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MLS U21 2024 Season Preview

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February 2024
The MLS season is back underway next week which means the United States eligible under 21 impact rankings will also be back. It was a big year for American U21s last season and this season has the makings of another fun year for USMNT prospects. Many of the top performers from last season are still eligible for this list and there is another wave of talent that is ready to break through. All players born in 2003 or later are eligible. Here are the players that I think could have a big impact this season.
Chris Brady warming up in the snow.
Chris Brady, starting goalkeeper for the Chicago Fire

Locked Starters

GK, Chris Brady, Chicago Fire (2004)

Brady could be in store for a big year. It will be his second season as the first choice goalkeeper and he was already one of the better shot stoppers in MLS as a 19 year old. 

LB, Caleb Wiley, Atlanta United (2004)

If Wiley stays healthy, he should rack up 3,000 league minutes this season. It will be the first time he’ll have sole control over the left-back position starting on matchday 1. If he has a big year, it will likely be his last in MLS. 

DM, Daniel Edelman, New York Red Bulls (2003)

Edelman earned a starting spot last season and he has not relinquished it since. He will likely be a consistent, solid, starter that earns a ton of minutes.

CM, Owen Wolff, Austin FC (2004)

Wolff started the majority of the season last year and Austin didn’t bring in any new competition in the midfield. 

CM, Jack McGlynn, Philadelphia Union (2003)

Is this finally the year that McGlynn is an out and out starter from the start of the season? With Flach injured and Bedoya not getting any younger, it looks like McGlynn is going to have the biggest role he has ever had for Philly. Could this be his last season in MLS?

AM/W, Brian Gutierrez, Chicago Fire (2003)

Gutierrez is another young Chicago homegrown player that could have a monster season. Hopefully Chicago gives him the keys to the attack and lets him cook centrally as an attacking-midfielder. 

AM/W, Diego Luna, Real Salt Lake (2003)

Luna ended the year very strong for Real Salt Lake and he now looks like he will be one of the most important members of their attack. 

Fighting For A Starting Spot

GK, Gavin Beavers, Real Salt Lake (2005)

I believe there is an open competition in Salt Lake for the starting goalkeeper position and Beavers could end up winning the job over veteran Zac MacMath. I had heard rumors that Beavers could get moved this winter, but it doesn’t look like that is happening which could be a good sign for him. 

RB, Michael Halliday, Orlando City (2003)

For the last two seasons Halliday has started the season as a starter, got injured, and then never got his spot back. Will he beat out Dagur Dan Thorhallson and keep the job this season?

RB, Kayden Pierre, Sporting Kansas City (2003)

I thought last year was going to be the year Kayden Pierre became the starting right-back for Sporting KC. Instead, he battled hamstring injuries all season and Jake Davis won the job. Pierre is the more talented player. If he can stay healthy, he could win the job from Davis at some point this season. 

CB, Jalen Neal, LA Galaxy (2003) - Injured

Neal earned a starting center-back spot last season before going to an abdominal injury playing for the USMNT in the Gold Cup. He missed the rest of the season and is still not back in training for LA Galaxy. It was reported on Monday (2/12) that he will be out an additional 6-8 weeks with a new abdominal injury. Hopefully this rehab will solve the problem because Neal is one of the few bright American center-backs and he needs to get back on the pitch. 

CB, Matai Akinmboni, D.C. United (2006)

We might be one more season away from Akinmboni becoming a starter for D.C., but you never know. The D.C. center-back group isn’t great and if he earns the new manager’s trust, he might get a chance. 

DM, Obed Vargas, Seattle Sounders (2005)

Vargas will battle with João Paulo, Josh Atencio and Danny Leyva for midfield minutes this year. My guess is Paulo and Atencio will start off the season as starters, but Vargas will likely play consistently and could earn a starting spot at some point. 

CM, Benja Cremaschi, Inter Miami (2005) - Injured

If Cremaschi stayed healthy this preseason, I think he would have been a consistent starter for Inter Miami. Unfortunately he will be out for a few months with a sports hernia. When he gets back to fitness, he will be competing to earn that spot back. 

CM, Noel Buck, New England Revolution (2005)

Buck was one of the breakout players from last season and is now a consistent call-up to the English U19 Youth National Team. There were rumors that Buck would leave to join an English club this winter, but nothing materialized. He is back and looking to build on a solid first season as a starter, but will have to compete with veterans Matt Polster and Mark Anthony Kaye for central midfield minutes.

CM, Quinn Sullivan, Philadelphia Union (2004)

Sullivan has moved back on the pitch from striker/attacking-mid to central midfield and he might have a chance to start early in the season with Leon Flach out. Manager Jim Curtin has commended his improved defensive work rate and this position change could be a great boost for Sullivan.

CM, Niko Tsakiris, San Jose Earthquakes (2005)

Is Tsakiris going to start out the year as the starting free eight / attacking-mid for San Jose? It looks like it. San Jose may still add midfield and attacking talent to the roster before the end of the primary transfer window, but Tsakiris may have a chance to convince San Jose to spend money elsewhere. 

W, Kristian Fletcher, D.C. United (2005)

Fletcher got a lot of good press from the inner USMNT fan circle after scoring a whole mess of goals for Swansea City’s U21 team at the end of 2023. D.C. does not have a ton of wide attacking options and if Fletcher can get off to a hot start this season, he is a strong candidate to really break out this year. 

