25 Young MNT Players (16-21) To Be Excited About

By Arthur Kogan / Special to VOAO

Being critical of the United States Soccer Federation is easy, and quite frankly, often justified.

But this post isn’t about that.

2017 was brutal. We all know what happened & that’s in the past. 2018, yes, was better but it wasn’t great. The U.S. Men’s National Team introduced a whole new crop of young players to the senior team – the likes of Weston McKennie & Josh Sargent – that ARE going to be integral to the success of this team moving forward. But it wasn’t all great. We got embarrassed by the likes of Italy & England, and it took us over a year to appoint a new head coach after a questionable coaching search with a lack of transparency throughout the process.

So, this is about the future. And while you might be frustrated, and rightfully so, with how things have went since that night in Trinidad, I’m going to tell you why you should be optimistic for the future of the USMNT. I put together a list of 25 players, ages 16-21, that I think you should know about moving forward.

Some you probably know. Others, maybe not. Let’s start with the youngest:

1) Name: George Bello
Age: 16 (January 22, 2002)
Position: Left-back
Club: Atlanta United

George Bello is arguably the best LB prospect in the USMNT pool. He’s dynamic going forward, and solid in defense. If you watched him play, you’d have no idea the kid is just 16.

He scored in just his second ever MLS start and was the 6th youngest player to score an MLS goal for the best team in the league. He was reportedly being scouted by “six top clubs in Europe” including Man City, Chelsea, Roma. Bello has an incredible opportunity to be the first-choice LB for new head coach Frank de Boer, as LB Greg Garza was traded to  FC Cincinnati. When the best team in MLS trades away their starter, a U.S. international, to make way for a 16-year-old, you know there’s something special there.

De Boer trusts young players and is committed to youth development. Keep an eye out for George Bello. This is shaping up to be a big season for the young LB.

2) Name: Giovanni Reyna
Age: 16 (November 13, 2002)
Position: AM/Forward? IDK.
Club: Dortmund… soon?

Gio Reyna is the son of Claudio Reyna, and a product of the NYCFC academy. As a 15 year old, Gio led NYCFC’s U18/19’s to the U.S. Soccer Development Academy title over a stacked LA Galaxy team that featured Efra Alvarez, Uly Llanez, & Alex Mendez, just to name a few.  Gio’s a big 16-year-old – smooth on the ball, creative, willing to run at defenders, doesn’t fear contact and has a big frame. It’s too early to tell what his best position is – but he’s no doubt arguably the most exciting attacking talent in his age group.

It was reported that Gio Reyna would join Borussia Dortmund’s youth academy when he turned 16 this past November. It’s not official yet, so keep an eye on that.

3) Name: Ulysses Llanez
Age: 17 (April 2, 2001)
Position: Winger
Club: LA Galaxy

UIy Llanez is a true, pure winger. He’s skillful. He’s willing to take on, and often beat defenders 1v1. Has an eye for a killer pass. Not only does he beat defenders 1v1, he makes them sit down, as I was reminded on Twitter.

It was reported in October by @KeithCostigan that he agreed a deal to sign with Wolfsburg. I think he has to wait until he’s 18, but still nothing official. Maybe, he’s staying in LA? Newly hired GM for the LA Galaxy, Dennis te Kloese, might just convince him to do so.

4) Name: Konrad de la Fuente
Age: 17 (July 16, 2001)
Position: Winger
Club: Barcelona

I’m a big, big fan of Konrad. He’s a saucy, explosive and skillful winger. Great with both feet, can put in a dangerous cross too. He’s featuring regularly for Barcelona’s Juvenil A and fas featured for Barcelona B. Tab Ramos told @zlebmada he’s on the radar for the U20’s. Here’s a video of him against Tottenham in the UEFA Youth League.

5) Name: Chris Richards
Age: 18 (Mar 28, 2000)
Position: Center-back
Club: Bayern Munich

It’s been a meteoric rise for Chris Richards. It was a surprise to everyone when it was announced that he’d be going to Bayern Munich on a 6 month loan from FC Dallas, as part of the new partnership between the two clubs.

He’s a smart, physical center-back that’s comfortable with the ball at his feet. He’s very much a modern-day defender. He’s a big kid, 6’2”, but is deceptively quick & mobile for his size. He spent the majority of his loan with Bayern’s U19’s and has impressed enough that the European giants are reportedly looking to make his move permanent.

6) Name: Josh Sargent
Age: 18 (February 20, 2000)
Position: Striker
Club: Werder Bremen

Sargent looks destined to be our #9 of the near future – but you’re not crazy if you said he’s our best #9 RIGHT NOW, ahead of Bobby Wood & Jozy Altidore. I certainly think so.

