A look at the best young players in MLS

DiegoFagundez (ISIPhotos.com)

By IVES GALARCEP

The folks at MLS Soccer created plenty of buzz in recent weeks with the unveiling of their list of top players in MLS under the age of 24. The 24Under24 sparked plenty of debate, and some angry reactions to players who were snubbed, and were some included players were ranked.

Making such lists is never easy, but in my latest Goal.com column I point out that what was lost in the reaction to the list was the fact that MLS has so many young players contributing these days. Far more than ever before in league history.

I also point out that the age group covered by MLS Soccer’s list isn’t really a good measure of young talent in the league since, for pro soccer on the highest levels, 23 is hardly considered young.

With that in mind, I put together a list of what I consider the league’s best players and prospects age 21 and younger. It is by no means a perfect list, but does provide a good idea of just how much quality young talent is playing in the league these days.

Here are some more thoughts on the 22 under 22:

It wasn’t an easy list to put together, and I could have easily made it a 30-player list.

Jack McBean, Joao Plata and Doneil Henry came close to making the list, but missed the cut. McBean was the final cut.

We didn’t include players who have yet to play in MLS play. That is what ruled out a player like FC Dallas goalkeper Richard Sanchez, who probably should have made the list anyway.

The list was based on current level of play as well as potential, with some thought given to transfer value potential. This is why attacking players were generally more highly rated than their defensive counterparts.

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What do you think of the list? Who didn’t make the list that you feel should have? Who do you think should have been ranked higher? Like the list? Hate it?

Share your thoughts below.

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51 Responses to A look at the best young players in MLS

  1. Travis says:

    Crazy that Agudelo is only 20, feels like he burst onto the scene ages ago. Will be interested to follow him a bit abroad, has a ton of talent but the drive seems to be missing at times

  2. Nick in LA says:

    You are so wrong about McBean it’s not even funny. In 5 years you’ll be seeing him on the USMNT and people hailing him as the spiritual successor to Brian McBride. In fact, I think he’s going to be even better than that. His first touch is sick and he can hold the ball better than most forwards in this league already at 18. He’s constantly finding the right pass and giving defenses fits with his physical play and positioning. In fact, the Keane or Donovan/McBean pairing yields more and better chances on goal than Keane or Donovan with Villareal.

    His only weakness is speed. Guy is slower than molasses, but that’s not what he’s there for. He’s there to be in position with his back to goal and make Robbie, Landon, or anyone near him look good. Look at his performance against Categenas last night. Perfect example of his play.

    • Tony in Quakeland says:

      Yedlin is my number one. I’d listen to arguments for Gil, but I still come back to Yedlin. He plays a more difficult position, and he is progressing by leaps and bounds during the year. He is going to claim a spot on the USMNT before long and keep it for a decade.

      • Tony in Quakeland says:

        Didn’t mean to post this here. Sorry

      • Ives Galarcep says:

        Disagree. Scoring goals and setting up goals is tougher than defending at fullback? There are a LOT of promising young fullbacks right now in the pipeline. How many young attacking threats like Fagundez are there in MLS? Not many.

        • g-dub says:

          A. Defending at fullback is very difficult, especially for a rookie
          B. Yedlin also sets up goals and sometimes scores them.

          I’d argue that attacking wing back is one of the most difficult positions. He’s a type of attacking wing back in the style of Evra, of Lahm. Those players are rare and valuable.

          • Ives Galarcep says:

            A) No one said it wasn’t, but you know what’s even tougher? Scoring double-digit goals as a teenager. It had never been done before Fagundez did it.
            B) Yedlin has zero goals and two assists in MLS play. He does have attacking qualities, but let’s not exaggerate the impact he’s had this year.

            Yedlin’s a great prospect, don’t get me wrong, but the whole comparing him to Evra and Lahm, and pretending he’s been some incredible attacking force for Seattle is a serious stretch and the kind of hyperbole that’s leading to some unfortunate backlash toward the kid. No need to over-hype him.

        • Tony in Quakeland says:

          As someone who has coached at a reasonably high level, finding a guy who can both attack and defend at fullback was always toughest. Goal scoring is a great natural instinct, and the hardest thing to find at the top levels. But finding a guy as young as Yedlin who can do the mental work in that position is rare.

