Ricardo Pepi and Daryl Dike may have been the latest newcomers to leave Major League Soccer, but they will definitely not be the last.
The pipeline between MLS and Europe is now fully operational and even the youngest players can now dream of crossing the pond and joining some of the world’s biggest leagues.
So as the 2022 season approaches, here are 10 teenagers who 90min will keep an eye on – this is by no means a definitive list, so feel free to give us your choices on social media!
Missing this too much ?? ?? https://t.co/i1RLOxi3EO
– GAGA (@GabrielSlonina) December 30, 2021
As the Chicago Fires’ hopes of reaching the playoffs in the MLS Cup disappeared, so did their desire to get blood for the home team.
Gabriel Slonina was by far the biggest benefactor of it, replacing Bobby Shuttleworth as Fire’s No.1 goalkeeper for the season’s last 11 games, just 17 years old.
During that time, he kept four zeros and made an average of 3.91 saves per 90 minutes, some of which were truly outstanding.
If there is a weakness in Slonina’s game, it is with the ball at his feet, but it comes when he becomes calm through experience. It’s just a matter of time until this young stopper crosses the pond …
Kevin Paredes is the best left-back in MLS since Alphonso Davies. He’s coming soon with Tajon Buchanan.
There I said it.
This is normal for him. This is not normal for most 18-year-olds. https://t.co/NVFHiYaPNE pic.twitter.com/8PNqkBWAlQ
– MLS Buzz (@MLS_Buzz) August 1, 2021
Given that he played 24 times in MLS, it can be argued that 2021 was a breakout season for Kevin Paredes. And yet, despite his three goals, three assists and dazzling skill, he is still not talked about in the same way as some of the league’s other budding talents.
If anything, it can be argued that Paredes has not really been released enough in the last third yet. And there is a concern that if he were to go to Europe in the near future, he would be pushed into a left-back role, which is often the case with young outside players.
Again, it has not hurt Alphonso Davies, and Paredes really has the talent to get close to his Canadian counterpart.
Paxten Aaronson in his first MLS start. Okay then, kid. pic.twitter.com/Ivrb0hOkyn
– Matthew Doyle (@ MattDoyle76) August 8, 2021
Big brother Brenden is already making waves in the UEFA Champions League with RB Salzburg and if the early signs are something to go by, Paxten Aaronson’s time will come soon.
The 18-year-old scored three goals in just 590 minutes of the MLS regular season last season and has already proven his ability to hit the net from remarkable angles.
Paxten has the same low center of gravity and ability to dodge away from opponents’ defenders as Brenden – a big year in MLS will undoubtedly catch the eye of some big European clubs.
Very nice from Josh Atencio here. pic.twitter.com/aslrrzMpve
– Matthew Doyle (@ MattDoyle76) October 10, 2021
There are few (if any) young people in MLS who are more underrated than Josh Atencio. The 19-year-old played 1,514 minutes for a team from the Seattle Sounders that finished second in the Western Conference last season, placing third among his teammates for passes into the final third (4.11) and recoveries (11.1). per 90.
These two states are a good summary of Atencio’s competence; an effective and progressive pass player, and a measured defensive presence.
Atencio’s absence from the MLS 22 Under-22 list was incredibly tough, but those of a Sounders persuasion know his value. Another big year in 2022 and they will not be the only ones.
With all the hype he’s getting right now, you would be excused for thinking that NCYFC’s 19-year-old Tayvon Gray is a new MLS talent. But he has actually been under the radar for several years now. He played a U-17 friendly match against Brazil where he was MOTM among Reinier, Busio, Pepi and Scally pic.twitter.com/M68BSjIq3E
Made for US (@SMadeforu) December 1, 2021
Thanks to Anton Tinnerholm’s long-term injury, 19-year-old Bronx-born Tayvon Gray was shot in the right back position for NYCFC.
But Gray did very well, giving Cityzen’s shots up and down the flank and showing few signs of inexperience as he helped his team go all the way to the MLS Cup glory.
