Over the last couple weeks we have taken a look at the 2001, 2002, 2003, and 2004 youth national team pictures. In this article, we will be taking a look at the 2005’s who are a very interesting age group. When the age groups get younger and younger the accuracy of long term projections go down so it is important to figure out the players in the pool worth tracking. Prospects will emerge out of no where, and prospects will decline for different reasons. Player development is not linear so late bloomers will overtake some players mentioned in this article.
In this article we will take a look at the strengths and weaknesses of this cycle, the standouts in this age group, the 23-man depth chart, and the top 25 player ranking for the 2005 age group. The 2005’s target event is the 2025 u20 World Cup but buckle up everyone because this age group will be around for a while. The 2005’s are also eligible for the 2023 u20 World Cup, the 2024 Olympics, and the 2028 Olympics so the 2005’s have eight years of youth national team eligibility left. In those eight years, expect to see top prospects fall and even better prospects rise as late bloomers will emerge. With the talent that we currently have, fans should be very excited about this cycle.
I would like to thank USYNT and USSDA (rest in peace) oracles Charlie Kennan, Chuckme92soccer, and usyntfan126 for collaborating with me for this article. If you don’t currently follows these three on twitter then I suggest you change that as soon as possible.
Strengths and weaknesses
For the 2005s there is mostly just strengths and no weaknesses that have become apparent yet. Every position in this group ranges from strong, to very strong. The age group has numerous high ceiling players and has quality starters, backups, and even reserves in almost every single position which is incredibly rare as well. There should be quite a few players that are given the chance to play with the 2004’s that have not yet including guys like Nati Clarke and Italo Jenkins who both play in weak positions for the 2004’s.
The weakest part of the team is the goalkeepers. Emmanuel Ochoa is the biggest lock to start in this age group so far as he is the clear and obvious first choice goalkeeper. Victor Gomez and Javier Zaragoza are the current backups but could easily be passed up as time goes on.
The defense is the weaker than the midfield and attack but is still very talented early on in the 2005’s youth national team journey. The right backs have the best player in the age group in Nati Clarke as well as Edwin Avalos, Israel Boatright, and Christopher Sanchez. The left backs have two very early standouts in Nolan Norris and Ramsey Ray. The center backs have four early standouts in Diego Rosales, Mateo Pinilla, Demitrius Tanks, and Pranav DuBroff. The starting four for this age group should be Nolan Norris on the left, Nati Clarke on the right, and Diego Rosales and Mateo Pinilla in the middle. This defensive core very early on is very solid and will be a great foundation to build off of.
The midfield is even better than the defense. At defensive midfield there is a lot of truly quality talent with Reed Baker-Whiting, Alex Alcala (if the USA can sway him away from Mexico), Angel Martinez, and Jordan Jones. The center midfield has the least depth in the team but also has two very hard players to pass up in Brooklyn Raines and Francis Jacobs. The attacking midfield is also very strong with Diego Hernandez, Steven Ramirez, and Robert Deziel. All three midfield positions are insanely talented and this group is on track to be the best midfield that we have outside of the 2003’s. The group I would run out would be Reed Baker-Whiting at the 6, Brooklyn Raines at the 8, and Diego Hernandez at the 10.
The attacking talent in this group in particular shines bright. The strikers are the deepest position in the age group with Italo Jenkins, Nelson Pierre, Marcelo Mazzola, and Robert Willcot and wingers Serge Ngoma and Chris Thaggard can also play striker as well. Striker is a very weak spot for the USMNT and has been a weak spot as well for the youth national team’s so it is a fresh break of air to see this much depth. The wingers are oozing with talent as well with Gage Akalu, Serge Ngoma, Chris Thaggard, Dominic Dubon, Jonathan Villal, Anthony Ramirez, Kevin Kelly, and Ty Wilson who are all amazing players running rampant in the Development Academy. The attacking trio I would run out would be Gage Akalu on the left, Serge Ngoma on the right, and Italo Jenkins up top for what could very well become the most talented attacking trio a youth national team has ever had.
Overall, I am very excited about this group. Before looking at this age group in depth I thought they were an average age group in terms of talent but they are currently on track to become the most talented age group in my opinion. Player development is not linear so more players will emerge in this cycle and add even more quality.