          That said, it’s not like I think you dissed him at 4.

      • M says:

        Yeldin is really good, but both Acosta and Shaquille Moore could be as good or better. RB has some serious potential in the ranks.

    • Ives Galarcep says:

      A few things. Maybe McBean develops into McBride 2-0. Maybe he doesn’t, but right now it’s still too early to tell. Success against Cartagines is hardly a measure of his future USMNT or big club success going forward. He has tools and is a promising player, but as you yourself state, lack of pace is an issue and you wonder how he’ll adjust to that. Will he be an elite player or just a solid MLS pro forward. As it stands, the jury is still out and those who are pushing all in are doing so more on wishful thinking and local/family ties than actual qualities we can currently see. Not saying it’s a terrible bet, but to say the kid is can’t miss is a stretch at this point.

      • Terryb260 says:

        Agree that the jury is still out on McBean. Often, he seems more Conor Casey (who’s by no means a bad player) than Brian McBride. People forget how athletic McBride was. I’m not sure McBean is at that level.

    • Excellency says:

      I am with you except for the over-enthusiasm since we have not seen if he can duplicate mls performance at higher level yet. But, yeah, it is fun to see somebody playing McBean’s style which goes beyond the kick-and-run style that has Euros calling MLS the “running beast” league.

      McBean was doing really well until his serious injury.

      • g-dub says:

        Ha Ha. “Running Beast League” (RBL). I’m a huge MLS fan and I kind of like this, in the same way president Obama likes when they call it Obamacare.

  3. James says:

    It’s so sad what has happened to Omar Salgado. He had (has) so much potential and 2 years ago I would have bet good money he was at the top of this list. Vancouver have done a remarkably poor job developing him.

    • Soro says:

      Hard to blame the Caps – every time he went away with the US U20 team he would come back with a serious injury. I think it happened three times. He has been unable to play all season this year and was injured pretty much all of last year too.

      • Ives Galarcep says:

        Not sure they’re blameless.

        • Philip says:

          As a Whitecaps fan I have to agree that there must be blame on the part of the Whitecaps medical staff. If he wasn’t fit enough to play for the Whitecaps why was he allowed to play with the US and then get injured again? And this is the same medical staff that were partly to blame for Demerit’s Achilles injury. He didn’t play in preseason because of an Achilles injury why was he allowed to start the season injured to to rupture it? Sure Demerit probably said he was fine, but the medical staff shouldn’t let someone play until they are 100%.

  4. DanO says:

    Being #1 on this list has to be some sort of a loophole that can expedite Fagundez’s citizenship, right?

  5. John says:

    You also snubbed Kelyn Rowe (21 years old)!!! The kid can’t get any respect… 7 goals and 7 assists this year and counting….

    • John says:

      Scotty Caldwell also could have been mentioned… he beat out an EPL midfielder in Kalifa Cisse and has carried the Revolution with consistent performances week in and week out.

    • corey says:

      Read the disclaimer at the top of Ives article. The date cut off is that the player needs to be born in 1992 or later, Rowe was born in Dec 1991. Otherwise i’m sure he’d be listed

    • Ives Galarcep says:

      Didn’t snub Rowe. It’s players born from 1992 on. Rowe was born in ’92.

    • Ives Galarcep says:

      Didn’t snub Rowe. It’s players born from 1992 on. Rowe was born in ’91.

  6. Zac McIllece says:

    Plata should have definitely been on this list

    • Ives Galarcep says:

      Like Plata, and he was close to being on, but ultimately I wonder about just what his ceiling is. He’s good, don’t get me wrong, but I’m not sold in him having more upside than others on this list. Will be fun to watch though.

  7. eric says:

    Gyasi Zardes?

    • Heath says:

      Zardes just turned 22, so I guess he was too old for the list. Funny about Rowe, though. In the full article at goal.com, Ives replied to a comment about him saying he was too old for the list at 22. I think he’s only 21, though and if so, should definitely be included.

      • White Kix says:

        What’s amazing is that Rowe didn’t make MLS’ 24 under 24 list. He should be top five based on the season. I think he should be the young attacker who gets to come off the bench at the World Cup and provide a spark.

    • Ives Galarcep says:

      Too old.

