Series Overview

This is this fourth 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. 

2006 Class — Top 20

The 2006 class, in my opinion, is the most talented class of all the five classes I am ranking this year. This class possesses high end talent and a lot of depth. Positionally, this class is extremely deep and talented across the midfield, from the 6 to the 10, there are tons of big time talents that could develop into key USMNT players. There are a couple of really high end goalkeepers and there is depth behind the two that I really like. The center-back group is also strong. It might lack a truly elite prospect, but there are lots of really good prospects that could develop into an elite prospect. The full-back position is a little light on top end talent, but there is some depth and that is a position that tends to develop later on. I have only one true winger in the top 20, but he’s a blue chip prospect and there are plenty of guys knocking on the door to this list. Center-forward is the weakest position of this group. There is one top prospect that has not yet played for the United States, but it’s rumored that this is being worked out and we could see him with the U17s in the future. 

This group is considered the U17 group within the United States Youth National Team context. They are managed by Gonzalo Sagares and I have loved what I have seen from Gonzalo in terms of playing style. This group has the freedom to express themselves and they play a very joyful style of soccer that is very fun to watch. Since the group formed, they have played some great competition and have played very well. They have beaten Uruguay, Belgium & Portugal. They tied Argentina in a game they controlled and they lost to Italy 1-0. 

This is a very important group because they will be the lead age group for the U17 Concacaf Championship which is a qualification tournament for the 2023 U17 World Cup. I would be surprised if there is a team in Concacaf more talented than this group and I am guessing this is one of the most talented 2006 classes across the globe. This group will also likely contribute heavily to the next U20 cycle in 2025.

#1 | DM/CM, Pedro Soma, UE Cornella

Pedro Soma, who also goes by Pedrinho, is a Brazilian-American born in Coconut Creek, Florida. Pedro is a central-midfielder that can play as an 8 or a 6. Pedro is one of the most exciting players in the entire United States youth national team pool because he does so many things very well. I cannot find details on how long Pedro has been within the Cornella Academy and if he has been with any other academies during his youth career. 

I am also not sure what level Pedro will play this season, but I do know that he has been playing pretty regularly with the first team this offseason and started in Catalan Cup the last few weeks. It’s possible that Pedro gets first team minutes this year even though he just turned 16 in June of this year, which would be pretty remarkable. UE Cornella is not a big club, they play in the third tier in Spain, but they are a great Academy. My educated guess is that Pedro will stay at Cornella one or two more years before moving to a bigger club and I wouldn’t be surprised if Barcelona came calling. 

At the Youth International level, Pedo has been a fixture with the highly talented United States U17s and I expect that to continue. He has appeared in five official matches, mostly playing as a defensive-midfielder. He has not appeared for the Brazilian Youth National Team. 

Quick scouting report 

Pedro is a very complete youth prospect with a ton of elite tools. Physically, Pedro has a strong frame and he moves really well. He isn’t the tallest, but he has the looks of a player that is going to grow significantly and he is explosive so he does a lot of damage in aerial duels. Technically he is very advanced for his age. He might be the most ball secure player in this class and he is also adept at progressing the ball both through dribbling and passing. He has very good vision and the ability to execute a variety of passes. Pedro also strikes the ball extremely well. He is a player that can put a lot of heat on his shots and is pretty accurate from distance. There are a couple of highlight reel shots in his bag. Tactically is where he can improve a bit, though he is still strong in a lot of areas. He controls his zone well and is physical in duels. He reads the game well offensively and can create advantages and break lines in a variety of ways. I think there is room for improvement in how he reads the game defensively. He can be a little slow to spot danger, but right now, his physical ability masks that a bit, but that will need to improve as he moves up and level. Fitness has also been a question mark for him, but he’s looked like he has been in good shape over the last year. 