The standout players of the 2005 age group
In this section we will look at the players who I think will be locks as time goes on for this age group. Due to these players being so young I decided to only list the locks for the youth national team rosters in this age group. There were numerous players on the bubble for this section who are amazing players but not quite locks including Diego Hernandez, Nelson Pierre, Chris Thaggard, Steven Ramirez, Dominic Dubon, Diego Rosales and Alex Alcala. All of these players are players I rate highly but I do not believe have done enough yet to be named with the best in the age group but are on track to be there soon enough.
There are only two players I have thought were at Nati Clarke’s level at the age of 15: Christian Pulisic and Gio Reyna. Is Nati Clarke that good to be included with the likes of the two most talented players to ever be produced by the United States? To that I answer, yes without a doubt in my mind. Nati is the highest ceiling defensive prospect that the United States has produced so far in my opinion. Nati has lighting speed, he has elite dribbling, he is a great passer, he is smart enough to play in the midfield or on defense, and he is a great defender. Right now Sporting Kansas City typically plays Nati at center back but I think he may actually be a better fit at right back long term.
Nati’s biggest weakness is that he relies too much on his athleticism. This is a very similar problem that Chris Richards has as well. As defenders get older this problem goes away so don’t expect this flaw to drag Nati down forever, he will iron this out. Nati should also be starting for the 2004’s who are very weak at both right back and left back. Nati could start in both spots and could also provide depth at center back and center mid where he is also elite at. Sporting Kansas City need to sign Nati as soon as possible or European clubs will be hot on his trail.
Check out Nati’s highlights here!
USMNTvideos described Gage Akalu as the American Neymar and that description could not be more accurate. Gage Akalu is the smoothest dribbler that I have seen in a 15 year old prospect. Gage also has the athleticism to back up his dribbling which make him an elite winger prospect. Sporting Kansas City have done incredible work with their 2005’s because they have produced the two best talents in the age group so far which is an incredible accomplishment. If Sporting Kansas City don’t act soon they could lose both of these players as they are both easily good enough to play in Europe.
Gage’s areas to improve are his passing and his soccer IQ. Gage has a tendency to over dribble as all incredibly creative prospects do at this age but when Gage is thrown into the USL he won’t be able to get away with over dribbling and will quickly adjust his game. Gage and Nati will both get their shot as Peter Vermes has given Gianluca Busio over 2000 professional minutes before Busio even turned 18 and Busio is not in the same tier as Nati and Gage are as prospects.
Check out Gage’s highlights here!
Over the last few years USMNT fans have complained that their deep lying distributors do not have the athleticism or the defensive grit to dominate the midfield at the highest levels. Well, here is the answer to your problem in Reed Baker-Whiting. Reed currently plays at the Seattle Sounders and is a deep lying distributor who has athleticism, bite, and an insanely high soccer IQ. There is a good number of Michael Bradley type midfielders in the youth national team pool but Reed may be the best prospect out of them all.
The biggest obstacle in Reed’s way of turning from prospect to first team starter is that the Sounders academy is great at producing defensive midfielders. Reed has both Danny Leyva and Joshua Atencio at the academy with competing for a long term spot in the Sounders lineup but I think Reed has by far the highest ceiling of the three. Over the next three years, Seattle will either have to figure out how to fit them all on the field or sell Danny or Reed off to Europe.
Check out Reed’s highlights here!
Brooklyn Raines is the top non MLS academy player in the 2005 player pool. Brooklyn Raines currently plays for the Barca Academy in Casa Grande, Arizona. Brooklyn is very similar to Elton Chifamba in that he is a smart and tenacious defender like Tyler Adams and is smart, confident, and effective in possession like Darlington Nagbe. What makes Brooklyn standout from other center midfielders is that he is not only a press resistant midfielder, he is elite in the attack as well. Brooklyn is efficient in all ends of the field and it makes him a truly special talent.
If the Major League Soccer homegrown territories come down, then expect Brooklyn Raines to be the big winner as he will finally have the ability to move to whatever MLS club he chooses. Brooklyn is a Chicago native and has successfully avoided the Fire who is still unproven in showing that they have changed their ways as a club that wants to prioritize youth development. The more likely scenario is that Brooklyn heads off to Europe where he is on track to have a very successful career.
Check out Brooklyn’s highlight tape here!
Do you remember when Dabo Swinney said that Tanner Tessmann was such a good athlete that Tanner could play wide receiver at Clemson? Well, if Dabo said that about Italo Jenkins then that would not be a very bold claim. Italo Jenkins is a literal man child that currently is in the Atlanta United academy. Italo has the size, the athleticism, the strength, the skill, and the IQ to make it very far in the sport. Italo could be the first true homegrown success story that Atlanta could have assuming they don’t botch the development of George Bello and George Campbell.
