Good afternoon soccer fans!!
I have been writing for other websites for a while, and wanted to do something for not only American soccer but this site as well. For those I have not interacted with in the comments, I am a club and high school soccer coach, and have been for 22+ years. I had planned to begin my writing with the last senior team window, but real life took over. I may still watch the games and do a review of those games, but since these kids are closer to the age of kids that I coach, I thought this would be a fun place to start.
In general, I am going to break the team into tiers. I will spend time talking about each prospect, but I break players more into groups than an actual rating. So, look more for the guys in the group more than the ranking inside said group.
Tier 1: Incomplete Evaluation
1) Jackson Hopkins-FW-- Late add to the team when Vargas got hurt and only played in two games. Didn't do much in the sub appearance and looked great in the final, including the incredible first goal assist. Clearly was not on the first squad, but was the first guy called in. I need to see a lot more of him, but I enjoyed his off ball runs, his natural size and speed and that cross.
2) Antonio Carrerra-G-- Again, only played in 2 games. Started the Kitts and Nevis slaughter, and subbed on in the final. Made a save or two when DR was trying to bag a late goal, and looked in command for the most part (save the botched out of the box play) but just didn't see much.
Tier 2: Reason to Worry/19 year old edition
1) Marcus Ferkranus-CB-- Was the #3 CB for me, and being the oldest, is not great. Big, tall and physical, just gave nothing else that stood out. As I will mention next section, CBs are tough to eval in this type of tournament. I would have expected an older prospect to 'run the room,' but that was not the case.
2) Michael Halliday-RB-- Much of the same for Ferkranus also can go here. Was the #3 FB for me and had some major errors in multiple games that either led to chances or actual goals. Needed to impress with only 3 FBs for the entire tournament, but did the opposite.
3) Tyler Wolff-FWD-- Almost moved him out of here, but his competition being better right now and younger is not good. Wolff was an unknown to me coming in, and I thought he did well. A late bloomer even with Atlanta, so there is hope that he can get better, but he really behind the 8 ball to get moving. I like his runs and his head for goal, but he looked lost on the wing when asked to play there. In the final, his inverted runs kept bringing him into the striker box and he was making the same runs as Aaronson. Personally, I would LOVE to see a full time conversion to striker just for depth and development, but I am not sure Atlanta is willing to do that.
Tier 3: Left to Prove/Questions to Ask
1) Mauricio Cuevas-FB--The guy I was most excited about pre-tournament knowing our depth chart at RB on the senior team and his pedigree. And, while he was impressive at times, he also made too many silly mistakes and defensive lapses for a kid his age and stature. I wanted him to dominate at times and lock down his role, and he just didn't. He did great things on the attack and looks good going forward, but he just didn't look like a complete RB to me. Will need to clean up holes in his game if he wants to challenge for senior team PT. Does show leadership potential AND does play at a club that will give him chances to improve.
2) Jalen Neal-CB-- Now, a disclaimer that it was tough for the CBs to stand out much in many of the games but in context, I worry about Neal. He is a prototype CB prospect and he did well in what he was asked to do. While probably not in the first team selection in a true u20 format, he did things well and won the ball in the air with his height advantage. I just have many questions about his game in that he did not stand out. One CB stood out above the rest, and it was not Neal. I like his game, just not real sure what he does better than other players right now.
3) Noah Allen-LB-- Again, not a first team selection in most setups, but you have to take advantage of opportunities. For me, while he was in the best setup at LB and seemed to get up and down the field well, but did get caught in transition too many times. His goals were nice and he seemed to understand his responsibilities, but just didn't have juice for me over the course of the tournament. I did like his offensive play in the final as most of the attacks came up our left side.
4) Diego Luna-CM-- Not real sure how fair this evaluation is since what I need to see doesn't have much to do with his game. Skill wise, he is there. HIs runs, passes, shots and even spacial defending are good enough to translate, but I worry about his physical stature so much. I really would like for RSL to get him in a training room/nutritionist to see what he can become, but I cannot see much movement right now in his current state. He can't win the ball in the midfield at 5'6", and cannot move and get to where he needs to be for 90 minutes at his weight. Positionally, as a CM/AM you are in cagematches with the opposition DM, and I just can't see him being a needle mover at this point. But, his skills are not in question.
5) Daniel Edleman-DM-- This does make me happy to say, but I expected more from this guy. I heard good things about him, and expected that being the only true 6 on the roster, he would take over and stick a flag in the ground for the future 6. That just didn't happen. He was OK and decent, but not the killer I was expecting. Size has a LOT to do with this, but he just seemed slow and not as instinctual for what we look for as a 6. He was slow covering attacking FB, and did not break up opposing attacks like you want so see from a true DM. Got the captain's band and seems to be a team leader, but just left me wondering how he will develop moving forward.
6) Chris Brady-G-- Loved that he grabbed the starting GK by the horns and did not let it go. Looks the part, and is a guy that I am excited to see in other contexts. 2 goals all tournament is impressive. Just worry about the level of comp and I just need to see him more. Did not look shaky, but did have some issues with playing with his feet, but did make some clutch shots.
