Last week we broke down the 2001 age group and this week we will dive into the 2002 age group. This is the second age group that will be broken down in a 5-part series evaluating the core youth national team eligible age groups going from the 2001’s to the 2005’s. In this we will take a look at the strengths and weaknesses of this age group, the high end players, my ideal 23-man roster, and a ranking of the top 25 players.
When taking a look at this age group, there are not too many strengths but there are a few positives that we can take out of analyzing this age group. The biggest positive is that there is some truly amazing players in this age group that are amongst the best in the entire youth national team pool. The players that come to mind for this are Gio Reyna, Kobe-Hernandez Foster, Damian Las, and Bryang Kayo. The strongest position in this age group is surprisingly, left back where there are four strong prospects in Kobe Hernandez-Foster, George Bello, John Tolkin, and Adam Armour. This should give USMNT fans hope for the future as this position has plagued USMNT depth charts for a very long time (DaMarcus Beasley can’t come out of the grave and save the position… again). The second strongest position is the goalkeepers where there is a plethora of talent in Damian Las, Chirutu Odunze, Seth Wilson, Aaron Cervantes, Max Trejo, Chris Edwards, and Brian Dowd. When USMNT fans look at the goalkeeper depth from this age group and the 2001’s they should feel safe about the position long-term.
The 2002 age group sadly has more weaknesses than strengths. While the age group does have the top end quality, the drop off from the top players to the other top 25 players in the age group is significant compared to other age groups which is why there really is not a strong position in the entire age group outside of left back and goalkeeper. When taking a look at the players in this age group there is much left to be desired for long-term USMNT prospects. There are a lot of players who will end up having very successful careers in Major League Soccer but there are not many who I think have a real chance at playing in a top European league or for the USMNT.
Out of all of the youth national team eligible age groups, the 2002’s are the worst and there is a pretty large gap between them and the other age groups. Their performance at the u17 World Cup exposed the lack of quality in this age group. When you look at the long-term picture you want two or three players to emerge as USMNT players and the 2002’s do check that box but they should not be expected to go above and beyond like the other age groups can. I am not expecting the 2002’s to have a large impact in the 2021 u20 World Cup cycle and the 2024 Olympic cycle, especially if Gio Reyna is withheld from participating which is looking incredibly likely.
Players to watch in the 2002 age group
Gio Reyna is the headliner for this age group and in my opinion will be the best player for the USMNT for the next three World Cups. Soccer is in his DNA as the son of USMNT legend Claudio Reyna and USWNT player Danielle Eagan. When both of your parents made it to their respective national teams then it should not come as a surprise that their kids are prodigious players (Gio’s younger brother Joah Reyna is on track to be just as good and one of the best players for the 2007 age group).
Everyone at Dortmund is raving about the talent of Gio and for good reason. He has an excellent first touch, he is calm under pressure, he can take on and beat any defender 1v1, he can make the killer pass, he is an excellent dribbler, he can score from distance, his stride is powerful leading to the ability to run past defenders, and he already has the frame of a senior player at the age of 17. While USMNT are excited about Christian Pulisic’s future, they should ecstatic about Gio’s as he will likely surpass every USMNT player including Pulisic.
There is only one weakness to his game: mentality. Gio does have a tendency to be over confident when he knows he is the best player on the field and can lose focus and become disconnected from his team. This happened the entire 2019 u17 World Cup cycle. Instead of picking his head up and combining with teammates and breaking down the opposition, Gio would dribble himself into traps and try too hard to put the team on his back which only backfired for him. However, this only has seemed to be a problem at the youth national team level as Gio has not shown any trace of being a selfish player with Borussia Dortmund’s first-team or u19’s. As Gio matures over time he will break this habit so this weakness is not something that USMNT fans should worry about, Gio will fix it.
Kobe Hernandez-Foster is a player that many USMNT fans are already raving about and a player that fans should get used to hearing about as he is the best left back prospect the United States has ever produced. Kobe comes from the LA Galaxy academy where he is one of the numerous talented players that Brian Kleiban has produced. Out of all of the Kleiban kids, Kobe is the best defender and potentially has the highest ceiling (potentially even higher than Uly Llanez which is a testament to his ability).