The area to work on in Italo’s game is something that is very common for a kid who had a rapid growth spurt and is still growing into his body. Italo has the massive frame and strength but he does not use it effectively. Italo has not quite figured out how to hold off the center backs like he is truly capable of. If Italo can learn how to become strong on the ball then he will be an unstoppable forward and will be the perfect replacement for Josef Martinez at Atlanta.
Serge Ngoma is yet another freakishly athletic player in what is easily the most athletically dominant age group in the youth national team pool. Serge is big, tall, and fast and has the skills on the ball to back it up. Capable of playing both up top and out wide, Serge is one the highest ceiling prospects in the age group. Serge Ngoma is currently at the New York Red Bulls who have a great record of player development which should help his game grow long term.
There are two types of areas to improve that you often see in super athletically gifted players in younger age groups: now knowing how to use your body and not having a high soccer IQ. Serge falls into the latter category. When played up at the u17 Development Academy level, Serge struggled because he was not used to playing at a level where he can not just depend on being physically superior compared to every other player on the pitch. Once Serge learns how to move effectively and when to pass versus taking a player on he will go from being an excellent prospect to an outstanding prospect who could have top European leagues potential.
Watch Serge bully other players his age here!
When you have a goalie that signs professional at the age of 14 for a club that is often hesitant to sign players to the first team then there is something special about the player. Emmanuel Ochoa is a giant for his at at 6’2, has great reflexes, and is good enough with his feet which all combine to make him a top goalkeeper prospect in the world for this age group. Should fans expect Ochoa to see first team minutes before their u20 cycle in 2025? I doubt it because they also have JT Marcinkowski at the club who turns 23 in May. Goalkeepers develop at a slower rate than field players so be on the lookout for Emmanuel to be a player who is relevant in the USMNT pool for the 2030, 2034, and 2038 World Cup’s. For the u20 pool in 2025, Ochoa is the safest bet to start in this team.
The 23-man depth chart for the 2005 age group
Overall, the 2005’s are an incredibly talented age group. They have the top end talent and they also have players who are on track to be standouts (be on the lookout for when Charlotte launch their academy and make Chris Thaggard their first homegrown player). This age group combined with the already very strong 2006’s and 2007’s should be very fun to watch over the years because they have a very athletic player pool that is also incredibly skilled and dangerous. I am bullish about this cycle becoming one of the best long term for developing players capable of playing in Europe and for the USMNT.
The top 25 players of the 2005 age group
- Nati Clarke: right back/center back (Sporting Kansas City)
- Gage Akalu: winger (Sporting Kansas City)
- Reed Baker-Whiting: defensive midfield (Seattle Sounders)
- Brooklyn Raines: center midfield (Barca Academy AZ)
- Italo Jenkins: striker (Atlanta United)
- Serge Ngoma: striker/winger (New York Red Bulls)
- Emmanuel Ochoa: goalkeeper (San Jose Earthquakes)
- Diego Hernandez: attacking midfield/winer (FC Dallas)
- Nelson Pierre: striker/winger (Philadelphia Union)
- Chris Thaggard: winger (Queen City Mutiny)
- Steven Ramirez: striker/attacking midfield (LAFC)
- Francis Jacobs: center midfield (Orange County SC)
- Dominic Dubon: winger (Philadelphia Union)
- Diego Rosales: center back (LAFC)
- Alex Alcala: defensive midfield/center midfield (Stockton TLJ FC)
- Edwin Avalos: right back (Monarcas Morelia)
- Nolan Norris: left back (FC Dallas)
- Mateo Pinilla: center back (Houston Dynamo)
- Angel Martinez: defensive midfield/center back (Seattle Sounders)
- Jordan Jones: defensive midfield (FC Dallas)
- Marcelo Mazzola: striker (Philadelphia Union)
- Demitrius Tanks: center back (LA Galaxy
- Ramsey Ray: fullback (Columbus Crew)
- Robert Willcot: striker (LAFC)
- Robert Deziel: attacking midfield (Celta Vigo)
If you enjoyed this article make sure to check out my breakdowns of the 2001, 2002, 2003, and 2004 age groups as well and make sure follow me on twitter (@dkerr0118)!
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