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USMNT Weekly Youth Update: JoGo & Vargas impress, updates from Bayern & Barça

Let’s take a trip around the world to see what’s going on in the Youth National Team scene.

Welcome back to the USMNT Weekly Youth Update! Let’s take a look back at some developments in the young US player pool over the past week. By reader request, here’s a breakdown of which birth years are eligible for which youth national teams and tournaments:

  • 1999 and younger: eligible for “age-based” U-23 team (this is not something US Soccer does, but I advocate for it)
  • 2001 and younger: eligible for 2024 Paris Olympics (U-23 team)
  • 2003 and younger: eligible for 2022 Concacaf Championship, 2023 U-20 World Cup
  • 2006 and younger: eligible for 2023 U-17 World Cup

Note: This column features a heavy amount of content from the @ProspectsUSMNT twitter account. This content is used with permission from the account owner.

The rating at the end of each update reflects how much I think each player should be called up to the senior national team at the next opportunity (1-nowhere near ready; 10-absolutely call him up and start him). Let’s get into it!

Belgium

Mauricio Cuevas (RB, 2003) has moved from the LA Galaxy setup to Club Brugge. Cuevas was in the most recent US U-20 camp, and made his debut with Brugge’s U-21s. Rating: 1

Croatia

Rokas Pukstas (CM, 2004) joined Croatian side Hajduk Split in fall 2020 from Barça Residency in Arizona, after spending time in the Sporting KC setup. Pukstas was in the first camp of the new U-20 cycle in Nov 2021. Pukstas has signed a new first-team contract with Hajduk Split that runs until the 2025 season. The midfielder has 8 goals in 16 appearances at U-19 level. He’s also made the first-team bench three times in Croatia, most recently this past Sunday. Rating: 1

England

Folarin Balogun (FW, 2001) has been rumored to switch from England’s national team setup to the USA. Balogun is playing for Middlesbrough in the Championship, after leaving Arsenal on loan in January. Rating: 7

France

Marseille - Reports out of France are claiming Marseille manager Jorge Sampaoli is unhappy with Konrad de la Fuente (wing, 2001).

“According to the daily La Provence, KDLF is perceived by the technical staff as a player too casual and not really serious in the approach of his job... his unstructured game, his tactical shortcomings and his lack of professionalism off the field raise questions.”

This wouldn’t be the first time a manager in Europe has challenged an American player to improve his focus and convince the manager and club of his commitment. Let’s hope Konrad proves himself at Marseille, or finds another landing spot if needed, because he’s one of the most talented American forwards with the ball at his feet. Rating: 7

Montpellier - Niko Gioacchini (FW, 2000) got some late minutes off the bench in Montpellier’s 0-1 loss to Nantes on Sunday. The 21-year-old Kansas City native has 21 appearances for Montpellier in Ligue 1. The club has lost 4 of 5 to fall to 11th in France. Rating: 7

Germany

Bielefeld - George Bello (LB, 2002) made his fourth Bundesliga appearance, coming on at 76’ in Bielefeld’s 0-1 loss to Augsburg. Interestingly, Bello was playing much further forward than is typical for him, as a left midfielder. He wasn’t even taking throw-ins on his side of the field. Bello had several nice touches on the ball, but also got outmuscled a few times. Rating: 5

Bochum - Luca Fava (mid, 2004) got his second start for Bochum’s U-19s since moving up from their U-17s over the summer. Credit to eastdeflection for the spot! Rating: 1

Hoffenheim - Justin Che (CB, 2003) was mentioned by his manager, Sebastian Hoeneß:

“We cannot forget, he is the second youngest player in our squad and needs to still develop of course. Right now, he is getting closer to a Bundesliga appearance.”

Mönchengladbach - Michael Wentzel (CB, 2002) scored the winning goal for Gladbach II in the Regionalliga (fourth tier in Germany). Rating: 1

Munich - Bajung Darboe (FW, 2006) is training with Bayern Munich. Darboe is currently with Philly Union II in MLS Next Pro. He played in several preseason matches with the Union’s first team, and Union manager Jim Curtin confirmed there is interest abroad in the youngster. There’s also video of Darboe scoring in a friendly while in Munich. Rating: 1

Cruz Medina (mid, 2006) was also training with Bayern (as reported last week). Reports this week say Medina is close to signing a pro deal with San Jose. Here’s video of Medina scoring with Bayern’s U-16s. Rating: 1

Italy

Jack de Vries (wing, 2002) is now tied for first for goals in Italy’s U-19 division. Having already made his first-team Venezia debut in a cup match, de Vries is one to watch. He will return to Philadelphia when his loan ends unless a full transfer is made. Rating: 1