#2 | AM, Cruz Medina, San Jose Earthquakes

Cruz Medina is likely who most expected to be at the top of this list and he is not far off. Cruz is a bigtime talent that the USSF thinks the world of. Cruz is a Mexican-American from San Francisco, California. Cruz can play as an 8, 10 and as a winger. I like him best as a 10, but his game very easily translates as a right-winger where he can cut in on his preferred left foot. 

Cruz started his career with the San Francisco Glens and then moved to the San Jose Earthquakes Academy in 2019. In June of this year, Cruz signed a homegrown deal with the Quakes. Cruz has yet to make his MLS debut, but I am guessing that could come at the end of the season and I’d be sure he becomes a part of the rotation next year. This year he has appeared 14 times for Quakes II in MLS Next Pro and he has scored his first professional goal in 472 minutes. 

Cruz is a vital offensive weapon for the United States U17s. He has appeared in five matches and has scored twice for that group. Cruz will likely be invited to every important camp that he is available for. Cruz has not appeared for Mexico even though they will likely recruit him hard. Brian McBride and Ernie Stewart are making Cruz a top priority and will do everything in their power to keep Cruz in the US system. 

Quick scouting report 

Cruz is an electric offensive weapon with tons of skill on the ball. He is both secure and highly creative with the ball at his feet and his ability to manipulate the ball in a variety of ways is as elite as any in the US pool. Cruz is fearless and inventive going forward and unlike a lot of players his age, it doesn’t all breakdown when he gets to the final third. His decision making and executing in the final third is pretty clinical for a player of his experience. He is adept at both picking out the right final pass and creating space to finish on his own. Cruz isn’t the most physical player, but his skill and intelligence make up for it. When playing against other players his age and even a little bit higher, he maintains the ability to carry the ball through contact and create numerical advantages for his team. He is more quick than fast and still needs to grow into his body and add strength. Defensively he is up for it, but not the most dominating defender in duels, which is why I don’t think I would play him as an 8. He has done it for the U17s, but I think that is more a product of the shape than it being his best position. I prefer that he focuses his energy breaking defenses down rather than spending a bunch of energy chasing people from box to box. 

#3 | WING, Andre Gitau, Houston Dynamo

Andre Gitau is a Kenyanese-American from the Houston Dynamo Academy. Andre is still on an Academy contract which is very surprising to me. I have no idea whether that is Andre’s choice or Houston’s. My guess is that it is more so Andre’s choice and perhaps he is eyeing a bigger move when he is 18. I would be surprised if Houston has not offered a homegrown deal because Andre is the most talented player in the Houston Academy. Andre played all of this season with the U17s and did not spend any time with Dynamo 2, the MLS Next Pro team, in fact, none of the Dynamo 2006 class spent time with Dynamo 2. It is worth noting that Andre was born in November which makes him a young 2006 player who is still only 15. 

Andre is another player that has been a fixture with the United States U17s and I fully expect that to continue. He is the best out and out winger in this class. He has yet to score for the U17s, but he has come close many times and it is just a matter of time before he scores his first International goal. 

Quick scouting report 

Andre is an extremely gifted winger and it all starts with his strength and short area quickness. Andre is far more advanced than most kids his age both physically and with his ability to break defenders down 1v1. Andre has incredible balance through contact, above average ball manipulation skills, confidence and the desire to relentlessly take players on. In the final third he is solid, but can definitely get better. He is a good crosser and strikes the ball very well, but I’d like to see his accuracy in both departments improve a bit. His decision making can be improved, as can most attackers at his age. Right now, he relies and believes so much in his ability that he may hold on to the ball a little too long, but his dribbling ability does cause a ton of problems for the defense. I also really like Andre’s toughness and work rate, you don’t see him turn off too often, which is another great signal. 

#4 | GK, Diego Kochen, Barcelona FC

Diego Kochen is a Peruvian-American that was born in Miami, Florida. Diego currently is enrolled at La Masia, widely considered the best soccer Academy in the world. While Diego is assigned to the U18 level, he has been training and playing with higher levels. Most recently he was the second keeper for Barca’s reserve squad, two levels above the U18 level, which tells you what Barca thinks of his ability. Diego started at the Weston Academy in Miami and then moved to Tecnofutbol Academy in Spain before landing at La Masia. Diego recently signed an Academy extension to stay at Barcelona until 2025. 

