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SSFC Spotlight: Joshua Wynder is a defender on the rise

The teenager could play a key role at U-20 World Cup.

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Mexico v USMNT Photo by John Dorton/USSF/Getty Images

The 2023 FIFA U-20 World Cup is set to kick off at the end of the week, with the United States Under-20 Men’s National Team looking to improve upon 1989’s fourth-place finish. The competition also serves as one of the biggest scouting stages on which talented players can attract transfer interest. Joshua Wynder already secured his big European move, reportedly joining Benfica this summer. The 18-year-old Louisville City centre-back has enjoyed a meteoric rise in the American second division and should play a key role in Argentina.

Born in Louisville, Wynder played with Ohio Elite before moving to the Louisville City youth set-up in 2020, initially as a midfielder and striker. He joined the first team on an amateur academy contract in February of 2021, following in the footsteps of his older brother, Elijah. A few months later the club signed him to a professional deal, after which the defender made 11 appearances in the USL Championship and had a brief training spell in Portugal that pushed him “out of [his] comfort zone.”

“I think it’s important that we keep him in the moment and going about his business every day the way that he has been,” Louisville head coach Danny Cruz told Chasing a Cup. “And so far, he’s done that. He’s not a kid that allows the outside noise to affect him either negatively or positively. We want him to stay even keel, continue to come to work the way that he has... He’s a special young man. When he gets on the field, he’s lethal, he is sharp, he’s confident, he’s calm, and I genuinely believe that the sky is the limit for him.”

During the offseason, the club signed him to a new multi-year contract, citing his growth and mentality. In 2022, Wynder played in 24 matches during the regular season, finding the back of the net twice and scoring the deciding penalty in a shootout in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. He featured in all three playoff matches, including starting the final, a 3-1 loss to San Antonio FC. His “breakout year” included finishing as runner-up for the USL Championship’s Young Player of the Year award, made all the more impressive by being forced to miss multiple fixtures due to an ankle injury.

Prior to the season, Louisville signed him to yet another “well-earned” extension, lasting through 2025. Wynder has played in seven league and cup matches, making five starts. He earned Team of the Week honors in Week 5 with a near-perfect defensive performance that fully displayed his enviable combination of physicality and technique. Having turned 18, his summer move to Europe is said to have been set with Monaco and Red Bull Salzburg in pursuit of his services, in addition to several offers from Major League Soccer outfits. According to Pro Soccer Wire, Benfica paid a reported $1.5 million transfer fee “plus potential add-ons” to close the deal, the largest move in USL Championship history.

“When I decided I wanted to go to Europe, [MLS] was off the table,” Wynder shared with ChumChat. “But before, I was hesitant going to Europe, I was thinking about MLS. But then, once I made that decision to go to Europe, it was done… I was on trial at Benfica, which was a great experience, and I like the style of play. Obviously, they have a past of producing and sending them off to [big clubs]… I [have to] focus on the little things at clubs that will make my life and soccer career better.”

At the international level, Wynder appeared with the U-19 squad in 2022, serving as captain, winning the Slovenia Nations Cup, and earning a nomination for U.S. Soccer Young Male Player of the Year. He reached the U-20 team this year and received his first senior USMNT call-up for the recent friendly against Mexico, staying on the bench during the 1-1 draw. Interim manager Anthony Hudson described him as “someone in the future who could be a serious player for the senior team” if “he does all the right things.” The defender was subsequently named to the roster for the upcoming 2023 Under-20 World Cup, set to begin next week in Argentina, also being eligible for the 2025 competition.

Wydner is a centre-back possessing ideal height at 6’3”, described as being “positionally very solid and [passing] well between the lines.” He is strong in the air, willing to go to ground on slide tackles, and can play long balls across the field. Coaches praise his “size, athleticism, and composure [in possession],” while also noting his maturity and coachability. Backheel cited his athleticism, claiming that the defender “moves a bit like a gazelle” with jumping ability that helps in aerial duels.

“Wynder is an instinctual and aggressive ball-playing defender,” opined USMNTvideos in a thorough breakdown. “The most prominent area I’ve seen improvement in is his ball-playing ability…. He’s seemed increasingly confident and competent in playing [line-splitting] passes… He has shown an ability to carry the ball as well… Wynder is the definition of a defender who can cut out danger before it can truly matriculate. He is aggressive in pushing forwards to snuff out opposing passes. He reads the game very well and is very quick to react… I think he does suffer a bit in the sense that he is so good at reading the play, [that] he tries to make every play happen, even when it is probably not best to.”

Many players have put in star turns at the U-20 World Cup, cementing their status as rising prospects about to make an impact on the world game. Wynder has demonstrated his value at the USL Championship level and can raise his profile with strong performances in Argentina. However, the hypothetical test looms on the horizon, embracing the challenge of forging a career in Europe at one of the world’s best talent factories.