Kobe has every tool that you could want in a left back. He is fast, strong, a good dribbler, an incredible passer, a dominant defender, and is a dangerous player in the attack. Kobe is so good on defense that he was a locked in starter for the 2019 u17 World Cup team at center back and was still the best defender on the field by a country mile. The only weakness in his game is that he is only 5’8 and will get beat often in the air. While USMNT fans rave about Sergiño Dest they should be even more excited about Kobe as he is a can’t miss prospect.
Kobe could very well break into the USMNT picture but has one major roadblock ahead and that is breaking into the youth unfriendly Wolfsburg first-team as he will join Wolfsburg when he turns 18 this summer. Kobe will likely have just as meteoric of a rise as Gio Reyna has had in Germany next season. Kobe does have competition for the long-term USMNT left back spot with Chris Gloster, Sam Vines, and most importantly, Jonathan Gomez (a 2003 who is another top-tier left back prospect) but make no mistake, Kobe is the most talented of the bunch.
Damian Las is the next one up in a long line up USMNT goalkeepers. While David Ochoa is widely believed to be the best goalkeeper prospect the USMNT has, Damian Las is not behind if not just as good as Ochoa. While Ochoa decided to begin his career at Real Salt Lake, Las decided to head overseas to Fulham which is a club that has been historically friendly to American players.
Damian Las has fast reactions, is good with his feet, is an excellent shot stopper, and is a commanding presence in his box. The only weak spot in his game is that he is only 6ft which is relatively short for a goalkeeper. Las will have a hard time breaking into the Fulham first team but USMNT fans should not be concerned with this as goalkeepers traditionally break through at older ages. Las will be forgotten over the next few years by many with short attention spans because first team minutes will be few and far in between as expected but his progress should be closely monitored as he is one of the best goalkeeper prospects for the entire 2002 age group world wide.
Are you a USMNT fan who is often disappointed by the inconsistency of Weston McKennie and wish that he was a little bit better on the ball or that a player like that emerged? Well look no further because that is Bryang Kayo. Kayo has even compared himself to McKennie on multiple occasions. Bryang Kayo is an athletic box-to-box center mid who can cover ground, make defensive plays, make the killer pass, and put the ball in the back of the net. Bryang Kayo like Kobe Hernandez-Foster, is heading to Wolfsburg in the summer where he will look to fight for a spot in their midfield.
The current question to ask of Bryang Kayo is when will he emerge as a USMNT player and first team player with Wolfsburg. Wolfsburg has shown that they are tentative to move academy players into the first team (Uly Llanez finally is in first team training when he should have been months ago) so it is unknown when Kayo will be given a chance to break into their first team. Some USMNT fans are confident that Kayo can quickly progress at Wolfsburg (looking directly at Charlie Kennan) while others are completely unaware of who Bryang Kayo even is. For the USMNT, Gregg Berhalter has already vouched for Kayo’s talent when Bryang was selected to the January Camp roster becoming the first player born in 2002 to receive a call up to the USMNT. Kayo is a player who should be closely monitored over the next few years as he will be an important player for the 2021 u20 World Cup, the 2024 Olympics, and potentially even the USMNT.
Joseph Scally is a truly interesting prospect as he either has an incredibly high floor or a potentially very low ceiling depending on what position he ends up pursuing long term. Scally has come through the ranks at New York City FC as a right back but may end up being converted to a center back long term. Scally has already been sold to Borussia Mönchengladbach for around $2 million and will join the German club during the 2021 January window after Scally turns 18.
Scally is an aggressive full back who likes to get forward, play dangerous crosses, and win 1v1 battles. I am worried that at right back, Scally does not have the dribbling skills needed to succeed as an attacking right back in the Bundesliga. However, if Scally is converted to a center back he would immediately become one of the most skilled center backs and would just need to develop his defending and could quickly become a force in Europe and for the USMNT. I think long-term, Scally will be good enough to be a right back in Europe but I think his ceiling is much higher as a center back as he has the soccer IQ and the ideal size for a center back.
Scally has two weaknesses and they are a lack of flair and he often has one major mistake per game. Scally’s mistake prone tendencies come from him being so young and not being able to retain his focus for a full 90 minute game which is common for young players, I think he will fix this issue over time. Scally’s skill on the ball as a right back is where I am concerned. At the u17 level Scally is able to beat players because he is bigger, faster, and stronger than players his age but at the senior level you need more than just athleticism to beat players out wide and I do not see him adding this skillset to his game. That’s why I think he should move to center back where he does not need to be an elite dribbler and has all of the other tools to truly be a high level center back.