Diego has appeared for the United States U17s three times and looks to be the preferred keeper, as he should be. Diego is also eligible to play for Peru, but has not elected to do so yet. 

Quick scouting report 

Diego is the most complete American goalkeeping prospect I have seen play at his age. It is not surprising to me at all that he is playing up levels at the best academy in the world, he is that good. His positioning on shot contact is very good, his reaction time is very good and his explosiveness is outstanding. His decision making, from what I have seen, is very good and he controls the box well. He usually makes the right decision on when to leave the box to punch or high point the ball and he is very aggressive when he makes that decision. He is also extremely adept at playing the sweeper-keeper role and he is very good with the ball at his feet. His touch is tidy and his passing is smooth and accurate. The only question for me is how well he maintains his size to athleticism ratio. Ideally he ends up around 6-2 or 6-3 and he maintains his fluidity and explosiveness as an athlete. If the physical development happens in a coordinated way, Gaga may not be the number one keeper for the future. 

#5 | CM, Adrian Gill, Barcelona FC

Adrian Gill is the second American who plays at La Masia in Barcelona. Adrian was born in Denver and is on his way to getting his Spanish passport, but he has said that his goal is to only play for the United States. He started at the same Academy that Pedro Soma currently plays at: UE Cornella and moved to La Masia in 2018. He too signed an extension and is now under contract until 2025 like Diego. Adrian was involved in an early United States U17 camp, but has not been back with the group. There are rumors that he did not have a strong camp which would explain why he has not been back, but Diego has, which tells us it is not a club release issue. Hopefully Gonzalo gives Adrian another chance soon. Every player is prone to bad camps, but it shouldn’t blacklist you from the group, especially when you are as talented and versatile as Adrian. 

Quick scouting report 

Adrian is a highly skilled and versatile player, which you would expect from a player within La Masia. Adrian is highly ball secure, more of a utilitarian dribbler than an inventive dribbler. His best attribute is his vision and passing ability. He can do it all from a passing standpoint — through balls, line breaking passes, long diagonals, crosses, you name it, he can do it. He is a highly intelligent player which is why Barca plays him at the 6, 8 and both fullback positions. Adrian has a sturdy and compact frame. He is not a burner, but he is quick and deceptive enough to beat people one on one and he is an intelligent defender. 

#6 | CF, Bryan Destin, Inter Miami FC

Bryan Destin is a Haitian-American in the Inter Miami Academy. I am not 100% sure Bryan is eligible to play for the US, but it’s been reported that he either is or is on his way to be. That is where things get confusing. Bryan played for the Haiti U20 team in the Concacaf U20 Championships. He was playing three years up and I believe he was the youngest player in the tournament to score a goal. He appeared four times in that tournament for Haiti, with one goal. 

Bryan has not yet appeared for the United States U17s, but I heard that the USSF was trying to get him eligible for the most recent camp, but his paperwork had not come through in time. The big question is what is Bryan eligible for in the future assuming he does have proper citizenship? I’ve heard differing opinions, but the most optimistic point of view is that he can play for the United States at the U17 level because he has not played in a Fifa sanctioned competitive match at that level. I have also heard that he could play for the United States in the next U20 cycle because it is a new cycle, but I am not 100% sure on that. 

The reason this is worth tracking is because Bryan is far and away the best number 9 from this class in my opinion and it is a class that has been relying on 2007s to fill that role — it is the biggest position of need and Bryan would fill it so well. 

Bryan has played with the Inter Miami U17s this year and has also made four appearances with Miami II in MLS Next Pro. Bryan is not on a homegrown deal but I wouldn’t be surprised if he did sign a pro deal before the start of the 2023 season. 