  8. keithbabs79 says:

    I wonder if Freddy Adu would have made the 24under24 list if he was still playing in the MLS?

    • sjm003 says:

      I’m not a huge fan of Adu, who was very inconsistent, but I have a hard time believing he wouldn’t have an impact with the current Union squad. There’s a big difference sending in passes to Conor Casey and Jack McInerney than Lio Pajoy and Josue Martinez.

  9. slowleftarm says:

    I’m always surprised how worked up people get over these lists. They’re interesting but nothing to get upset over.

    • Ives Galarcep says:

      It is pretty funny. Ultimately it’s more a conversation starter than anything. I mean I believe in my rankings, and think they’re pretty solid, but ultimately it’s a matter of opinion. What makes me laugh if people who get upset about certain players rankings when it’s clear their own emotional attachments are driving their sentiment.

  10. AC says:

    Hope Diego isn’t one of those ones that got away in the future for the USMNT…Just something about him that really seems like he’ll be more than just great potential.

  11. fischy says:

    Slightly off-topic, since he spurned MLS for Liga MX, but Tijuana’s got a young American I’ve never seen play before — Paul Arriola. Based on what I’m watching in CCL play tonight, I’d say he’s the equal of anyone on the Ives list and is someone Klinsmann needs to take a very serious look at. He’s got a very bright future…with good speed, great vision and understanding, good ball-handling skills, good finishing and great passing touch. The competition in the match is awful, but I think I can see the potential for the next great American player.

  12. compuser says:

    Glad to see Fagundez getting publicity and Ives great choice for #1. He was passed up by Uruguay’s u-20 team for their world cup. hopefully he keeps getting passed up and applies for American citizenship and joins the us squad.

  13. rph says:

    Am I the only one thinking how great it is to have some interaction with Ives again? Feels like ages.

  14. Ali Dia says:

    Ives- Congrats on your inclusion in the SI “Twitter 100″. A well-deserved achievement.

  15. Ali Dia says:

    Jeez Ives! Look at the participation! Our man is back on the block! See what a little recognition does for ya…. Best analyst there is… Notta doubt.

  16. sjm003 says:

    Good to see a couple of Canadian players on the list. I haven’t seen much of Osorio, but Teibert has been fantastic this year. Hopefully things are trending upwards for the CMNT.

  17. Lance says:

    As a Rev’s fan, I can say Agudelo is head and solders better than Fagundez BUT he is always hurt. I can’t see how he can survive in the UK where they really hit you hard

  18. Terryb260 says:

    The thing I liked most about Ives’ article was the part before the list. A few years ago, MLS needed to get younger. Now, there appears to be some progress on that front. It’s good to see an article recognizing that.

  19. beachbum says:

    great to see so much young talent making an impact on the league, hope to see that grow and continue to develop of course, and as the league and its academies grow and evolve we should

    I’d put Agudelo and Gil at the top of the list myself, but see what Ives sees with Fagundez. Villareal is quality but must get physically stronger to survive, not bigger but definitely stronger from his core on down; kid gets physically mauled in every game he plays seems to me

  20. Terryb260 says:

    Ives,
    Do you think any of these prospects are ready for a USMNT call-up (either for the remaining qualifiers or the January camp)? Yedlin seems like he might be worth it because he’s been solid all year and plays a position of need, and Agudelo might work his way in if he can stay healthy. Outside of that, I think only Gil would much of a chance. And even there, he’s probably the third best American midfielder on his MLS team (behind Ned Grabavoy, who’s not on Klinsmann’s radar). Thoughts?

  21. Manny says:

    Ives, it probably is no sweat off your back, but your team’s inability to present a sort button to comments or even address the posters who don’t feel comfortable reading comments from the bottom up in order to follow the comment timeline, is a huge disappointment.

    Like I said, it probably won’t bother you or your team but my soccer clicks are going to other sites where the audience is held in higher regard and complaints are not simply ignored.

  22. DCUnitedWillRiseAgain says:

    I was planning to be mad if Colin Martin wasn’t included but then I looked at the list. I didn’t realize that half these guys are as young as they are! Martin is a shoe in for the top 19 under 19 though!

    Another fun fact: Colin Martin was the first MLS player to get a start who was born after the inception of MLS!

    Good article about him here:

    link to washingtonpost.com