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2022 Youth Series: Top 20 Born In 2006



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. 

Other Top 20 Lists

2003 Class Top 20 Rankings >>>

2004 Class Top 20 Rankings >>>

2005 Class Top 20 Rankings >>> 

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


Pedro Soma is bringing Ginga flair to the USMNT



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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2022: Year in Review




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

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

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

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

The Team 

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

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

Patrick Keeler:

Alex Calabrese:

Daniel Smith:

Chris Kerr:

Tom Byer:

Josh Hertz:

Karun Sagar:

Chris from Football Report:

Nicholas Carr:

Grace Ott:


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

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

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

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MLS 2022 — American U21 Impact Rankings — Season Wrap Up



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Previous Ranking: 9

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Honorable Mentions

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

Statistical sources 

Football Reference, American Soccer Analysis

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