In 2020 we took a look at the 2001-2005 age groups and highlighted the strengths, weaknesses, and the top players of each age group.  In this article, we will take a look at how the 2001 age group currently looks almost a year since our last article.  After this, we will take a look at the 2002-2005 age groups in order.  In youth development, changes from year to year as top players plateau and other player’s see their form improve.  Overall, the 2001 age group is shaping up to be very strong and will end up producing a lot of quality professionals and potential stars for the USMNT. 

Sadly, the 2001 age group was the focus year of the 2021 u20 World Cup cycle which was recently cancelled by FIFA due to Covid-19.  This means that the next u20 and u17 cycles have started which will focus around the 2003 and 2006 age groups.  But even though the current cycles have concluded, we will still continue with focusing around the 2001-2005 age groups for the next year as if the current cycles are still happening.  In 2022 we will move on and break down the 2003-2007 age groups which will be the core of the 2023 u20 and u17 cycles.  The good news for the 2001’s is that they are still YNT eligible because they are eligible for the 2024 Olympics which they will be the oldest age group and the leaders of our next u23’s.  All of the age groups that we will talk about will be contending for spots on the USMNT until at least the 2030 World Cup. 

In this article we will begin with a look at the strengths and weaknesses of the 2001 age group, followed by highlighting the top 10 prospects, then we will look at a two-string depth chart for the age group and a ranking of the current top-25 prospects.  Because Gregg Berhalter has been doing a fantastic job of pursuing dual-nationals we will be including all USMNT eligible prospects from now on. 

Strengths

For the 2001 age group there is a lot that fans should be excited about.  The strongest position in this age group are without a doubt the wingers.  The wide talent for the 2001’s is excellent with Uly Llanez, Konrad De La Fuente, Cam Harper, Matko Milijevic, Indiana Vassilev, Quincy Butler, Jordan Bender, Jalen Hawkins, and Joshua Penn.  We have already seen both Uly Llanez and Konrad De La Fuente make their USMNT debuts as teenagers after they both played up in the 2019 u20 World Cup and had a great 2020 where they emerged as elite talents in their positions.  Cam Harper, Matko Milijevic, and Indiana Vassilev would have been among the most talented wingers in older age groups but round out the top 5 players in this position for the 2001 age group.   

The center and defensive midfield positions are both very deep in this age group.  The center mid’s are loaded with Cole Bassett, Matteo Rittacio, Bryce Duke, and Will Vint.  The defensive mid’s are even better with Johnny Cardoso, Aidan Morris, Taylor Booth, Sebastian Berhalter, Leon Flach, and Justin Haak.  If these players were two years older I would have started all of them in the 2019 u20 World Cup over Brandon Servania and Chris Durkin.  In addition to all of these players there is also Owen Otasowie who is a position less player but looks like he will end up settling as a 6 or 8. 

There are two defensive strengths in this age group at right back and goalkeeper.  Right back a year ago was a concerning spot for this age group with Julian Araujo being far ahead of the others but now Bryan Reynolds has exploded onto the scene in the second half of 2020 and has caught the attention of numerous clubs including Italian giants Juventus who have reportedly offered $9.2 million for the young fullback’s services.  In addition to these two the 2001’s also has Cameron Duke (who also can play center mid) and Ian Hoffmann who are both looking to make a big impact in the MLS in 2021.  The goalkeepers are led by David Ochoa who many want to see with the USMNT sooner rather than later but also have promising talents in Luca Lewis and John Pulskamp. 

Weaknesses

 The biggest position of worry for the 2001’s are the centerbacks.  With Owen Otasowie wanting to play in the midfield there are not any bigtime talents for the USMNT among the 2001 center backs.  The best prospect is Leo Sepulveda, but Leo would be a major stretch to be a top five center back in the 2019 or 2023 u20 cycles.  George Campbell and Jacob Akanyirige are notable names in this age group, but both have had their struggles breaking into their MLS clubs where they should have been getting minutes by now. 

The other notable weak spot for the 2001’s is the strikers.  Folarin Balogun is the best prospect in the entire age group and has broken into the Arsenal first team but if he can’t be convinced to play for the USMNT over England then the striker pool is very weak.  Matthew Hoppe, Charlie Kelman, Jackson Conway, and Johan Gomez are the other strikers in the age group, but none are particularly convincing in my opinion.  I am confident that Ricardo Pepi would have been the starter for the u20’s this cycle even though he is born in 2003. 

