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SSFC Spotlight: Jackson Hopkins enjoying rapid rise in MLS

The D.C. United midfielder sprang onto this scene this year.

SOCCER: AUG 03 MLS - DC United at Charlotte FC Photo by David Jensen/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Following a break due to the pandemic, the United States Youth National Team program is in full swing across various levels. Multiple squads are currently competing, with several promising developing talents having the opportunity to don the Stars and Stripes crest. Jackson Hopkins is currently getting a run with the U-20 group that recently competed at the Revelations Cup in Mexico. The 18-year-old midfielder is in his debut professional season and has been earning significant minutes in Major League Soccer.

Born in Fredericksburg, Virginia, Hopkins played with the Arlington Soccer Association, Virginia Development Academy, and D.C. United before moving to the New York Red Bulls youth set-up. After a year, he returned to D.C. and began appearing for the club’s reserve team, Loudoun United in the USL Championship, while also training with the senior squad. The teenager scored his first goal in a 3-3 draw with New York Red Bulls II and closed out the season with another finish against the same opponent in a 4-1 defeat.

After a strong preseason, Hopkins continued playing with the reserves, but the club quickly signed him to a first-team contract in April. The four-year deal lasts through the 2025 season with options for 2026 and 2027, enough to convince him to turn down a commitment to the University of Virginia. “He possesses a unique set of skills on the field with size and physicality combined with great feet and awareness on the ball,” said General Manager Lucy Rushton. “We are excited to sign Jackson so we can continue to develop his game with eyes on him making an impact on the first team.”

Hopkins quickly made his debut, starting and playing 89 minutes in a 3-2 loss to Austin FC. He has appeared in 20 league and cup matches, registering an assist against CF Montréal. While becoming a regular starter over the summer, his playing time has drifted into a substitute role as of late. Newly-hired manager Wayne Rooney is attempting to determine his ideal roster but is said to have a “high regard” for the midfielder. At last place in MLS, D.C. United is enduring a dismal season, compounding the dynamic feast-or-famine fortunes experienced by young players.

“Jackson has been one of the most consistent players since I’ve been here as coach,” Rooney shared with “You get ups and downs with young players. That’s understandable. But I think with Jackson, what’s really impressed me is how consistent he’s been in his performances. But also, you give him information, you only have to tell him once, which is rare with young players. He knows the game. I’ve played him in different roles. And his ability to pick up that role and pick up the information I’m giving him is first-class. So, I think he’s got a very bright future. Certainly over the next two or three years, I think he will play for the national team.”

Similar to the meteoric rise of his club career, his introduction to the international level is on a rapid ascent. Hopkins was a mid-tournament replacement at last summer’s CONCACAF U-20 Championship following an injury to Obed Vargas. He played in three knockout matches, including starting in the final against the Dominican Republic and contributing an assist on the opening goal in the 6-0 victory. Head coach Mikey Varas named him to the roster for the 2022 Revelations Cup in Mexico, at times deploying the 18-year-old as a “false 9.”

“My goal is to be part of this team and for that to happen, I have to keep doing well with D.C. United and here with the National Team,” Hopkins said of his time at the CONCACAF Championship. “I definitely want to be a part of the U-20 World Cup team next May. This is a great start but I want to continue to do well… It’s my first time with the National Team so I’m learning from my teammates and learning how everything works. It’s great to be training with a bunch of guys that are in similar situations as me, being young and signed. It was definitely cool being around them and training with them every day.”

A highly versatile 6’2” player who models his game after Thomas Müller with “strong physique and intuition with the ball at his feet,” Hopkins has lined up at attacking midfielder (his preference), both winger spots, and striker. He is a jack-of-all-trades type: capable of creating chances, dribbling past opponents, finishing, hitting an accurate cross, putting in work on the defensive side of the game, and possessing the confidence to shoot from distance. Marcus Chairez of Chasing a Cup praises his ball control, intelligence, and long-range passing but notes his average athleticism and the dreaded tweener status. While young players can get away with lining up at a variety of positions in order to earn minutes, eventually there must be some measure of a commitment to a place in the formation, with the hopes of possessing the necessary attributes to thrive.

Hopkins is an intriguing talent who is in contention to be on the roster for the 2023 FIFA U-20 World Cup in Indonesia. While still very young, he has the tools to develop into a top player, with the potential of becoming a member of the USMNT in the future. The teenager has a long road ahead with a focus on earning consistent playing time, molding into a specific positional role, and increasing production with D.C. United, after which could follow the windfall of European opportunities currently being enjoyed by many American players.