Quick scouting report 

Bryan is an athletic, skilled and opportunistic striker prospect. He isn’t a tall striker, but he’s strong, explosive and he uses his frame so well to gain leverage on his opponents. This comes through very well in his hold up play. He has excellent technique and body control in holding up the ball and allowing his teammates to build play around him. He also uses his body well to free up space to shoot on goal. Bryan tends to do most of his scoring by creating his own shots or getting in great positions around the box. He isn’t a big aerial threat right now, but this is something he could add to his game down the road. Bryan does a great job of consistently putting the ball on frame and he has quick feet which allow him to get shots off in tight spaces. 

#7 | AM, Jude Wellings, Real Salt Lake

Jude Wellings is an attacking-midfielder that is from Birmingham, Michigan. He started his Academy career with the Nationals Union before moving to the RSL Academy. In January of this year he signed a homegrown deal with Real Salt Lake. Jude is another example of RSL doing a great job of recruiting outside of their territory and also another example of Minnesota doing a terrible job of identifying talent in their territory. 

Jude has yet to make his MLS debut and has played mostly with the U17s. He has also logged just under three minutes with the Real Monarchs in MLS Next Pro. Jude has made three appearances for the United States U17s as well, playing primarily as an 8 in the 4-3-3 system. 

Quick scouting report 

Jude is a very mature and well rounded prospect, but the concern for me is that I haven’t seen a big development jump from last year to this year. Similarly to Reed Baker-Whiting, Jude has long been considered a top 2006 prospect, but he seems to be plateauing just a little bit. It could just be a blip because Jude is still very talented and there is a ton to like. He is strong and tidy on the ball, he sees the field well and is an instinctive passer and he has a great nose for goal and arrives well in the final third. His defense is still a work in progress which is why he is still more of a 10 than an 8, but I could see him playing at the 8 as well because he has the physical profile for it. He isn’t an elite athlete but he certainly has enough strength and quickness to play a box to box role. 

#8 | GK, Julian Eyestone, FC Dallas

Julian Eyestone is a goalkeeper prospect from Dallas, Texas who plays within the FC Dallas Academy. Last season he was the primary starter for the U17s, playing a year up. Julian is not on a professional contract of any sort with FC Dallas, but he is absolutely one of their prized academy players. 

Julian has joined a couple of U17 camps, but he has yet to appear in an official match. I would expect that to change in the near future. I think that Diego Kochen is the clear number 1 of this age group, but Julian isn’t too far behind and should see some game time. Between the two, this is a lethal one-two punch at goalkeeper for this age group. 

Quick scouting report 

The first thing that jumps out at you when you watch Julian play is “wow, I can’t believe this kid is only 16”. He is huge, like 6-3 or 6-4 and he isn’t a clumsy 6-4 that hasn’t grown into his body. He is an athletic and fluid player at 6-4. This alone makes him a high end prospect because he is able to get balls to all four quadrants of the goal that most at his age have no chance getting to. His positioning and reaction time is pretty good, but definitely has room for improvement. He is hyper aggressive and does a great job of commanding the box and clearing danger through punches and high pointing the ball. On the ball he is surprisingly comfortable as well. He is not at Kochen’s level, but he is certainly not a nuisance. He can and will continue to develop in this area of his game, but he is starting from a good foundation. 

#9 | CB, Stuart Hawkins, Seattle Sounders

Stuart Hawkins is the top center-back prospect in this group by my estimation and it is a pretty good crop of center-backs. Stuart has come up through the Sounders Academy system and was recently signed to a year long loan to Tacoma Defiance, their MLS Next Pro team where he has appeared four times. Stuart played for Seattle’s U17s for the majority of the season and was arguably the best player for that U17 team that won the Generation Adidas Cup. Stuart has also been a fixture on the United States U17 team, playing mostly as a left center-back as a predominately right footed player. Stuart has appeared for the US U17s five times. 

