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SSFC Spotlight: Cade Cowell completes impressive season with San Jose Earthquakes

The young attacker is with the United States U-20s.

San Jose Earthquakes v Austin FC Photo by Lyndsay Radnedge/ISI Photos/Getty Images

The United States Under-20 Men’s National Team convened a 23-player camp for the Revelations Cup. One of the bigger names on the roster is Cade Cowell from the San Jose Earthquakes. The 18-year-old dual-national attacker recently closed a breakout season in Major League Soccer, his third year with the club. His dynamic performances have reportedly drawn European interest, as he appears on pace for future stardom.

Born in Ceres, California, Cowell competed for Modesto Ajax, Ceres Earthquakes, and in the Olympic Development Program with California-North, winning multiple state cups. The sport of American football almost won his full-time commitment, but a coach convinced him to “focus solely on soccer.” According to the Ceres Courier, he was “offered full tuition” to the Ballistic United, Sacramento Republic, and San Jose Earthquakes academies, joining the latter organization after turning down additional overtures from the LA Galaxy and Real Salt Lake. Enduring a daily 90-mile commute, the club placed him in first-team training, partnering the teenager with Chris Wondolowski.

San Jose signed the then-15-year-old to a Homegrown contract in January of 2019, becoming the youngest player in club history. “Cade has a bright future ahead of him and it is up to him how far he will go,” said manager Matias Almeyda. “He adds to what I believe is a very talented group of young players here in San Jose and we’re anxious to see him develop with us.”

After scoring in a friendly against Monterrey, the club sent Cowell on a short-term loan to the now-defunct Reno 1868, impressing the USL affiliate’s coaching staff with his “size, speed, and agility.” His first professional goal came in his debut against San Antonio FC. He also continued to play with the San Jose academy, competing in the Generation adidas Cup.

That season, Cowell made his first-team debut in the U.S. Open Cup, playing 21 minutes against the Sacramento Republic. San Jose then sent him back to Nevada for a few weeks, resulting in five total appearances. Constantly shuttling back and forth between teams was “different” but “always kept [him] on [his] toes.”

Cowell enjoyed a strong start to 2020, despite initial plans for another year with Reno. He earned his first MLS minutes against Minnesota United and made a total of 19 appearances during the pandemic-shortened season. The attacker registered a goal and an assist, finding the back of the net against the rival LA Galaxy and becoming the youngest scorer in club history. According to a report from ESPN, FC Barcelona was monitoring his progress.

After working hard during the offseason, Cowell took a massive leap forward this year with five goals and five assists. At only 18 years old, he is a key player for the Earthquakes and considered one of the best young talents in MLS. The league named him Player of the Week for a one-goal, two-assist performance against D.C. United, along with selecting him to the 22-Under-22 list and All-Star Team. However, the teenager was personally disappointed to not consistently maintain production, and San Jose missed the playoffs.

As is customary for American talents, Europe may come calling soon. “I never think about it,” he told Goal. “I’ll think about it if the time ever comes. Then, if everything is real, that’s maybe when I’ll think about it, but right now, I never think about it. I just focus on the here and now.”

At the international level, Cowell is eligible to play for Mexico and the United States, featuring in the latter set-up. He was a member of the U-16 and U-17 squads, as well as being invited to the pre-Olympic and Gold Cup camps. The attacker was named to the U-20 roster for the Revelations Cup in Mexico, expected to be a key performer at the competition.

Cowell is a versatile attacker, capable of playing at winger, attacking midfielder, and forward. He is described as a “direct, explosive” wide forward that uses his speed well, comparing himself to Kylian Mbappe. His “main focus” after receiving the ball is “always to beat defenders one-on-one.”

A recent goal against Real Salt Lake demonstrated his prowess. Receiving the ball from the goalkeeper behind midfield, Cowell recognized the available space and embarked on a one-player counter-attack with a furious sprint up the field. He danced past two defenders and slotted a shot into the back of the net. The brimming combination of physicality and technical ability almost resulted in a boil-over, but the teenager was able to maintain just enough control to convert.

He is continually praised for his mentality, described as a humble player who “listens, wants to learn, [and] asks questions,” eager to do the work on both sides of the game. Cowell has also been noted for his high level of fitness and strength, which began with constant weight training in his family’s backyard, jokingly known as “the prison yard.” His mentor, the recently retired Wondolowski, provided “technical pointers” and instruction on off-ball movement to his teammate with “no ceiling.”

A “dynamic presence” in the attacking third, his “incredible pace” and acceleration allow him to get behind back lines and pull defenders out of position. According to Total Football Analysis, Cowell has “a good first touch, not only showing good ball mastery but also using his first touch to initiate his next attacking action” while “actively scanning the pitch.” Similarly his intelligence helps to “recognize spaces.” As his finishing, passing, and general efficiency improve, some predict his future could be at the number nine role.

The upcoming U-20 camp is a perfect opportunity for many young players to return to the program after a long layoff. Cowell excels at the club level and can continue developing while gaining international experience. He is on track to achieve his goal of appearing at the 2026 World Cup, with another solid season potentially launching him into the senior squad and Europe.