At 17, he picked up the Silver Boot at the U-20 World Cup. He scored with his first touch on his Bundesliga debut. He followed that up with this goal against Leipzig, also as a substitute. But there was more to that goal than just his composed, left-foot finish. He holds off Willi Orban, Leipzig’s captain, and then beats him in behind with a well-timed run.

He’s good with both feet. Strong. Mobile. Smart movement off the ball. Holds up play well. He’s a legitimate, modern-day #9 and Werder Bremen’s head coach, Florian Kohfeldt, has hinted that there may just be more to come from Sargent in the second half of the season.

If the U.S. Men’s National Team had a MUST-WIN game right now, I’d feel comfortable with 18-year-old Josh Sargent leading the lines as the first-choice striker.

That’s exciting. For me at least.

7) Name: Sergino Dest
Age: 18 (November 3, 2000)
Position: Right-back
Club: Ajax

I’m a Sergino Dest stan.

Like Chris Richards, Dest is another whose had a meteoric rise. Dest didn’t look great at the U17 World Cup, and now, he’s ALREADY the most skilled & technical RB in our entire pool, IMO.

He just signed his pro contract with Ajax and has been featuring regularly for Jong Ajax (Ajax II), in Holland’s second division, and he very much looks the part. He’s a RB that can easily play RW – he’s skillful, fast, good in 1v1 situations in both defense and attack, and is quite often the most creative player on the pitch. His skill & confidence in attack is unheard of from an American fullback.

Dest is a dual-national – he was born in Holland. I can personally confirm that Holland has yet to reach out to Dest about a switch. I think he’s already ready for a senior team call-up. Is he worse than Reggie Cannon & Shaq Moore? I don’t think so. Hard to compare, but I’d bet my money on Dest outshining both of them in camp. He should be on the Gold Cup roster this summer, and cap-tied ASAP.

8)  Name: Sebastian Soto
Age: 18 (July 28, 2000)
Position: Striker
Club: Hannover 96

Sebastian Soto is very much a true #9. After Josh Sargent, he’s probably the most complete striker in his age group. He links well. Technical. Scores goals with his head too. He has 10 goals & 5 assists in 14 apps with the U19’s and is reportedly going to be with the first team during the winter break.

Hannover are 2nd worst in the Bundesliga – having scored just 17 goals in 17 games. The only team with less goals than Hannover is bottom of the table FC Nürnberg. They desperately need a goalscorer – and I wouldn’t be surprised if Soto gets a look in the second half of the Bundesliga season for a team that’s searching for answers.

9) Name: Tim Weah
Age: 18 (February 22, 2000)
Position: Striker/Winger
Club: PSG

Tim Weah, son of George Weah, who won the Ballon d’Or in 1995, is a forward at PSG playing with the likes of Neymar, Mbappe, & Cavani in training. After a promising preseason that had USMNT fans excited about the possibility of him getting playing time with the superclub this season, PSG picked up another forward in Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting at the very end of the transfer window, and Weah’s been entirely out of the picture since.

He’s an exciting prospect. He combines very well. High work rate. Moves well off the ball. Finds pockets of space, looks to 1-2 and keep the attack flowing. That said, he doesn’t really beat defenders 1v1; and in my opinion, he’s best as a second striker. He can do a job out wide, but he’s not your typical “true winger” like Pulisic, Llanez, Konrad, Amon, etc.

He confirmed via his Instagram that he’ll be going on loan this season and is reportedly heading to Celtic in the Scottish Premiership. Take this how you will, but I also did some social media creeping and found him following players on Celtic. It’s not 100% confirmed yet, but he’ll probably be playing somewhere else during the second half of the season and getting some much needed playing time.

10) Name: Chris Durkin
Age: 18 (February 8, 2000)
Position: Midfield, #6
Club: D.C. United ??

Chris Durkin had a very impressive MLS season, with 23 appearances, 16 starts for an MLS playoff team. He doesn’t have as high of a ceiling as some of the other guys on this list, but he has the potential to be a very, very solid #6 for the national team, maybe a depth option.

He’s got great vision and can pick a pass. He’s a very smart, composed player who reads the game well. That said – his biggest weakness is his athleticism – he doesn’t cover much ground, not the fastest or quickest guy, and is very much reliant on his positioning to get out of trouble. He’s not physically imposing, yet, but he is only 18 years old.

11) Name: Alex Mendez
Age: 18 (September 6, 2000)
Position: Midfield, #8/#10
Club: SC Freiburg

Alex Mendez is the 2018 U.S. Soccer Young Male Player of the Year and made his presence felt at at the Concacaf U-20 Championship where he won the Golden Ball.