Quick scouting report 

Stuart is a tall and lanky kid for his age, which is a common physique for center-backs his age, still only 15, turning 16 in September. As Stuart matures, he’ll fill out so he can compete with bigger and strong attackers. Stuart isn’t the most mobile, but he is really efficient with his movement due to his elite soccer IQ. For me, this is Stuart’s best trait, he has an incredibly feel and instinct for the game at his age, which is why you rarely see him out of position and you rarely see him look like he isn’t perfectly comfortable with what is going on around him. He times his tackles well, but rarely needs to take too many risks because of his great positioning. He is okay in the air, he’ll need to get better as he gets stronger. On the ball he is also very good. His touch is smart and clean and he passes the ball to different areas of the field with confidence. 

#10 | CM/DM, Bento Estrela, New York Red Bulls

Bento Estrela is a Portuguese-American midfielder who was is of the youngest players to sign a homegrown deal. He has been under a MLS contract with New York Red Bulls since February of 2021, only fifteen at the time of the signing. Bento recently made his professional debut in the USL for Red Bulls II. For the majority of last season, Bento played for the U17s.

 On the International side of things this is a bit of open recruitment battle between the United States and Portugal, which is a great indication of how far the United States has grown. Bento is a player that has been developed completely in the United States and Portugal is battling for his Youth National Team allegiciance. This case study is pretty unprecedented and is starting to happen more and more. Bento has appeared three times for Portugal’s U16s and has recently joined a United States U17 camp. In fact, Bento played against the United States U17s with Portugal and lost. 

Positionally, Bento is a versatile midfielder that has the tools to play the 6, 8 and 10. Right now, I think he fits best as game managing 8, but I can easily see him ending up at any of these positions.  

Quick scouting report 

Bento is a well rounded and mature player. Physically he is above average across the board. He has very good size and functional strength for his age, which shows up well in how secure he is on the ball and his ability to ride contact. He is also quick in tight spaces and can use his explosiveness to recover defensively and get by defenders. Technically he is also well rounded. As mentioned before, he is ball secure and able to progress the ball both by dribbling and passing. He isn’t overly inventive dribbler, but he is efficient and effective. One of my favorite skills that he has is his passing ability. He uses both feet well and he breaks lines consistently with his passing. He controls the game and his zones really well which speaks to his tactical ability. He always seems to be in the right spot. I’d like to see him become a little more influential in the final third, especially if he wants to remain as an 8. 

#11 | CB, Michael Dunne, Portland Timbers

Michael Dunne is the second center-back on this list and the first Portland Timbers player to appear on a top 20 list for me. Michael is a highly undervalued prospect in my opinion. He is a right-footed center-back that played predominantly for Portland’s U17 team, but also received two appearances in MLS Next Pro and looked really good in those appearances. Michael is not under a homegrown contract and he has not been invited to a United States Youth National team.

Quick scouting report 

Michael is a very mobile and aggressive center-back. He isn’t the tallest player at his age, but his athleticism makes up for a lack of height. Michael is also very good on the ball. He is both good with the ball at his feet and can dribble out of pressure/danger and he is an accurate and brave passer to all spaces on the field. I have mostly seen him use his right-food and would like to see him use his left more often. Michael is average at reading the game from what I have seen and can be overly aggressive. I’d love to see him not need to go into a tackle and make the game a little easier on himself by being in better positions and not fouling in dangerous spots. 

#12 | DM/RB, Aiden Harangi, Eintracht Frankfurt

Aiden is a Hungarian-American born in Reston, Virginia who plays within the Eintracht Frankfurt Academy at the U17 level. Aiden has not yet appeared for Frankfurt U17 this season and my guess is that he is carrying an injury. Aiden has played as both a 6, 8 and right-back. I like him both as a 6 and RB. He plays more so in the midfield for Frankfurt and played as a RB for the United States U17s. Aiden has played for both Hungary at the U16 level and more recently for the United States at the U17 level. It will be interesting to see who he decides to play for leading up to the 2023 U17 World Cup. I love his versatility and play style and think he is absolutely deserving of a spot on the U17 roster.  