Tier 4: Cade Cowell Special Category
1) Cade Cowell, FWD-- So, as we grow closer to the higher prospects, I am left with what to do with CC here. He belongs in both the previous tiers and the next tier so he gets his own. I am not sure what do to with Cade. Hype machine, great player, great instincts, and pedigree so he should dominate in a tournament like this, right?? But, at the end of the day, he was not in the TopXI. Not because of the suspension, but because of play. He looked lost and out of sorts at times, and a middling RB prospect from Canada put him in his pocket all game. You could see flashes of brilliance at times, even in the big games, but other times he was just... lost and frustrated. His lack of a weak foot is very frustrating and his inverted wing runs are subpar. As with Wolff, maybe a #9 conversion for the USMNT is in order (already plays there for the Quakes), where his physicality can show off. But even with that, our setup seems to be leaning to a false 9 type thing, which does not suit his style. It will be interesting to see what happens next in the career of Cowell.
Tier 5: Potential USMNT Players (Developmental Category)
1) Niko Tsakiris, CM-- Gonna grade Niko on a curve here, fair or not. Being the youngest guy, I expected him to just be along for the ride, but he looked the part. While not on the level of some of the later guys, he looks like someone that can be moving forward. Was active, aggressive, made runs, passed the ball, defended and did all the things you like to see. While most of his PT came in the more winnable games, he showed that he wanted to play and that he belonged. He will grow, he will get better and he will develop.
2) Caden Clark, FWD-- One of the other top names, he did exactly what he was supposed to do in a tournament like this. In what will become a common theme here, he was asked to play out of position and did well. He was dominant at times and other times deferred to his teammates. His runs and finishes were brilliant, and his counter pressing was very impressive. As far as development for a 19 year old, I think that he and the USMNT need to work on the mental aspects (consistent effort, domination, leadership) as well as what they want him to be. I wanted Clark to take a huge role in this and push some of the other guys that will be discussed later, but he just didn't. He was a step below for me, and it raises questions as to why since the skills are there.
3) Alejando Alvarado, CM-- Surprise for me here as I was not expecting much from AA but he might have been the most 'around the ball' guy we had. He also played the 6 and 8, and served as a hole plugger at times. He is soccer player and you can always find room for guys like this on teams. He does everything well and was all over the place. He seemed to be in on every goal in some respect, was the most aggressive 8 we had when he was there, and just does all the small things you want from a soccer player. Picked out the runs from the front lines, sorted out the midfield, and was in on at least 5 tackles in the Honduras/Costa Rica games when Halliday/Cuevas got caught high. I get good vibes from AA and we just seemed to play better when he was on the field. Again, needs to play more (love he is playing in Portugal already) and improve over-all skill as his mental game is already on point.
4) Rokas Pukstas, CM-- The OTHER 17 year old on the roster, and one of my two player crushes of this tournament. Did not know much of Pukstas at first, other than the other u20 camp where he barely played. Of the film I saw, he is playing as a creative CM in the Czech Republic and I expected that when he got here. But, I saw a guy that played and embraced the 6 role as well, which was a complete surprise to me. He was big and physical, but also brought the creative talents to the 6 as well. I LOVED watching him play, as he triggered so many runs. The CR game with AA and Pukstas was great to watch. I just love guys that surprise people and then are willing to play other spots to help the team. Everything I wanted from Edleman, Pukstas did. Also, being as young as he is and playing... he has room to grow as a player. He is definitely one to watch for me moving forward.
5) Brenden Craig, CB-- My other player crush from this tournament. The most steady and consistent defensive player in all the games I saw. Led the line, made forward passes to break lines, and even took free kicks!!! This guy is the poster child for how to break out in a tournament like this. Go above and beyond. He was a man on defense (most of the time, fell off when we were up vs DR) and was the commanding leader. With the USMNT CB room in flux and shallow, he is a guy that can make noise moving forward if he stays on this trajectory.
6) Quinn Sullivan, CM/FWD-- Often tied to Aaronson and McGlynn, Sullivan showed for me the craftiness and tenacity to cause problems for national team coaches moving forward. While not the physical or skill prospect of the other two, Sullivan is the guy that gets it done in other ways. He is the intangible guy of the 3, the guy that does all the little things right. As will be a common thread, I don't think he is a winger, but he did the best he could there and bagged the second most goals. A heady and creative player that much like Alvarado, just does the right thing. I would love to find more out about him moving forward and see how he develops and stands out vs the other Philly guys. I would love for him to find a place to stand out and show what he does and can do for the USMNT.
Tier 6: On the Cusp
1) Paxten Aaronson, CM/FWD-- Imagine winning the golden boot and MVP playing out of position. The question going in was 'who was going to play 9,' and I did not guess Aaronson. But, he did the false 9 well and was all over the place. He made runs, passed, dropped in, connected and all the things we've seen from a Jesus Ferriera type 9. Aaronson is just a great attacking soccer player, and he shows advanced finishing skills. I get all the hype and I fully believe that he is on the right trajectory for a breakthrough. Where he fits into GGG's system is a mystery to me, but I am excited to see what happens in the u20 WC and Olympics. I can totally see a progression in which he rides out the cycle and then becomes a stalwart in the senior team.
2) Jack McGlynn, CM-- MY MVP for the tournament, most dynamic and creative player, biggest impact and if you created a scenario in which someone on this team HAD to go to Qatar, it would be him. All of the skills that McGlynn has translates to the senior team. His dribbling and passing are amazing. His runs and spacial awareness are crazy, and that shot he had vs Canada was the shot of the tournament (both for the goal itself and the part of the game in which we were losing). I am fully on the McGlynn wagon, and the only thing that worries me is physicality which is to be expected for an 18 year old. Gimme and inch or two and some good weight to win the cagematches, and you have a stalwart 8 for the USMNT for YEARS. if he grows and works on defense, man... he will be fun.
Ok... feedback appreciated!!!