how did they get here?

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The Major League Soccer season 2021 was a standout for young players.

Players like Ricardo Pepi and David Ochoa received international acclaim for their precision on the ball, while NYCFC’s James Sand’s quiet but deadly tactics inspired his side to success. But how did these talents get to where they are now?

Here’s a look at the journey of Major League Soccer’s growing young talent …

DC United player Moses Nyeman joins club at under-12 level / Brad Smith / ISI Photos / GettyImages

Club: DC UnitedAge: 18

Nyeman rose through the ranks of the DC United Academy to the coveted senior team list. He first joined the club in 2015 with the under-12 level, and recorded 83 games and 10 goals in the American Football Development Academy. Nyeman’s precision on the ball and determination inspired him to quickly reach DC United USL Championship-affiliated Loudoun United.

As one of the academy’s most prominent stars, the 16-year-old made his USL debut as a substitute in a 3-2 victory over Swope Park Rangers on June 6. After just one season, Nyeman signed with DC United as the 13th Homegrown player in the club’s history.

He made 19 appearances for the Washington DC team in 2021, which inspired two assists.

DC United player Kevin Paredes worked his way up from the academy’s U13 level / SOPA Images / GettyImages

Club: DC UnitedAge: 18

Paredes has long been part of the Black and Red family, and has served as a member of the academy since below 13 level. He scored 39 goals in 85 appearances for the US Soccer Development Academy over three years.

The 16-year-old impressed with his ability to score from his midfield position, which attracted the attention of the club’s senior members. He himself worked for DC United’s USL Championship-affiliated Loudoun United, and made his debut in 2019.

But his disciplined forms of defense drove Paredes to a rapid promotion and signed with the MLS team in 2020.

New York Red Bulls player Cristian Casseres Jr. joins Venezuela / Ira L. Black – Corbis / GettyImages

Club: New York Red BullsAge: 21

Cristian Casseres Jr. first completed his transfer to the Red Bulls 2018 and joined the team from Venezuela’s first division Deportivo La Guaira. He made his debut for the team at the age of 16 and went on to record 15 appearances for La Guaira before joining Major League Soccer.

Casseres Jr. started his rise to star status in 2019 and scored three goals and four assists in 22 games. He has quickly become an integral part of the team and its success in the Eastern Conference.

Atlanta United’s homegrown talent George Bello continues to shine with senior team / Carmen Mandato / GettyImages

Club: Atlanta UnitedAge: 19

George Bello is a product of Atlanta United’s Academy. He joined the group with the U-15 side, in 26 matches before moving up in the rankings. He was named Player of the Year in the East Conference U15 / 16 2016-17.

He went through the groups under 16 and 18 and played out others to finally reach the MLS team’s senior list in 2017. He signed on as a homemade player and went on to make his Major League Soccer debut against DC United.

The player has been unstoppable ever since.

FC Dallas Homegrown player Justin Che first joined the academy in 2009 / Christopher Morris – Corbis / GettyImages

Club: FC DallasAge: 18

Justin Che is another great product from FC Dallas Academy.

The homegrown player first joined the United States Soccer Development Academy in 2009 and scored 18 goals in 84 appearances during his seven years.

He worked his way through the ranks to become the seventh youngest player to sign with the FC Dallas senior team at 16 years and 319 days old. He has since worked tirelessly to influence the Texas team.

Philadelphia Union player Leon Flach came from a second team in the Bundesliga / Mitchell Leff / GettyImages

Club: Philadelphia UnionAge: 20

The Philadelphia Union player received a unique introduction to Major League Soccer.

Flach is a result of the German team FC St Pauli’s youth system, where he played in under 17 and under 19 teams before signing on their senior list in 2020. He made his professional debut for the club in September 2020 and would continue to make nine appearances before transferred to Philadelphia Union 2021.

Los Angeles Galaxy player Efrain Alvarez enjoyed the academy / Shaun Clark / GettyImages

Club: LA GalaxyAge: 19

The Mexican international has long been doomed to success since leading the LA Galaxy Academy’s U17 team to the USSDA Championship. Alvarez made himself known and scored goals in the team’s quarterfinals, semifinals and championship matches.

He immediately signed with the senior team after lifting the trophy, and joined the American league as the seventh youngest player ever to sign a contract just 16 years old.

He has played alongside the MLS greats, with Zlatan Ibrahimovic categorizing him as “the greatest talent of all in the MLS”.

Real Salt Lake goalkeeper David Ochoa was a product of Academy / David Berding / GettyImages

Club: Real Salt LakeAge: 20

David Ochoa has an unusual arrival to Major League Soccer. He started his career with Real Monarchs SLC 2018 and is the second youngest goalkeeper to make his debut at USL level so far.

He was originally a product of the team’s academy, and stood out from 2016-2018 before continuing to play for the USL side.

He joined the MLS team in 2020, but it was not until the 2021 season that Ochoa made a name for himself with Real Salt lake. Ochoa led the Western Conference team to a Cinderella season and lost in the playoffs in 2021. He saves penalties and offensive attacks from some of the league’s biggest to reach the conference final.

Daryl Dike joined Orlando City SC during MLS Superdraft / Douglas P. DeFelice / GettyImages

Club: Orlando City SCAge: 21

Daryl Dike started his career after being picked by Orlando City during the MLS SuperDraft 2020.

The University of Virginia product was voted No. 5 overall by Lions, and later went on to sign a Generation Adidas contract on January 7th. Since then, Dike has proven his worth to the team and scored 10 goals and three assists this year alone.

Ricardo Pepi is a result of FC Dallas Academy / Shaun Clark / GettyImages

Club: FC DallasAge: 18

Ricardo Pepi is the definition of a domestic success story.

He defied the odds and became the breakout star of 2021 after flourishing for FC Dallas and finding himself an important part of Gregg Berhalter’s USMNT team.

Pepi first joined the MLS club’s academy level in 2016 at the age of 13, from the club’s youth association in El Paso. He scored 18 goals in 15 games during his first season, which quickly grew out of his age group’s skill level. He rose through the ranks and moved up to the U-18 group just two years after he first signed.

In 2019, Pepi finally sealed the deal as a homemade player for FC Dallas before continuing to make history during his first two seasons. He now stands as Major League Soccer’s young player of the year.

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