The top 10 prospects in the 2001 age group

Folarin Balogun

 The 2001 age group has a lot of great talents, but none are quite at the level of Folarin Balogun.  The Arsenal product has already made his first team debut and scored two goals in five games.  Folarin putting it lightly was a goal machine in the Arsenal youth academy scoring 55 goals in 82 games for the Arsenal u18, u19, and u23 teams.  Folarin has pace, is good with both feet, is lethal in front of net and has a large shooting range.  Folarin has scored goals from 5 yards out and 30 yards out.  If he is given time and space, then the ball is going in the back of the net. 

Folarin is one of the biggest dual national prospects in the USMNT player pool.  He is eligible for England and Nigeria but currently has his eyes set on playing for the Three Lions.  There is a path to convincing Folarin to switch to the USMNT because of the log jam in England’s depth chart that is so stacked that even though Folarin is a good prospect, he may never get a look for the England senior team.  However, due to the USMNT striker position still being up for grabs, there is a realistic path for Folarin to come into the player pool and be a favorite to make the roster for the 2022 World Cup where he could be our starting striker. 

Owen Otasowie

Owen Otasowie is another American-English dual national but unlike Folarin, Owen currently looks more likely to play for the USMNT.  Owen has recently broken into the Wolverhampton first team and has been impressive in the chances that he has been given.  Wolverhampton has even rejected bids from numerous clubs, including Real Madrid, for Owen and it is obvious to see why, the kid is a massive talent.  Owen is a very versatile player who is so athletically gifted that he can excel at any position on the pitch, but his preferred position appears to be as a center or defensive midfielder. 

Owen started playing soccer only five years ago but has risen quickly to becoming a consistent name on a Premier League team.  Owen is a monstrous physical presence and is currently listed at 6’2 194 lbs but could very easily be bigger than that.  Owen, at 19 years old, is bullying grown men in the Premier League because he is so big and strong.  On top of his physical gifts, Owen is also pretty good with the ball at his feet.  Owen has a good passing range and first touch but both need to improve if he wants to cement his place in the Wolverhampton first team and compete for a spot in the USMNT in the player pool’s deepest positions. 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fEEW81F2mGs

Uly Llanez

Since 2017, Uly has been one of the most highly regarded players in this age group and for good reason.  Uly has made his USMNT debut already and has looked skilled and dangerous in all of his appearances.  In Uly’s January Camp debut last January, he was noticeably the best player on the field and showed confidence in taking the game winning penalty kick.  Uly’s hype train was queuing in 2017 and 2018 and took off at full steam in 2019 when he led the u20’s in scoring at Concacaf u20 World Cup Qualifying, had great performances in the u20 World cup (including his impact sub performance in the blockbuster win against France), and his constant highlight reel performances for the Wolfsburg u19’s.  Uly has had some trouble with transitioning from the youth level to the first team level at Wolfsburg but all reports out of Germany say that Uly is highly rated at the club and is in their first team plans. 

For Uly in the future he has to establish himself at the professional level at whatever club he is at.  Uly for reasons I can’t explain did not get to make his Bundesliga debut at Wolfsburg and has only been able to make five appearances since being loaned to Heerenveen in the Eredivise.  Uly is a huge talent but being talented can only get you so far, he needs to get first team minutes sooner rather than later before other players begin to surpass him in the USMNT depth chart.  Uly deserves the hype that he has but now he needs to show it at the club level like he has in a USA jersey. 

Johnny Cardoso

Johnny Cardoso has gone from an unknown to the USMNT player pool to someone that a large percentage of the USMNT fan base wants to be the backup to Tyler Adams in a full strength USMNT side.  Johnny currently is at Internacionale in the Brazilierao Serie A where he has been battling for first team minutes in the fourth-place club in the league.  Johnny is best as a deep lying 6 where he can be a defensive shield and a quarterback distributing the ball all over the field.  Johnny is a gritty player who can deliver bone crunching tackles and looks to make those defensive plays which is becoming increasingly more important for a defensive midfielder. 

Johnny currently has rumors swirling about a potential move to Marseille in France who have a long history of helping Brazilian players make the jump into a European league and them selling them on to bigger clubs.  If Johnny can follow past Brazilians who have done this or make a similar move, then he will have a very long and successful career ahead of him.  To be successful as a 6, Johnny has to improve his positioning when in possession.  Johnny often can be too deep or in a bad position to receive the ball and this is a habit he has to outgrow.  Part of the reason for this is that growing up, Johnny played as a winger, 10, and striker so he is still learning how to play as a 6.  As Johnny grows into the 6 the sky is the limit for the very talented Brazilian-American. 