Spain

Barcelona - Diego Kochen (GK, 2006) has signed a new contract to continue in FC Barcelona’s youth setup. Kochen was on the latest U.S. U-17 roster. Rating: 1

Mallorca - Matthew Hoppe (FW, 2001) made a 22’ sub appearance for Mallorca in their La Liga match with Real Sociedad last Wednesday. It was Hoppe’s first La Liga match since a 16’ cameo on Jan 8. Before that, his last league match came on Sep 22. He also came off the bench in Copa del Rey games on Jan 15 and Feb 2. Hopefully this leads to more minutes for Hoppe, although he was left on the bench in Sunday’s game vs Celta Vigo. Rating: 6

San Sebastián - Jonathan Gómez (LB, 2003) has played 357 of the last 360 minutes for Real Sociedad’s reserves in La Liga 2 (Spain’s second tier, the same league Shaq Moore and Samuel Shashoua play in with Tenerife). JoGo also made the first-team bench for Sociedad’s league match with Mallorca last Wednesday. All signs point to his first-team debut coming soon. JoGo’s 4 straight starts have coincided with 3 straight wins for Sociedad B. His performance vs Gijón on Monday was particularly impressive: 22/30 passing, 2 key passes, 1/1 dribbles, 2/3 duels, 6 recoveries. It will be interesting to see if the U.S. or Mexico (or both) call him up for March qualifiers. Rating: 8

USA

Concacaf has completed the draw for the U-20 Concacaf Championship, which will serve as qualifying for both the 2024 Olympics and the 2023 U-20 World Cup.

Arlington Pablo Torre (FW, 2004) has signed with North Texas SC. NTX will represent Dallas in MLS Next Pro this season. Rating: 1

Bethesda - Kristian Fletcher (FW, 2005) is currently playing with Bethesda SC’s youth setup in the US, but has been linked to clubs such as Borussia Dortmund. It is assumed Fletcher doesn’t have an EU passport, and will have to wait to move abroad until he turns 18. Marcus Chai got some video of Fletcher and provided analysis. Rating: 1

Chicago - Gaga Slonina (GK, 2004) is off to a strong start in the new MLS season. The 17-year-old has helped Chicago keep clean sheets in their first 2 games, both 0-0 draws. Slonina was with the U-20s at Revelations Cup, with the full USMNT for World Cup qualifying in the last window, and seems likely to be back with the senior team in March, especially with Matt Turner and Zack Steffen struggling for fitness. Rating: 7

Denver - Travis Jackson (LB, 2004) has signed a Homegrown deal with the Colorado Rapids. The Jackson, Mississippi native trained with the first team in 2021, and was described by the Rapids’ GM as “a dynamic, left-footed full back”.

Hartford - Damon Rouse (def, 2005) has signed with Hartford Athletic in the USL Championship. Hartford’s manager said this about him:

“I have not been this excited about a young player in some time... Damon comes equipped with a skill set to play a number of positions, however, his biggest asset at this stage is that he has a fearless approach to being with the older pros.”

Los Angeles - Alex Villanueva (LB/LW, 2002) has signed with Orange County SC in the USL Championship, joining youngsters Kobi Henry (CB, 2004) and Korede Osundina (FW, 2004). Villanueva departs the Seattle setup, after working his way from the Sounders academy to Tacoma Defiance, earning a US U-17 callup in the process. Manager Richard Chaplow had this to say about Villanueva:

“Alex will bring energy and directness to us in wide areas while providing our attackers with good service... He has a real hunger to improve, and we are looking forward to supporting him as he continues his development.”

New York - Maximo Carrizo (mid, 2008) signed a Homegrown deal with NYCFC, becoming MLS’s youngest-ever Homegrown signing. Rating: 1

Also in New York, with the Red Bulls, Serge Ngoma (wing, 2005) tied a franchise record for youngest debut. Rating: 1

Philadelphia - Nelson Pierre (FW, 2005) became the first signing for the Union’s reserve side in MLS Next Pro. Rating: 1

San Jose - Cade Cowell (FW/LB, 2003) is off to a strong start to the MLS season with the Earthquakes. In addition to the comp below, there’s a separate video highlighting a nicely-threaded pass. Cowell was with the U-20s at Revelations Cup, but San Jose didn’t release him for the most recent U-20 camp. Rating: 5

Seattle - Obed Vargas (CM, 2005) just keeps on putting in strong performances. Vargas went 74% passing in the Sounders’ 3-0 win over León, with 1 key pass, 0 turnovers, and won 60% of his duels. Vargas was in the most recent US U-20 camp. Rating: 4

Hit the comments to let me know if there’s anything major I overlooked or if there’s anyone you’d like to hear about. Thank you for reading!