W, Jackson Hopkins, D.C. United (2004)

I am not as much of a fan of Hopkins' game as I am Fletcher’s, but he’s continuously earned minutes in D.C. and is competing for a starting spot this season.

W, Esmir Bajraktarevic, New England Revolution (2005)

Bajraktarevic is becoming a hot name for USMNT fans after a dazzling performance against Serbia in this year’s January Camp. He has yet to really break through into New England’s first team, but I have a feeling his star is going to really start to shine this season. It looks like he is going to get a chance to start at the beginning of the season. Manager Caleb Porter told Charles Boehm that "Right now, he's our starting right winger."

Key Subs

LB, Noah Allen, Inter Miami (2004)

He has been playing a lot of center-back in a back three this preseason. I don’t expect him to start there once everyone is healthy, if that happens, but he’ll likely get minutes at both left center-back, left-back and left wing-back this year.

RB/LB, Reed Baker-Whiting, Seattle Sounders (2005)

Baker-Whiting was starting to come on at the end of last season and I thought Seattle might move one of Alex Roldan or Nouhou this offseason to clear the way for Baker-Whiting. They didn’t, but I still expect Baker-Whiting to have a significant role. 

CM, Erik Duenas, LAFC (2004)

LAFCs roster is once again pretty thin and I think Duenas earned the trust of Steve Cherundolo last season. 

AM, Caden Clark, Minnesota United (2003)

Clark is back in the MLS after a failed European move. He still has tons of talent. Can he regain his early 2021 season form and get back into the Olympic team picture?

W, Tyler Wolff, Atlanta United (2003)

Wolff had a highly productive and efficient season last year for Atlanta. They don’t have a ton of depth on the wing and I think Wolff will continue to get chances to produce.

W, Serge Ngoma, New York Red Bulls (2005)

Ngoma had some intriguing flashes in 2022, but could not stay healthy in 2023. If he can stay available there are minutes to be had this year for New York Red Bulls. 

CF, Darren Yapi, Colorado Rapids (2004)

The Rapids are pretty thin at center forward and it looks like Yapi will be the second string number nine. If he can figure out how to get the ball in the back of the net he could take off. The tools are all there. 

CF, Jacob Murrell, D.C. United (2004)

Murrell did not leave Georgetown two years early to ride the bench. D.C. surely sold him on a significant role this season or else I don’t think he would have signed. 

CF, Nathan Ordaz, LAFC (2004)

Ordaz, like Duenas, earned Cherundolo’s trust and LAFC are thin at striker. He’s also having a nice preseason and may get a slightly increased role this year.

Keep An Eye On…

LB, Peyton Miller, New England Revolution (2007)

Youngest player to be a locked starter in MLS Next Pro last season. DeJuan Jones is in his way on the first team, but he could debut at some point this year and Jones could also move to right-back at some point.

LB, Christian McFarlane, NYCFC (2007)

Defensively, he is ready to play in MLS. Offensively he is still a work in progress. I think a debut is coming this season.

RB, Oscar Verhoeven, San Jose Earthquakes (2006)

Verhoeven performed well in MLS Next Pro last year. There are veterans in front of him, but if he takes a big step forward, he could get some minutes this year. 

CM, Brooklyn Raines, Houston Dynamo (2005)

I thought that Raines would have a bigger role last season, but I also didn’t think Dynamo would be as good as they were. Hopefully this is the year Raines becomes an integral part of the first team. If not, Raines should be looking for a loan. 

CM, C.J. Olney, Philadelphia Union (2006)

Olney is not yet a first team player, but his contract allows him to be made one at any point. I don’t think he is far from being ready to impact the first team.

AM, Maximo Carrizo, NYCFC (2008)

He has played a lot of minutes in MLS Next Pro and his first team debut could be coming in 2024.

W, Luke Brennan, Atlanta United (2005)

There are some backup wing minutes to be had in Atlanta and Brennan could leap Tyler Wolff at some point this year.

W, Nimfasha Berchimas, Charlotte FC (2008)

Berchimas has been getting a lot of minutes in preseason and while he probably isn’t quite ready to be a regular contributor in MLS, he is an electric talent that could make his debut this year.

W, Dante Sealy, FC Dallas (2003)

Sealy has always had the talent, but he hasn’t figured out how to apply that talent consistently in games. Despite having never seen the field for the first team after 2 years at PSV, he has had a nice preseason. Could he be ready to finally break out?  

W, Julian Hall, New York Red Bulls (2008)

Hall was the youngest player to earn MLS league minutes last year and while I don’t think he is ready to be a MLS regular, I do think he’ll get more first minutes this year. The question is, how many?

W, Fidel Barajas, Real Salt Lake (2006)

Barajas had a fantastic season in USL last year for Charleston Battery. He then transferred to Real Salt Lake and is looking to show he can make the jump in level. 

CF, Tega Ikoba, Portland Timbers (2003)

I was impressed with Ikoba at the PanAm games. The Timbers didn’t sign a big name striker and Ikoba could earn a role if he impresses early in the season.

CF, Roald Mitchell, New York Red Bulls (2003)

Mitchell signed with RBNY from Wake Forest after leaving their academy a few years ago. He has been one of the more exciting players in college and he has the athletic profile and skill set to do well in MLS. He has competition, but he could be another college striker that quickly starts producing in MLS. 

CF, Caden Glover, St. Louis City (2007)

Glover debuted last year and he could get a slightly bigger role this season because St. Louis likes him a lot. 

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