Sure, Gray still has a few kinks in his game to iron out, not least some frustrating decision-making in the final third. But find us a teenager who is the whole package.
Gray will have many chances to learn when Tinnerholm continues his long recovery.
Get up, Mamadou Fall! @LAFC strikes first at home. pic.twitter.com/1qJP6e4stb
– Major League Soccer (@MLS) September 4, 2021
LAFC suffered in 2021 and missed the MLS Cup playoffs for the first time in its history. But there were a handful of positive things, one of which was the emergence of Mamadou Fall.
The 19-year-old midfielder played 16 times for Black and Gold and proved to be a capable defensive presence both in the air and on the ground.
Most surprisingly, Fall was also a huge goal threat and found the net four times – only four LAFC players scored more goals last season.
Although he may be a little messy with his passing, Fall has already shown real technical skill in spells and will aim for improvements in that area this year.
THIS GOAL FROM CADE COWELL ?? pic.twitter.com/pVdHzefuaw
– USMNT only (@usmntonly) October 30, 2021
There is already plenty of interest in Cade Cowell from Europe – not least Barcelona. 2021 was a good springboard for the 18-year-old, who scored five goals and five assists in 33 MLS appearances for the San Jose Earthquakes.
Cowell has already shown that he has all the technical ability to compete with the best – he can dribble, he can finish and he can create. And he’s a damn physical specimen.
All that remains now is to put all the pieces together on a consistent basis.
First @ MLS goal for John Tolkin!
Only USMNT (@usmntonly) August 19, 2021
Although Andrew Gutman was involved, John Tolkin still managed 28 games for the Red Bulls during the regular season 2021, partly due to his versatility in being able to get through the medal as well as left back. The youngster definitely passed the test, proved a strong defensive presence and caused some devastation in the last third when he got the chance.
“I think the big advantage for him is that he has a very, very good technical ability to handle the moments in cramped spaces, with pressure, with our time in a very good way, and I think this helps us to play in more positions, says RBNY’s head coach Gerhard Struber. “And I also think that his reorientation to realize the spaces around him, he can handle this in a very interesting way. And I think this is also a little surprise to me that he handled this position very well. “
Gutman has now returned to Atlanta United after his loan expired. Tolkin has the chance to make an even bigger impression this year, potentially following in the footsteps of the other big names to get his start at Red Bull Arena.
Nyeman is not the only 17-year-old central midfielder in the game. This is very, very nice from Fires Brian Gutierrez. pic.twitter.com/RhiDUsmWfR
– Matthew Doyle (@ MattDoyle76) 14 May 2021
When Brian Gutierrez returned to Chicago for a moment, it did not turn out quite like Slonina last year, but he is definitely just as talented.
The 18-year-old midfielder looks like a seriously talented pass player and already has the peace to dribble out of the tightest corners. Press resistance is incredibly important for midfielders these days.
Fire looks set to give their home side even more minutes this year under new coach Ezra Hendrickson, so make sure you keep track of Gutierrez’s progress.
25 ‘| How about this Jack McGlynn through ball? #PHIVCIN 1 – 0 | #DOOP pic.twitter.com/NNN1ll0nIy
– PhilaUnion (@PhilaUnion) November 1, 2021
Jack McGlynn is only 18 years old and he looks like it. But he does not act in any way. His cameo operations for Union 2021 gave us all a taste of his ability as a playmaker and he was actually ranked second among Philly players for shot-creating actions per 90 (3.38).
McGlynn also showed that he has calmed down well beyond his years, stepped up and sent the goalkeeper the wrong way to win the union’s penalty shootout against Nashville SC in the playoffs.
Ice flows through his veins, but McGlynn is sure to become red hot property soon enough.
Honorable mentions: Girffin Yow, Moses Nyeman, Efrain Alvarez, Pedro Vite, Danny Leyva, Wikelman Carmona, Jhon Duran, Cameron Dunbar, Christian Torres.
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