Quick scouting report 

Aiden is a quick and slightly undersized player that plays with good balance and functional strength. He is pretty good technically. He is not an overly dangerous dribbler, but he has pretty good ball security. Where he thrives offensively is through his passing. He can deliver very difficult and lovely through balls. He is also a very smart and tough player. He is very sticky defensively and reads the game very well. 

#13 | CM/AM, Luis Moreno, Houston Dynamo

Luis Moreno is one of my favorite players in this class because he is so fun to watch. Luis plays within the Dynamo Academy and played with the U17s last season. He has not played for Dynamo 2 and is not on a professional contract. Houston has not given any of their 2006 players minutes with Dynamo 2 as of yet. Luis was with the U17s in their first camp and set of games down in Argentina and looked good as an 8 in the 4-3-3 system. He has not yet been back with the group. It’s a loaded midfield group and it will be challenging for Gonzalo to make a decision here. Luis can play in the box to box role and as an attacking-mid. 

Quick scouting report 

Luis is a very quick and currently very undersized player for his age, but his size doesn’t hamper him all that much at the level he is currently playing at, but it will be interesting to see if it does impact his effectiveness when he plays against older players. Luis’ superpower is his dribbling and passing ability. Luis has incredibly quick feet and pairs that with the creativity and skill to beat defenders with a variety of moves. He also possesses good vision and can find players in dangerous spots. Additionally, he strikes the ball well and can create his own chances. He is tough defensively, but he is much more advanced as an attacking player than a defender. 

#14 | DM/CM, Matthew Corcoran, Birmingham Legion 

Matthew Corcoran is a Dallas nativate that has played within the Dallas Texans and FC Dallas Academies. He is the first and only player on this list to play for a USL club and he does so for the first team, not the Academy. I expect that this will change over the next year or two as players who don’t get a homegrown deal will look at other options and USL is becoming more and more popular. There are a few other 2006 players not on this list who have gone that route. 

Corcoran has been considered a top 2006 for a few years and was a prized Academy player for FC Dallas, but Matthew and his family have a clear plan and they wanted him to get first team minutes early. I would expect Matthew has a clear plan for when he turns 18 as well. I have heard a move to Germany is very likely. Surprisingly, Corcoran has not featured for the United States U17s, one of a couple players on this list that hasn’t, but should get an opportunity at some point. The U17s are very talented, specifically in midfield, so that battle will be tough. 

Matthew can play both the 6 and the 8 and I can see him continuing to play both for a while because he has the physical profile and technical profile to continue to succeed in both roles. 

Quick scouting report 

Matthew is a big kid with decent movement ability. He’s tall and looks like someone who is going to fill out and add good functional strength. He plays a little upright and not always with great balance, but I think that will change as he develops. Matthew has pretty good ball security, but I think there is some room for improvement there and he is a very good passer with good vision. He reads space well and is adept at delivering long diagonal passes with accuracy. He does not yet provide a ton in the final third, which is an area he will have to grow in to stay as an 8. Overall he reads the game well and has good awareness and instincts defensively, though I think he could be a little more physical and aggressive going into challenges. 

#15 | CB, Tyler Hall, Inter Miami FC

Tyler Hall is a right-footed center-back that plays within the IMCF Academy. He is also the captain of the United States U17 team where he has appeared five times. Tyler is not on a professional contract, but has received over 400 minutes with Miami II and seems on track to get one, though a concerning injury this last month may delay that a bit. Tyler was carried off on a stretcher on what appeared to be a serious leg injury, but I have not been able to track down the injury. He has not appeared for Miami since the time of the injury. 