Bryan Reynolds

Bryan Reynolds went from someone who many thought was the least talented FC Dallas homegrown in January 2020, to a player who is going to be one the most expensive American homegrown transfer to Europe in January 2021.  Bryan originally began his career as a winger and did not see much success in that position.  He often did not look technical enough and looked like he was still trying to grow into his 6’3 frame with the FC Dallas u19’s, the u17 YNT, NTSC, scrimmages at Bayern Munich, or the FC Dallas first team.  Then in 2019, Bryan began to play as a right back and looked a little better but still uncomfortable as he was learning a new position.  Fast forward to mid-2020 as Reggie Cannon was sold to Boavista and Bryan was thrown into being the starting right-back for FC Dallas and he hit the ground running.  Every game has been a constant improvement for Bryan who is starting to emerge as a highly talented fullback wanted all over Europe. 

Bryan is one of the most athletically gifted players in the USMNT player pool which is why many teams are trying to buy early.  Bryan is tall and skinny at 6’3, 165 lbs. but is fast, powerful, and starting to add muscle to his lanky frame.  Bryan also has shown a huge improvement in his ability on the ball as he blows by some of the best defenders in MLS with ease and racking up assists and key passes.  The young right back also has shown to be an excellent crosser of the ball, something that can be credited to his upbringing as a winger.  Bryan is a very raw player who still has a lot of areas that he needs to improve before he can compete for minutes at a club like Juventus but if he continues to improve at the rate that he has been in 2020 then this is all but a guarantee.  Bryan has the tools to be a fantastic right back and is a player that fans should be bullish about for the future. 

Julian Araujo

Julian Araujo is a highly talented right back that has been at the top of YNT prospect lists for a very long time and is showing no signs of slowing down.  Julian has had some troubles actually getting minutes at right back for the LA Galaxy, but the club has trecently ransferred away all of his competition for minutes and Julian is primed to have a massive 2021 season in MLS.  Julian is a different type of left back than Bryan Reynolds is.  While Bryan is more of a wingback who glides up and down the touchline getting into the attack, Julian is a more defensively sound player who is not as good in the offensive half but will provide much more stability for the backline.  However, Julian is no slouch going forward, his recent USMNT performance shows that Julian can effectively contribute to the attack. 

Julian is coming to a crucial point in his career where it soon will be either make it big or be an MLS lifer.  Julian’s floor is being one of the better right backs in MLS, but his ceiling is being a quality right back for a good European club and he needs to show that he is good enough for a move abroad sooner rather than later.  For the USMNT, Julian’s window is wide open but with Sergino Dest having a firm grip on the starting spot and Reggie Cannon, Bryan Reynolds, DeAndre Yedlin, Mauricio Cuevas, and Joseph Scally all being in contention for the backup spot Julian needs to show soon that he can be a serious long-term option for Gregg Berhalter’s team.  Julian has tons of potential but now entering his third professional season it is time that he truly showed this with consistent commanding displays in MLS and a move to Europe. 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TT1KD68p9Mo

Konrad De La Fuente

The first American to graduate from La Masia, Konrad De La Fuente has blazed a trail that millions of American soccer players have dreamed about.  Konrad made waves in 2020 breaking into the FC Barcelona fist team which no other stateside player has done before.  Konrad not being higher in this list is just a testament to how talented the previously mentioned players are.  Konrad would be higher in this list but there are some questions of Konrad’s athleticism and his ability to beat players 1v1 at the highest levels.  If Konrad can have a 2021 as successful as his 2019 and 2020 have been then Konrad will have a great chance at cementing a spot on the USMNT for 2022.

Right now, Konrad is in an interesting position of not having an established spot in the Barcelona first team and making the bench but rarely playing.  When Konrad plays for Barca B he is always one of the best players, but he is with the first team so often that he is not getting the consistent game time minutes that he needs.  Long term it is not likely that Konrad will ever become a consistent first team player for the Catalan giants, but Konrad does have other options… notably clubs in the Bundesliga like Hertha Berlin.  What Konrad does in 2021 will have a huge impact on his short term USMNT involvement.  Being a player who rots on the first team bench while getting reserve minutes is not going to be enough to land Konrad a spot on the USMNT.  Long term, I am confident in Konrad’s chances of having a good career and being a consistent USMNT player. 

Tanner Tessmann

In 2020 Tanner Tessmann went from a Clemson Football commit to a player getting consistent minutes for FC Dallas and having many fans clamoring to see him get called up to the USMNT for January Camp.  Tanner has tremendous potential as both a 6 and an 8 because of his skill on the ball, solid passing range, and significant athleticism.  With the way the game has been trending in many leagues in Europe, there is more room opening up for athletically gifted players who are secure on the ball and that is exactly Tanner’s game.  Unless he gets hit with a dirty challenge, Tanner is not going to lose the ball and he won’t get physically overpowered. 

