Who Has the Most Exciting Kids?

The failure of the mostly MLS based U23 team to qualify for the Olympics, much has been said about the quality of USMNT U23 players in Europe versus MLS YNT.  No doubt, players like Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie, Tyler Adams, Josh Sargent, etc. are a cut above the players sent to Guadalajara.  I wrote as much before the tournament even began.

With MLS starting then, why even watch if the young Americans in the league are so poor?   I mean, USL wash outs beat them.  But is that the story?  Of course not, or this article would be very short and end here!  If we drop down to the next prominent youth age, U20, I think you can make a case that MLS has more exciting American players than even Europe.  By U20, we are talking players born on or after January 1, 2001.

We have to have a bit of fun with the outlines of this competition.  There are two U20 players that are so beyond anyone else that I’m going to exclude them at first.  My flimsy premise is that they are USMNT starters already, so you can watch them with the team.  These are not players you only see for a cameo substitute or have to dig into ESPN+ to watch.  If you haven’t guessed, I’m talking about Yunus Musah and Gio Reyna.  There is no way I could list out players on each side of the Atlantic and anyone wouldn’t see those two names and say, “game over”.

So, let’s get into it.  First, let’s look at two Starting 11’s:


First, looking at these lineups, I’m really disappointed the U20 World Cup was cancelled!  

While there are a lot of exciting and promising players on the Europe side, many rarely or don’t play.  Of the 11, only Booth and Hoppe play regularly anywhere we can watch.  On the MLS side, all but the CBs were getting significant minutes at the end of the last MLS season and should get more.  Bello and Morris have already started in the Concacaf Champions League.  Just about all the players on the MLS side will be getting minutes this month.

If the two teams played, it is hard to say who would win.  It might be that 10 games were split 5-5.   It would have been hard for Anthony Hudson, the U20 coach, to pick an 11. Again, with Reyna and Musah, it probably goes more to the European side.  But I don’t know if this is the best way to decide this.  Let’s look further.  

In his great article on this site, the very smart David Kerr ranked U20 players.  If we compare his list to the above, we find that 6 of the 11 European based players were in the Top 20.  5 of the 11 on the MLS YNT would be in his Top 20.  But if you go back and read that article, he has players in his Top 10 I don’t even have.  The U20 talent is just so impressive.  Plus, he didn’t have Yunus Musah because nobody thought that was even a possibility not long ago.

So, maybe making an 11 is too subjective, especially on the MLS side.  Let’s do depth charts!  One note before we dive in, I included some dual nationals that have said they will play for us and left some others that I consider less probable off.


Malick Sanogo, Euro

Matthew Hoppe, Euro

Ricardo Pepi, MLS

Charlie Kelman, Euro

Patrick Weah, MLS



Gio Reyna, Euro

Konrad, Euro

Uly Llanez, Euro

Cameron Harper, MLS

Dante Sealy, MLS

Kevin Paredes, MLS

Indiana Vassilev, Euro

Fede Oliva, Euro

Cam Dunbar, MLS

Cade Cowell, MLS


Central Midfielder

Yunus Musah, Euro

Caden Clark, MLS

Tanner Tessman, MLS

Taylor Booth, Euro

Bryang Kayo, Euro

Cole Bassett, MLS

Evan Rotundo, Euro

Kenan Hot, MLS

Gianluco Busio, MLS

Jonathan Perez, MLS

Matthew Ritaccio, Euro

Allan Rodriguez, MLS

Aidan Morris, MLS

Daniel Leyva, MLS



Brian Reynolds, Euro

Kobe Hernandez-Foster, Euro

George Bello, MLS

Julian Araujo, MLS

Mauricio Cuevas, MLS

Nathan Harriel, MLS

Joe Scally, Euro

Travian Sousa, MLS



Owen Otasowie, Euro

Nati Clarke, MLS

Antonio Leone, MLS

Leo Sepulveda, Euro

Justin Che, MLS

Brandon Craig, MLS

Nico Carrera, Euro



David Ochoa, MLS

Chituru Odunze, Euro

Damian Las, Euro

Chris Brady, MLS

Those are the most relevant players at each position, in my opinion, at this moment.  There are some players not in Europe or MLS that I’m ignoring and some dual nationals I’ve not included.  Moses Nyeman is not yet a citizen, which is why he is not listed.  

MLS = 27

Euro = 21

So, there it is definitively, that MLS has more U20 talent than all the European leagues put together!  

What is amazing about exploring this talent pool is that it is so deep and so rich.  There are many younger players that I didn’t include but have turned pro already.  There are some top talents waiting in USL to move to Europe at 18 and a few top talents in South American leagues.  It is really a bevy of riches.  I don’t think most USMNT fans realize what this group represents because USSF has not had a US U20 camp in over a year and FIFA cancelled the U20 World Cup.  Because of that, one reason overlooked in all the analysis of the failure of the U23 Olympic Qualifying team, is that more of these players weren’t integrated.

The European players have mostly been on reserve teams or not playing at all due to Covid.  Some are in the lower leagues and you can sometimes find their games if you go looking.  Where I think we will really start to see this cohort then is in MLS.  Many of the players above are going to start many games and get a large number of minutes.  

If you don’t regularly watch MLS games, it is probably time to start.  USL broadcasts are also on ESPN+ and many of the above, along with some seriously young players, will be playing on affiliated teams.  It is important to realize that Pulisic, Adams, McKennie are just the tip of the wave.  Reyna is already a taste of this next group of players born 2001-2004; and they are coming and coming in large numbers!

By Patrick Keeler (@pkeeler167 on Twitter)