Another year, another crop of young players to get hyped about... or at least become vaguely familiar with in case they actually get playing time as a pro. MLS has seemingly turned a corner with younger players getting more playing time as youth development improves. Still, nothing is certain and with transfers, falling in and out of form, Snapchat shenanigans, and coaches looking for reasons to affirm their sense of ‘trust’ in young players seemingly changing on a whim, the path to consistent minutes is a winding one to say the least. Going into the 2019 MLS and USL season here is a brief selection of players who may, or may not, make the Americans at home highlights week in and week out.
Major league youngsters
Justen Glad - We’ve been watching Justen Glad for a while now, most recently, we watched him get sent home from January camp. Glad has been touted as a future center back for the national team and he still could be. Since becoming a starting center back for the team in 2016 RSL has allowed 46, 55, and 58 goals. Some of that is due to Kyle Beckerman and Nick Rimando getting on in years, but some of it is also due to having a young center back anchoring the defense. If RSL is going to improve upon that record, Glad will need to step forward to help make it happen, but it’s time to start seeing it if he really is going to live up to his billing or if RSL is going to continue to struggle defensively with him leading the backline.
Juan Pablo Torres and James Sands - After turning down a contract offer from Atlanta United, Torres challenged himself at the highest level in Europe. Sadly, things didn’t work out with well known club KSC Lokeren so he signed with NYCFC. Sands is a bit more of a known quantity stateside and has been a noted player on the youth national team set up. The Pigeons sold defensive midfielder Yangel Herrera in the offseason so a central midfield spot is presumably up for grabs and either of these teenagers could be in line to be the Chris Durkin of 2019.
Keaton Parks - The S.L. Benfica loanee will look to get some competitive, first team minutes in New York. Parks showed off his vision and technical skill in a Twitter highlight video that Benfica put out last year. If he can create this kind of space for teammates on the micro-pitch in the Bronx he should get the attention for the first team in Portugal, unless NYCFC moves to make his loan permanent.
Well done, Mr. @keaton_parks! pic.twitter.com/fabgnnjQRY— SL Benfica (@slbenfica_en) January 31, 2018
Paxton Pomykal - with Luchi Gonzalez, the former FC Dallas academy director, managing the senior squad and Kellyn Acosta in suburban Denver, Pomykal could win a starting role in suburban Dallas. It looks like he’ll have to win the attacking midfield job over Pablo Aranguiz who was given the no. 10 shirt with the departure of Mauro Diaz. Pomykal has had some good showings with the U-20s so if that translates during preseason he could be in line for significant playing time this year.
George Bello - The 17 year-old has skill, plays a position of constant need for the USMNT, and this should be the year he gets a chance to start in MLS. With other left back options for the defending MLS Champs being him and Brek Shea, who is not a defender but is 6 foot 3 and can wear his hair in two man buns at once, Bello enters 2019 as a first choice left back under a manager who wants to play the kids. On top of that he seems to have hit the weights in the off-season so we may see him play with more of a physical edge this year, here is a before and after of his 2018 and 2019 transformation:
SZN #atlutd pic.twitter.com/5O5Y7RRB7t— Anibal Roldan ⭐️ (@_latinheat) February 9, 2019
Gianluca Busio - At 16, Busio has a goal and assist in 153 minutes for Sporting Kansas City. The young attacker seems to be in the plans for Peter Vermes in the 18 as the team will open 2019 in the Concacaf Champions League. Vermes has shown a penchant for squad rotation, especially in midweek games, and with the potential for fixture congestion to prompt him to rest players we may see Busio sooner rather than later.
Isaac Angking - The 19 year-old defensive midfielder got 37 MLS minutes last year, but has featured in preseason for Brad Friedel’s New England Revolution. If the Revs want to make the playoffs this year, they’ll need to improve on the 55 goals allowed in 2018. Shoring up the center of the pitch would go a long way in doing that and if he wins the starting job, Angking could be key to turning things around in suburban Boston.
Andrew Carleton - So far, the young attacker has been mostly hype. Against players his own age in youth national team appearances and in friendlies, Carleton shines. Last year in the pre-season for Atlanta United he showed glimpses of his talent with passes that showed off his vision and the creative flair that he’s become known for. This year he was back at it again with a hat trick against college players for Cal State Fullerton:
Even if your footage is from the stands...— Atlanta United FC (@ATLUTD) February 11, 2019
Some goals just deserve to be shared.
Take a bow, @andrewcarleton7 pic.twitter.com/G1mIVCkt3y
His promising preseason in 2018 didn’t quite translate to playing time for Tata Martino though. Carleton started two MLS games going 65 and 67 minutes and got his first goal with the first team in the US Open Cup against the Charleston Battery. Overall, he played well, but seemed to be (whether he was told to or by his own choice) playing cautiously to not make mistakes rather than use his skills to take risks and potentially break a game open. In any case, he didn’t impress Tata enough to earn a spot as a regular starter or even be chosen off of the bench often. With Frank de Boer taking over, a new focus on getting the Atlanta academy products on the field in MLS may lead to more playing time for Carleton. This feels like it may also be a critical year for the young player, so far he’s shown that he has a lot of potential, but at some point that needs to start showing up on the scoresheet. If it doesn’t as time drags on, he will start looking more and more like an exciting, young, creative player who couldn’t quite make the jump as a pro: Tommy Thompson.
Julian Araujo - The U-20 center back signed a Homegrown deal with the LA Galaxy. He seems set to begin the season to provide defensive depth and may find time at right back. However, with new general manager Dennis te Kloese wanting to focus on youth development, his chance at first team minutes may be at hand.
Wan Kuzain - Through a brief five week stretch of games in the summer of 2018, Wan Kuzain racked up 307 minutes including three starts. His run of appearances included scoring a goal after coming on as a sub for a 72 minute appearance when Yohan Croizet went out with an injury against Minnesota United. In that time he showed a good ability to take care of the ball and seemed comfortable and ready to play in an MLS midfield. But, by mid-July he was back in the USL where he ended the year with an 89.3% pass completion rate. Kuzain seems to be ready to take the leap to MLS, whether that opportunity presents itself in 2019 is another thing.
United soccer yoots
Manny Perez - The less dramatic Celtic signee will be starting his pro career with North Carolina FC under American Manager Dave Sarachan. Perez will be in a good situation with a manager who has at least shown that he is willing to put trust into young players.
Andrew Gutman - Now that we won’t be watching him play for an MLS team in 2019 or one that will be playing in 2020 as the league exercised the transitive property for Gutman’s rights across time, space, leagues, and presumably in other dimensions, we can watch him on the Charlotte Independence. Minutes are minutes, so let’s hope that Gutman gets plenty of playing time and shows Celtic that he can feature for their first team for the open of the next season in Scotland.
Chris Goslin - The Atlanta United academy product was apparently not ready for the first team last year. With the departure of Carlos Carmona, the team elected to keep Jeff Larentowicz at defensive midfield until bringing in Eric Remedi from Argentina. With Remedi firmly starting in midfield this year it once again seems that Goslin will be with ATLUTD2 in USL. While that’s not the same as breaking up attacks in MLS, he’ll get plenty of pro minutes under new manager Stephen Glass.
In conclusion, some of these players will pan out and make an impact in MLS or USL in 2019. Some won’t and will be lost to history like so many before them, and still some (a lot) I didn’t even mention. At the very least, younger players should get more playing time in 2019. The academies are producing players more prepared for pro careers and with MLS shortening its season, more midweek games might open the door for more minutes also.