Euro 2023/2024 Season Preview: U20s
As the European soccer market continues to scout and value American talent, more and more players are going to Europe at younger ages and getting chances to impact first teams.
I've taken a look at the U20 United States eligible players (players born in 2003 or later) that will either certainly have an impact on a first team or may eventually have an impact before the end of the season.
The summer transfer window is still open, so it's possible that many of these players will move by the end of the transfer window in early September.
Ricardo Pepi, USMNT center-forward for PSV Eindhoven
GK, Gabriel "Gaga" Slonina, Chelsea → Eupen? (2004)
Slonina moved to Chelsea at the beginning of 2023 and featured for their U21 team during the spring portion of the season. Chelsea have been clear that the plan for Slonina this year is to play first team football. Fabrizio Romano reported on July 28th that Slonina is close to finalizing a one year loan move to Belgian club KAS Eupen — a bottom table club in Belgium. If Slonina can win the starting spot, it would certainly be an action packed year where he can start to adapt to the pressures of European football.
LB, Jonathan Gómez, Real Sociedad (2003)
Gómez is entered his second full season within the Real Sociedad project and is looking to make his LaLiga debut. He has been getting time with the first team in preseason, but a squad role with the Champions League side seems unlikely. A loan move to Holland, Belgium, Austria or even LaLiga 2 would be a great next step for his development.
LB, Nathaniel "Nene" Brown, Nuremberg (2003)
Brown broke through with Nuremberg in March of 2023 and looks like he will be given the chance to be the starting left-back for the 2. Bundesliga side. If the German-American can perform well as a very young starter he will likely attract interest from bigger clubs in the next couple of transfer windows.
RB/CB, Justin Che, Bröndby (2003)
Che returns to Europe for his third stint after an 18-month loan to Hoffenheim that didn't quite pan out like we all hoped. After a good showing at the U20 World Cup, Che was able to entice perennial Danish power, Brondby, to sign him to a permanent deal. Brondby play in a three backline shape, which fits Che's profile perfectly. He is best as a right-sided center-back in a three or five man backline. If Che can become a rotational starter by the end of the year it should be considered a very good season.
CB, Bryan Okoh, RB Salzburg (2003)
Okoh was very close to becoming a senior Swiss International during last World Cup Qualifying cycle, but a torn ACL got in the way of his chance. After a grueling a recovery and a difficult few months back on the pitch, Okoh hopes this is the year that he gets his career back on track. Unfortunately it is not off to a good start because he is already sidelined with a groin injury. If Okoh will be looking to get back from injury quickly and eventually break into the Salzburg squad.
CM, Rokas Pukstas, Hadjuk Split (2004)
Pukstas became a full time starter for the second biggest club in Croatia in the second half of last season. He had a very encouraging first season with four goals and three assists and he has started this year off with a bang. He scored a match winning goal in stoppage time against the biggest club in Croatia, Dinamo Zagreb. And he has backed that up with another goal on matchday two. Pukstas looks like he is on the verge of a big time season and it might be his last in Split. Bigger clubs from bigger European leagues are likely watching with a close eye and at this rate he may not stay in Croatia beyond the winter transfer window.
CM, Alejandro Alvarado, Vizela (2003)
Alvarado looked like he was poised for a breakout season last year after starting to earn a role during the 2021-2022 season. That did not turn out to be the case and he only earned 64 minutes for the first team in league play. This season could be a make or break year for Alvarado. If he does not earn the trust of his manager and continues to be a U23 player, it might be time for him to make a move and find a club where he can get his senior career going.
CM, Vaughn Covil, Hull City (2003)
Covil came out of nowhere last season and become a squad player for Hull City early in the season. Sadly, his first professional season was cut short due to an ACL injury. Covil is back in training and is looking to regain a role with Hull City's first team. There have been some rumblings of a loan, but hopefully Covil can pick up where he left off and stay healthy this year.
