressure. 

What makes him special? 

Tyler is a tall and lean center-back that has shown the ability to perform well in a high-line in space. Tyler shows a lot of poise, calm and aggressiveness as a center-back, a combination that you really like to see from a defender. Tyler also shows a great ability to pass out of the back with both of his feet with accuracy. 

Biggest opportunity for improvement? 

Tyler is tall, but I have yet to see him really dominate in the air, both defensively and on set pieces. That could be a lack of strength or timing, I am not exactly sure, but with his height, I’d really like to see him be more of a force in the air. 

2003 Class Top 20 Rankings >>>

2004 Class Top 20 Rankings >>> 

Honorable Mentions

CF, Nighte Pickering, Memphis 901 / DM, Ethan Kohler, San Jose Earthquakes / AM, Caleb Borneo, Columbus Crew / WING, Luciano Sanchez, Philadelphia Union / AM, Anthony Ramirez, FC Dallas / CB, Ty Nero, Columbus Crew

Need to see more of…

RB, Nati Clarke, Sporting KC / CF, Guilio Misitano, Roma / RB, Diego Rossi, Parma / RB, Leo Duru, Blackburn Rovers / CF, Rodrigo Neri, Atletico Madrid / AM, Favion Loyola, Orlando City