Quick scouting report 

Tyler is an undersized, but highly athletic center-back that can play on both the right and left side. How tall Tyler gets will likely determine where he ends up. Right now, he profiles similarly to Tayvon Gray in that his athleticism and defensive instincts allow him to excel at his current level, but if he does not grow to be at least 6-0 or taller, he may need to switch to RB or DM. He has the ball skills to make that transition, but if he does hit a growth spurt, he has fantastic upside as a center-back. He is explosive, tough and smart and he is a great leader as evidenced by his captaincy for both club and country. There are times when Tyler is overly aggressive and can unnecessarily go into tackles when it isn’t needed and in bad spots, but I expect that to level out with time. Hopefully Tyler’s injury isn’t too serious and it does not impact his development too negatively. We’ll see. 

#16 | AM, Aaron Heard, St Louis City SC

Aaron Heard is a very young 2006 born in late December which is important to note, especially for young soccer players. Academies are organized by birth year, so he has pretty much been playing “a year up” his entire Academy career. Aaron started at Bethesda, as many high profile players do in the DC/Maryland/Virginia area and then moved to the Union Academy. He decided in July of 2021 to move to the new St Louis SC Academy in anticipation for the club to join MLS and it has been reported that he will be given a homegrown deal before the start of next season. He is currently under contract with the MLS Next Pro team and has appeared five times. He also played in a US Open Cup game against Lou City. Aaron has also played for the U17s and U16s this past season. 

Aaron is an attacking player that shines brightest through the center of the pitch, though he can also deputize out on the wings, but I really like what he brings to the table as a 10. 

Quick scouting report 

As mentioned before, Aaron is a young and slightly undersized 2006, but he has grown a bit this past year and I expect that to continue as he is almost a year younger than many players in his group. Aaron has good quickness, but needs to add functional strength and contact balance. Aaron is a skillful and tidy dribbler that understands space well. He is very good at getting out of tight spaces while retaining ball control. Aaron is also a clever passer that can slip balls through for good chances, a critical skill for any good 10. I would like to see Aaron continue to improve in creating his own chances and continue to work on his product as a finisher. Additionally, like many young players, I would also like to see Aaron impact the game more consistently. He can disappear for periods of time which is frustrating for a player of his level of talent. 

#17 | RB, Oscar Verhoeven, San Jose Earthquakes

Oscar Verhoeven is a right-footed full-back that plays predominately on the right-side, but can also play on the left-side for the San Jose Earthquakes Academy. Oscar played for the U17s last year and looks like he will be playing with them again this year. Oscar has not yet appeared for Quakes II in MLS Next Pro, nor is he on a homegrown contract. Oscar has been another consistent call up to the United States U17 squad, appearing in five games. 

Quick scouting report 

Oscar is a tall full-back that has pretty good quickness, but looks as though he is still growing into his body and getting comfortable with his frame. He doesn’t have the prototypical frame for a full-back his age, but he definitely has the skill to excel out wide. Oscar is a highly creative and technical dribbler that enjoys the opportunity to attack players 1v1, very much in the mold of a modern full-back. Oscar’s crossing is inconsistent, definitely an area to continue to improve on. Defensively, he is up for it and does not take too many breaks on that side of the pitch. He can get stronger and a bit more instinctual, but he is definitely not a one-dimensional, offensive full-back, he is pretty solid defensively. 

#18 | AM, Micah Burton, Austin FC

Micah Burton is an undersized attacker that can play as an 8, 10, winger and has even played as a false 9 type for the United Statues U17s. Micah plays for the Austin U17s. He moved from the Minnesota Academy to Austin in July 2020, marking another big L for the Minnesota Academy. Austin did not get a MLS Next Pro team up and running this year, but will have a team next year which I expect Micah to get some time with. I also think that Micah is in store for a homegrown deal in the near future, it could come as soon as the end of this year or the beginning of next year. He is Austin’s top prospect by many accounts. 

Micah has appeared five times for the United States U17s, playing all over the pitch. He has scored twice for the U17s and assisted on others. 