He is quality – and might just be the #10 of the future that we’re looking for. He is technical. He scores bangers. Can pick a pass. He’s dynamic & dangerous on set pieces and he can dictate a game. He’s another kid leaving MLS and headed to the Bundesliga, joining SC Freiburg.

12) Name: Richie Ledezma
Age: 18 (September 6, 2000)
Position: Midfield, #8/#10
Club: PSV Eindhoven

No one is a bigger fan of Ledezma than Adam Belz of the Scuffed Podcast, who described him best as “a cross between Nagbe and Pulisic.”

Like Mendez, Ledezma is one of our best prospects at the #10 position. He’s clean on the ball with great vision, glides by defenders with ease. He’s been rumored to join PSV for a long time now, and that move was finally made official. He’s got as high potential as anyone in his age group.

13) Name: Jaylin Lindsey
Age: 18 (March 27, 2000)
Position: Right-back
Club: Sporting KC

Young depth at RB is a good thing, and that’s what I see Lindsey as moving forward. IMO, Sergino Dest is both the better player now, and prospect moving forward. I’d put Reggie Cannon & Shaq Moore ahead of Lindsey as well. Plus, DeAndre Yedlin is going nowhere. That said, Lindsey did play 7 games for Sporting KC this season, with 6 starts, out of position at LB and played well. Like all young players, he has room for improvement. He’s still behind 32-year-old Graham Zusi in Sporting KC’s RB depth-chart, but I do expect him to feature more next season. Depth is a good thing.

14) Name: Jonathan Amon
Age: 19 (April 30, 1999)
Position: Left winger
Club: FC Nordsjælland

I’m a big fan of Jonathan Amon. He’s still very raw, but Amon is an EXPLOSIVE true winger. He’s fast. He’s an underrated passer. He’ll run and beat defenders one-on-one and is a constant threat to unsettle a defense. You can’t teach speed.

Here’s a glimpse of what he can do:

He’s one to watch for.

15) Name: Mark McKenzie
Age: 19 (February 25, 1999)
Position: Center-back
Club: Philadelphia Union

McKenzie has a ton of potential. He put together 19 regular-season appearances, 18 starts for the Philadelphia Union. He’s very composed with the ball and can pick a line-breaking pass. That said, he does have room to improve as a defender. A bit prone to mistakes. His composure and ability on the ball is encouraging and I think he’d fit well in the Berhalter system.

16) Name: Tyler Adams
Age: 19 (February 14, 1999)
Position: Midfield, #6/#8
Club: RB Leipzig

Oh man. I love Tyler Adams, and I’m on record for saying that I think he’ll be our best player in 2022, if he isn’t already.

He’s simply an incredible athlete. He’s tenacious. He’s fast. He’s strong. He wants to win the ball, and he’s great at doing so. The motor on the kid is unbelievable. He excels in a press, and his stamina is already world class. He can play the 6. He can be a box-to-box 8. He’s legit.

Adams just completed a move from New York Red Bulls to RB Leipzig, where he’ll be joining his former head coach, Jesse Marsch, who’s an assistant coach at the German club. Leipzig is currently sitting at 4th in the Bundesliga, so don’t expect Adams to waltz right into their starting XI. That said, Leipzig have a similar style of play to the Red Bulls, which should help the transition. I have no doubt that he’s going to kick on in the Bundesliga. Add Leipzig to your Bundesliga teams-to-watch list.

17) Name: Cameron Carter-Vickers
Age: 20 (December 31, 1997)
Position: Center-back
Club: Swansea City (on loan from Tottenham Hotspur)

Cameron Carter-Vickers already has 7 caps for the senior national team. He’s physically imposing and a solid 1v1 defender. He’s not a great passer and is not as clean on the ball as other centerbacks in our pool, and in a Berhalter system, that might hurt his stock.

In my opinion, he’s a bottom tier PL/Championship level player, which is still solid for our program. He’s going to be in the picture moving forward, simply due to scarcity in the position. Miazga & Brooks are clearly the best that we have right now, but outside of that, it’s up for grabs. CCV is going to be around for a while, I’d imagine, but I’m just not as high on him as others are. Hope he proves me wrong!

18) Name: Reggie Cannon
Age: 20 (June 11, 1998)
Position: Right-back
Club: FC Dallas

Reggie Cannon is already one of the best RB’s in Major League Soccer, with 33 matches played (33 starts) for FC Dallas this season. He gets forward, combines well, looks to overlap and has decent ball skills. Until Dest gets a senior team call-up, Cannon is competing with Shaq Moore to be the guy behind DeAndre Yedlin.  