2021 is looking like it will be a stellar year for the FC Dallas midfielder.  Tanner should be able to lock in a starting spot in the FC Dallas starting eleven this season even with all of the other homegrowns like Paxton Pomykal, Brandan Servania, and Edwin Cerillo.  Dallas will be inclined to sell Tanner soon as the next wave of talented homegrowns are quickly rising.  Because of this Tanner is in a great position to improve his game this season and then build on the great foundation after he gets a move to Europe.  Tanner’s combination of athleticism, technical ability, and being in the right club situation should give fans a lot of hope for the future of this talented midfielder. 

David Ochoa

Even though he has had a rough 2020, there is still room to be optimistic for one of the best young goalkeeper talents in the USMNT pipeline.  David Ochoa finally made his MLS debut in later towards the end of the 2020 season after a year full of unfortunate injuries and pandemic hindered opportunities.  The young goalkeeper is still viewed as the Real Salt Lake goalkeeper of the future and he will get more chances for the club in the future so a bumpy 2020 is no reason to be concerned.

David Ochoa is so talented that like many other players in the 2001 age group, he already has gotten called up for the USMNT.  This speaks volumes for his talent because getting called up in a position which has a history of peaking at older ages shows why fans should keep monitoring the future of this kid.  David was a virtual lock to be the starting goalkeeper in arguably the deepest goalkeeper cycle that the u20 YNT program has ever had.  Goalkeeper’s careers can go in any direction but bet on this kid.

 

Cole Bassett

 The biggest loser of the u20 World Cup cancellation is most notably Cole Bassett.  Cole was a guarantee to be on the u20’s roster and likely even be a starter as he was one of Anthony Hudson’s (his former Colorado Rapids coach) favorite players in the u20 pool.  Cole showed why he is so highly rated by the YNT staff this season in MLS where he was consistent performer and one of the best young players in the league.  Cole is another center mid who can be a great physical presence who can control the midfield.  Cole is above average on the ball but unlike many other young center midfielders in the YNT pool Cole is a lot more willing to take chances in the final third and because of this he is very productive on the score sheet. 

Because of a very successful 2020, Cole has many clubs who are interested in acquiring his services.  If Cole moves to a Bundesliga club is he good enough to get minutes?  In my opinion, he absolutely is.  At this rate, it is only a matter of time before the Colorado native becomes a resident in Europe.  If Cole can get the move to Europe, then his future will be very bright.  If the less likely scenario of Cole staying in MLS happens then he should still have a very good career.  Cole’s future is very promising and if he hits his stride when he moves overseas then I can’t wait for him to fight for a spot in a very talented USMNT midfield. 

My depth chart for the 2001 age group

2021 2001 Birth Year Age Group best XI

The top-25 players of the 2001 age group

  1. Folarin Balogun, Striker, Arsenal
  2. Owen Otasowie, Center Mid/Defensive Mid/Center Back, Wolverhampton
  3. Uly Llanez, Winger, Wolfsburg (on loan at Heerenveen)
  4. Johnny Cardoso, Defensive Mid, Internacionale
  5. Bryan Reynolds, Right Back, FC Dallas
  6. Julian Araujo, Right Back, LA Galaxy
  7. Konrad De la Fuente, Winger, FC Barcelona
  8. Tanner Tessmann, Defensive Mid, FC Dallas
  9. David Ochoa, Goalkeeper, Real Salt Lake
  10. Cole Bassett, Center Mid, Colorado Rapids
  11. Cam Harper, Winger, Celtic
  12. Aidan Morris, Defensive Mid, Columbus Crew
  13. Jose Gallegos, Attacking Mid, San Antonio FC
  14. Taylor Booth, Defensive Mid, Bayern Munich
  15. Matko Milijevic, Winger, Argentinos Juniors
  16. Indiana Vassilev, Winger, Aston Villa (on loan at Burton Albion)
  17. Sebastian Berhalter, Defensive Mid, Columbus Crew
  18. Leon Flach, Defensive Mid, FC St Pauli
  19. Matthew Hoppe, Striker, Schalke 04
  20. Bryce Duke, Center Mid, LAFC
  21. Matteo Ritaccio, Center Mid, Liverpool
  22. Leo Sepulveda, Center Back, UD Salamanca CF
  23. Cameron Duke, Center Mid, Sporting Kansas City
  24. Ian Hoffmann, Right Back, Houston Dynamo
  25. Charlie Kelman, Striker, Queens Park Rangers

David Kerr | @dkerr0118 on Twitter!