AM, Paxten Aaronson, Eintracht Frankfurt (2003)
Aaronson moved to German power Frankfurt at the beginning of 2023 and the expectation was that he would be slowly eased into the project and based on what they saw in training, he might be loaned out to a lower level. Instead, Aaronson quickly impressed the staff and he became a consistently used sub for the last few months of the season. This season, Aaronson will look to build on that and become a more impact sub and potentially a spot starter for Frankfurt. Aaronson is one of the likliest young Americans to have a breakout season in Europe.
AM, Caden Clark, RB Leipzig (2003)
Clark's development has stagnated quite a bit the last couple of years. Clark was looking like a budding start within the Red Bull system at the beginning of the 2021 MLS season which led to Leipzig signing him and loaning him back to New York for what turned out to be 18 months. Clark's final 1.5 years for RBNY was littered with injuries and an inconsistent role. He finally moved to Leipzig in early January 2023. He made a few matchday squads but never saw the field for the first team. There is virtually zero chance he stays with Leipzig for the 2023/2024 season, but he could end up getting a loan elsewhere in Europe with the Eredivise being the most common rumor. There is also talk that a move back to MLS is more likely. Either way, Clark needs to stay fit and rebuild his career.
WING/LB, Kevin Paredes, Wolfsburg (2003)
Paredes is entering his second full season at Wolfsburg after moving to Germany from D.C. United at the beginning of 2022. Paredes became a consistent squad player and sub for Wolfsburg last season, playing both wing positions and wing-back. He scored one goal and added three assists in his first full campaign. This season is off to a regrettable start after a muscle tear in his upper leg. The recovery timeline has been documented as "several weeks", which is quite vague. Muscle injuries are becoming a bit of a concern for Paredes and hopefully he can work through it and get back on the pitch for Wolfsburg in short order. Paredes was another player that looked poised for as step forward and potentially earning more of a role with the United States Men's National Team.
WING, Luca Koleosho, Burnley (2004)
Koleosho started off last season as a rotational squad player for Espanyol in LaLiga, but struggled to stay fit and really solidify a permanent role on the first team. He toggled back and forth between the first and second team. He did end the year on a high with a fantastic goal for his first in a top flight. Espanyol was relegated to the Spanish second tier and while a more prominent role seemed possible as Espanyol dropped a level, that was not to be. Koleosho has made a move to recently promoted Premier League side, Burnley, where Koleosho will fight for first team minutes or potentially get a loan out for more minutes.
Koleosho is currently committed to Italy after participating in the U19 European Championships, but I still like the United States positioning for Koleosho long-term. The winger depth for the United States behind the big names is thin and if Koleosho can take a few steps forward in the next couple of years, the potential of a World Cup roster spot on United States soil could be too much for Koleosho to turn down. It will be difficult for him to break in to the Italian senior team. He will be youth eligible for Italy until the U21 European Championships in 2027, which is actually a U23 tournament, so it might be a few years before Koleosho makes a decision on his senior career.
WING, Bora Aydinlik, Hull City (2005)
Aydinlik is another dual-national that tied to another country, Turkey, for the foreseeable future and would need to make a one-time switch to play for the United States. That typically means that he would not make the decision until it was a first team offer. Similar to Koleosho, that could be in the form of a World Cup opportunity in 2026 depending on how his career plays out over the next couple of years.
It's been reported that Aydinlik has been loaned to Hull City for the 2023/2024 season where he will. have a much greater chance to have first team impact this year. Hull City's winger depth is okay, but there should be a good opening for Aydinlik. He joins fellow U20 American dual-nat, Vaughn Covil.
CF, Ricardo Pepi, PSV (2003)
There is no player on this list with bigger expectations coming into this season than Ricardo Pepi. After an impressive season for Groningen last year, Pepi signed with Dutch power, PSV. Pepi will be competing with veteran Luuk de Jong for striker minutes and will need to adjust to the pressure of being expected to win and score goals week in and week out. He has looked good in preseason and will have many more chances than he did with Groningen last season, who struggled to get him the ball.
If Pepi delivers with a big season this year, he'll likely start to get a lot of attention from some of the biggest clubs in Europe — it should be an exciting year.
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