Quick scouting report 

Micah is a highly skilled and intelligent player that is a bit undersized. Micah is a high floor player because of his soccer IQ and skill on the ball and as a passer. Micah is quick and has pretty good contact balance for his size, but his ceiling may be determined by how much physicality he can add as he develops. Micah is a tidy dribbler and has great vision and one-touch passing ability. He is a fantastic connector of play and may have the best off ball movement of anyone in this class. He never stops moving and is really smart at finding pockets of space. His positional versatility also speaks to his soccer intelligence. I have noticed that Micah can take his foot off the gas in lower level Academy games. I can’t speak to why, but he should be dominating week in and week out at the U17 level and at times he disappears a bit, which I’d like to see change. 

#19 | LB, Brian Alanis, Houston Dynamo

Brian is the first and only left-back to make the list and given the shortage of left-backs in the 2005 and 2006 class, Brian has a chance to be an impactful player for USYNTs. Brian is a Dynamo Academy player that has played for the U17s and has made the squad for Dynamo 2. I think Brian is deserving of a homegrown deal and hope to see that happen in the next year or two.

Brian was invited to the first United States U17 camp, but has not been back, which is very surprising and curious to me. I think he is clearly the best LB in this class and the others that have played LB for the United States U17s have been underwhelming. Last camp, they resorted to playing Verhoeven over there, who is a natural RB. 

Quick scouting report 

Brian is another attack-minded, modern full-back. Brian might be more of a wing-back than full-back, though he is willing to put in the work on the defensive side of things. Offensively he is a skilled and creative dribbler that has the confidence to attack players 1v1. His crossing can be developed, but is pretty good and he connects really well with his fellow attackers. Similarly to JoGo, he understands space and plays off of other players effectively. His final third product is good, but not great. 

#20 | CB, Matai Akinboni, DC United

Matai Akinboni is the most recent player to receive a homegrown deal with DC United alongside top 2005, Kris Fletcher. Matai is signed until 2025 with two option years. Matai is a Nigerian-American that has been developed through the DC Academy. He has multiple appearances for USL affiliate Loudoun and has been training with the first team regularly. Matai is a prized left-footed center-back. He has played for DCs U17s and U16s and was part of the very talented DC U16 team that won the MLS Next Cup. Not every MLS Academy uses the U16 level, but DC does and they were loaded last year. Matai was excellent during that tournament and absolutely shut down his zone. 

Matai recently received his first call up to the United States U17s and it was about time. They have lacked a naturally left-sided CB and have been playing Stuart Hawkins there. With Tyler Hall out with injury, I could see a Hawkins-Akiboni pairing in the back. 

Quick scouting report 

Matai is big, strong, smooth and left-footed. That combination alone will raise your profile as a center-back prospect and it is very easy to understand why Rooney rates him so highly and moved to make him a homegrown player so quickly. Physically, Matai has all of the tools and he also is good and ambitious on the ball. He always has his head up and is looking to break lines with his passes. At times, he might force it, but I love his ambition and confidence to push the game forward. I think the one place Matai has to improve and where he has shown improvement is staying focused for a full 90. He has been prone to mental errors in the past, but I saw that improve specifically in MLS Next Cup where he looked really locked in. 

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Honorable Mentions

AM, Bajung Darboe, Philadelphia Union / WING, Miles Perkovich, IMCF / WING/CF, Bryce Jamison, Barca Residency / WING, Adrian Wibowo, LAFC / WING, Owen Presthus, Columbus Crew / DM, Alex Perez, Philadelphia Union / AM, Cole Mrowka, Columbus Crew / CF, Ed Davis, NYRB / CB, Christian Diaz, LAFC / CB, Dane Agustin, San Antonio / AM, Alejandro Velazquez-Lopez, Nashville / CM, Garry Zhang, DC United

Need to see more of…

RB/RW, Malachi Molina, FC Dallas / WING/AM, Brian Romero, Charlotte FC / WING, Cole Campbell, Dortmund / GK, Nick Holliday, North Carolina FC / CB, Javen Romero, LA Galaxy / AM, David Vazquez, Philadelphia Union / AM, Valentin Yotov, Bayern / Noahkai Banks, Augsburg / AM, Yuval Ranon, Werder Bremen