Chituru Odunze is the other goalkeeper to watch from the 2002 age group. Honestly, Odunze should not have chosen to play soccer as I think he could have been a great basketball player because he has good hands and is a giant standing at 6’7. But since Odunze has decided to pursue a career as a goalkeeper he should be regarded as a top USMNT goalkeeper prospect. Odunze is currently at Leicester City FC and will be under the tutiledge of Kasper Schmeichel for the time being which is a positive situation to be in as he will be learning from an excellent goalkeeper for years.
Odunze checks all of the essential goalkeeper boxes as he has good hands, fast reactions, and decent foot skills. The most important asset to Odunze’s game is that he is a giant at 6’7 and that is something that you can’t teach. If Leicester City’s coaching staff can round out the rest of Odunze’s game then he will end up becoming at a minimum, a top flight starter in Europe. If Odunze ends up having a better career than Damian Las I would not be surprised as he does have more raw potential but both goalkeepers are amazing USMNT prospects.
Nico Carrera is a player who is underrated by many but is a center back who I think has a bright future. Carerra is a towering center back from the famed FC Dallas academy. Nico Carrera is a Mexican-American dual national that will be in the future plans of both the USMNT and El Tri. Nico Carrera got his citizenship late into the 2019 u17 World Cup cycle and was immediately inserted into the u17 youth national team roster. Nico Carrera has the potential to make it in Europe in a top flight league in my opinion.
Nico Carrera is a giant who anchors a team’s back line. Nico is a good defender and is an aggressive center back who likes to push forward on the ball and with his passing. Nico most importantly is a vocal leader on the field and is exceptional at organizing a team’s defense. Nico is also good enough on the ball that he did feature as a defensive mid for the u17 youth national team multiple times. Nico’s weakness is one that many central defenders his age have as he needs to work on his 1v1 defending. This is not something that should be used to talk down his skill level as almost every center back at the age of 17 is not an elite defender as this position typically progresses at a slower rate like goalkeepers. Carrera is currently being sought after by numerous teams in Germany and will be heading abroad in the summer window. Carrera is a player who I think has a shot at breaking into the upcoming u20 World Cup cycle, the 2024 Olympic cycle, and the USMNT.
The 23-man depth chart for the 2002 age group
The 2002 depth chart is highlighted by the prospects previously mentioned like Gio Reyna and Kobe Hernandez-Foster as well as other note worthy players such as Sporting Kansas City’s Gianluca Busio, LA Galaxy’s Cameron Dunbar, and Seattle Sounders’ Alphonso Ocampo-Chavez and Joshua Atencio. Gianluca Busio at 17 years old has already logged over 2000 professional minutes and Joshua Atencio is the most underrated prospect in the entire youth national team system, has already captained the Tacoma Defiance in the USL, and was easily the largest snub of the 2019 u17 World Cup cycle.
Overall, this roster leaves a lot to be desired which is why players like Ricardo Pepi and Danny Leyva were key players for the 2019 u17 World Cup cycle playing up an age group as they are both born in 2003.
The top 25 ranking for the 2002 age group
- Gio Reyna- Winger/Attacking Mid
- Kobe Hernandez-Foster- Left Back
- Damian Las- Goalkeeper
- Bryang Kayo- Center Mid
- Joseph Scally- Right Back
- Chituru Odunze- Goalkeeper
- Nico Carrera- Center Back
- George Bello- Left Back
- Alphonso Ocampo-Chavez- Striker
- Joshua Atencio- Defensive Mid
- Mario Penagos- Defensive Mid/Center Mid
- Rubin Hernandez- Striker
- Tayvon Gray- Center Back/Right Back/Defensive Mid
- Cameron Dunbar- Winger
- Gianluca Busio- Attacking Mid/Center Forward/Winger
- John Tolkin- Left Back
- Sagir David Arce- Striker
- Seth Wilson- Goalkeeper
- Peter Stroud- Defensive Mid/Center Mid
- Gilbert Fuentes- Attacking Mid/Winger
- Jonathan Tomkinson- Center Back
- Jansen Miller- Center Back
- Jack De Vries- Right Back
- Sebastian Anderson- Right Back
- Griffin Yow- Winger
In case you missed it, here’s a breakdown of the 2001s.