19) Name: Haji Wright
Age: 20 (March 27, 1998)
Position: Striker
Club: Schalke

I’ll be totally frank: personally, I’m not sold on Haji Wright and don’t think he’s all that great. He’s getting looks for Schalke mainly because they’re missing 3 strikers due to injury. Regardless, Wright did start and score vs. Leverkusen and I think deserves to be on here just because we simply don’t have that many young kids getting looks in top 5 leagues in Europe. He certainly has the physical attributes and tools to be good, but the other side of his game is lacking. He’s 20-years-old and, who knows, maybe he figures it out. I’m not putting my money on it.  

20) Name: Auston Trusty
Age: 20 (August 12, 1998)
Position: Center-back
Club: Philadelphia Union

Auston Trusty is Mark McKenzie’s partner with the Philadelphia Union. Trusty had 34 appearances, 34 starts alongside McKenzie this season. He’s 6′ 4″ and reads the game well. He’s decent with the ball, though not as good as McKenzie, but I’d say he’s the better defender of the two right now. McKenzie probably has the higher ceiling.

21) Name: Christian Pulisic
Age: 20 (September 18, 1998)
Position: Right-wing/Attacking Midfield
Club: Borussia Dortmund (England soon?)

We all know Pulisic. There’s really not much to say. He’s our golden boy, he’s our best & most talented attacking player. Yes – he’s not having the best season for Dortmund after he lost his spot in the first-choice XI to Jadon Sancho. Yes – he seems destined to move to an English club… and that might happen as soon as this January transfer window.

That said, even though he’s not setting the world ablaze at Dortmund this season, Christian Pulisic is STILL our best player, and that might not change for some time. But don’t fear. Reinforcements are on the way.

22) Name: Weston McKennie
Age: 20 (August 28, 1998)
Position: Midfield, #8/#6
Club: Schalke

Weston McKennie is special. His versatility sets him apart from other midfielders in our pool. He does a bit of everything. Stops opposition in midfield. Springs attacks forward. Distributes. Wins aerial duels. Dangerous on set pieces. Clean on the ball. He’s going to be integral moving forward.

Berhalter is going to be tasked with getting the most out of McKennie in a U.S. jersey, because his performances have been underwhelming under Sarachan. I think he’s best as a box-to-box #8. But he can also play the 6. At Schalke, he’s done it all. Most recently, as a second striker.

It was encouraging to hear Berhalter say that he doesn’t view McKennie as a forward, which is great, because he isn’t one. Where in midfield does Berhalter play him, with who, and in what role? Here’s to hoping McKennie’s performances improve in a U.S. jersey in 2019!

23) Name: Emmanuel Sabbi
Age: 21 (December 24, 1997)
Position: Striker
Club: Hobro IK

Emmanuel Sabbi is a bit of an unknown right now, but still thought he should be on this list. He had 4 goals and an assist through the first five matches of the Danish Superliga season. He has cooled down since, but he should get a look soon. He was on the U.S. roster at the 2017 U-20 World Cup but played less than 45 minutes in two appearances.

24) Name: Antonee Robinson
Age: 21 (August 8, 1997)
Position: Left-back
Club: Wigan Athletic (on loan from Everton)

Antonee Robinson is FAST. He’s very athletic and dangerous going forward. His overlapping runs are a constant threat to a defense. That said, he is prone to mistakes. He’s not the best defender and gets caught out of position. Often, he relies on his pace and athleticism to get him out of trouble defensively. He has all the tools to be a very good LB for club & country. More experience will be huge for his development. I’m high on him – he has obvious flaws but I’d say he has more upside than any LB in the pool not named Bello. If we had a must-win qualifier tomorrow, he’s in contention for that starting spot.

25) Name: Erik Palmer-Brown
Age: 21 (April 24, 1997)
Position: Center-back
Club: NAC Breda (on loan from Manchester City)

EPB captained the U20’s and won the Golden Ball at the 2017 Concacaf U-20’s. He’s very talented, but he just hasn’t really kicked on at Breda. His development seems to have stagnated a bit. He’s probably in the same boat as Cameron Carter-Vickers right now. He’s in the picture, but has ways to go if he wants to be starting in 2022.

Honorable mentions inclide: Andrew Carleton, Nick Taitague,  Gianluca Busio, Taylor Booth, Damian Las, Brady Scott, Ben Lederman, Keaton Parks, Zyen Jones, Chris Gloster, Julian Araujo, & others!