European U20 Midseason Review
It’s a little over halfway through the 2023/2024 European season and it is time to check in on the top U20 United States eligible players that are playing on first teams across Europe. These are players that started the season born in 2003 or later. There haven’t been any truly breakout seasons from this group, but there are some players that have been important and impactful for their clubs so far this season.
Luca Koleosho, winger for Burnley
GK, Gabriel Slonina, Eupen (2004)
1 Clean Sheet
Slonina was loaned from Chelsea to Eupen in Belgium’s first tier of competition. Eupen is a historically low budget club that is always struggling to avoid relegation. Eupen’s defense has been pretty poor this year and Slonina is holding up pretty well considering he is a 19 year old keeper. Slonina is facing an average of over two expected goals per 90, which is a very high number. He is giving up 2.28 goals per 90, slightly above the expected totals. That is actually pretty good considering the amount of shots he is facing. Eupen are currently sitting second to last in the table.
LB, Jonathan Gómez, CD Mirandes (2003)
Gómez is in his first season contributing to a first team in Europe after moving from Louisville City in USLC to Real Sociedad’s organization. Gómez is having a sneaky good season in LaLiga2 and has now started 12 matches in a row. In those 12 matches, Mirandes has lost only once. He looked to have grown into his body and is playing very good defense along with his usually tidiness in getting forward. Gómez is doing enough to warrant a jump in competition next season.
LB, Nathaniel Brown, FC Nuremberg (2003)
Brown is a German-American that has never suited up for the United States of America to date, but he is surely on their radar. In his first season as a first team starter Brown has impressed, so much so that German powerhouse, Eintracht Frankfurt, has spent 3M to bring Brown to Frankfurt for the 2024-2025 season. If Brown is able to earn a role in the Bundesliga next season, given the lack of high level depth behind Jedi Robinson he will surely garner attention from the USMNT. Right now, he is playing for Germany’s U21’s internationally.
CM, Rokas Pukstas, Hajduk Split (2004)
Pukstas has been one of the top performing U20s in the pool. He has played the full 90 minutes in 10 of 11 starts, missing eight due to a knee injury. In those 11 starts, Hajduk Split has only lost once. They currently sit atop the Croatian first tier league and are looking to win the league for the first time since 2004/2005. Pukstas’ performances and contributions have gotten the attention of some big clubs in Europe and it would not be a surprise if he makes a move to a top five league next season.
W, Luca Koleosho, Burnley (2004)
Before his injury, Koleosho was having the most impressive and exciting season of any United States eligible U20 in the toughest league in the world. I’ve long been a fan of Koleosho, but I was shocked to see him in the starting eleven in Burnley’s first match of the 2023/2024 season. He went on to start 13 of 15 matches before injuring his knee. During that time he was putting up impressive dribbling and attacking metrics, while being a little inefficient in the final third.
Koleosho is currently the top priority United States dual-national for U.S. Soccer. The powers that be will continue to pursue and recruit Koleosho until he selects who he will play for at the senior level. Koleosho would likely slot in as the third winger within the USMNT pool if he does decide to commit to the United States.
RB, Justin Che, ADO Den Haag (2003)
Che moved from FC Dallas to Danish club, Bröndby IF, this summer. He was then loaned to ADO Den Haag in the second tier of Holland where he has put together a strong season as Den Haag look to get promoted to the first tier. Che has started eight matches for Den Haag and missed eight matches due to injury. Den Haag has yet to lose in a match that Che has played in.
CF, Ricardo Pepi, PSV (2003)
While Pepi doesn’t have as many minutes as other players on this list, he does have the most goal contributions, and by a considerable margin, with eight across all competitions. One of those goals might have been PSVs biggest goal of the year, putting them ahead in the Champions League match that sent them to the knockout rounds for the first time since 2015-2016. Pepi has only been a sub this year, sitting behind Luuk de Jong who has 33 (!) goal contributions this year across competitions. Pepi hasn’t gotten a ton of opportunities, but he has done a lot with the ones he’s had. He is well positioned to be the center-forward of the future for PSV.
W, Korede Osundina, FC Dordrecht (2004)
Osundina moved from USLC club, Orange County, to Feyenoord this summer and subsequently was loaned to FC Dordrecht in the second tier of Holland. He is earning a bigger role at the club, starting in the last three matches. If Osundina can hold on to this starting spot and produce, he will likely earn a chance to play at a bigger club in a better league next season.
AM/W, Zach Booth, FC Voldendam (2004)
Booth was loaned to Volendam from Leicester City in what was a bit of a surprise move. He is starting to earn a bigger role with the scrappy, relegation-battling club, playing more than 50 minutes in their last four league matches. Booth is showing that he has the talent to play at a decent level if given the opportunity.
AM, Paxten Aaronson, Eintracht Frankfurt (2003)
Aaronson has received the majority of his opportunity in the Europa Conference League and hasn’t had much of a role during league play for 6th place Frankfurt. I don’t see a clear path to more playing time for Aaronson for the remainder of the season and I think it would benefit Aaronson to get a loan to a lower level of competition to get more minutes.
W, Kevin Paredes, VfL Wolfsburg (2003)
Paredes is having a slightly underwhelming season in Germany, but he is still one of our youngest players that has a role on a solid team in a top four league. He has been a consistently used sub for 11th place Wolfsburg. He had a short run of three starts and between now and the end of the year hopes to secure that starting spot.
CF, Damion Downs, FC Koln (2004)
Downs has not done much as a first team player this year, but it’s worth mentioning he made a Bundesliga debut at 19. He is probably still a year or two away from truly breaking through, but he is a player to keep monitoring. He has received most of his minutes on the second team in the Regionalliga where he has six goals in just over 1,000 minutes.
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