Top Young Talents in USL

GK, Damian Las, Louisville City on loan from Austin FC (2002)

Las is the oldest player on this list, but still young for a goalkeeper. It looks like he is going to be the #1 for Louisville City this year after a very impressive campaign in MLS Next Pro last year. If he continues to flourish, I have to think that an MLS club will make the move to give him a starting opportunity in 2025. 

GK, Antonio Carrera, North Carolina on loan from FC Dallas (2004)

Carrera is another talented young keeper stuck behind a successful veteran in MLS. He is on a season long loan from FC Dallas to new USL Championship club, North Carolina FC. It would be surprising if FC Dallas and Carrera moved to NCFC without a very clear path to the starting job. 

GK, Duran Ferree, Orange County on loan from San Diego FC (2006)

Ferree, formerly of San Diego Loyal and the first ever San Diego FC signing, was loaned to OCSC for the 2024 season. This loan is likely more about first team training and development and not about getting minutes. The only way I see Ferree getting significant minutes this year is if Orange County has some injury issues at goalkeeper. 

RB, Shawn Smart, Las Vegas Lights (2004)

Las Vegas Lights convinced former NCAA Championship right-back, Shawn Smart, to leave Clemson early to start his pro career. Smart is a quick and skilled right-back that should get the chance to start in Las Vegas. 

CB, Brandan Craig, El Paso Locomotive on loan from Philadelphia Union (2004)

Craig got the move to USL that he should have gotten last season. It’s critical that Craig earns the starting job, plays over 2,000 minutes and plays well. A good season in USL could lead to either Philadelphia trusting him to get first team minutes next year or a move to Europe. The young center-back pool for the United States is thin, it would be a big challenge if Craig doesn’t pan out. 

CB, Chibuike Ukaegbu, Sacramento United (2007)

Ukaegbu was one of two academy players that Sacramento signed this offseason. It was well deserved because he has taken some big steps forward in his last year of development. Many MLS academies were hoping they could convince him to move away from Sacramento. He likely won’t be ready to contribute to the first team this year, but he is one to keep an eye on for the future. 

CB, Ramiz Hamouda, Birmingham Legion (2008)

Ramiz Hamouda is one of the most talented young center-backs in the United States Youth National Team pool. He moved from Sporting Kansas City’s academy to Birmingham and is unlikely to get first team minutes anytime soon, but he’ll be getting first team training and environment and his progress should be closely monitored. 

CB/DM, Isaiah Kaakoush, Phoenix Rising (2008)

Kaakoush moved from Barca Residency to Phoenix in what I believe will now be a more formal relationship between the two clubs. Kaakoush isn’t quite ready for USL level competition, but he is mature beyond his years tactically and has been getting a lot of opportunities in preseason. It’s not out of the question that he gets a debut at some point. 

CB/DM, Adrian Pelayo, North Carolina FC (2006)

It’s going to be really interesting to see what North Carolina does with all the young players they have acquired. It’s tough for center-backs to break through this young, but keep an eye on Pelayo who boasts passing skills from the back that are on par with Brandan Craig. 

DM, Miguel Perez, Birmingham Legion on loan from St. Louis City (2005)

Miguel Perez was loaned to Birmingham from St. Louis City in what was a surprise move for me. Before picking up an injury last season, he was the surprise young player in MLS, coming out of nowhere to earn a role with the first team. St. Louis must have felt that he wasn’t going to get the minutes he needed this year in MLS, so he moved to Birmingham where he might play next to fellow USYNT player, Matthew Corcoran. 

DM, Matthew Corcoran, Birmingham Legion (2006)

Corcoran isn’t likely to be with Birmingham for much longer. He turned 18 in February, which means he is now eligible to move to Europe. This has always been the plan for Corcoran. I have heard that Germany and Spain are possible destinations and I am sure there are others. He won’t move until the summer transfer window on July 1st, but he can sign a pre-agreement similar to what Josh Wynder did last year with Benfica. Corcoran should be a fixture within Birmingham’s midfield until he moves. 

CM, Xavi Gnaulati, Monterey Bay FC (2005)

Gnaulati is another casualty of the San Diego Loyal dissolution. The small but dynamic midfielder has taken his playmaking talents to the beautiful northern California coast of Monterey Bay. 

CM, Ian Shaul, Hartford Athletic (2006)

Shaul signed an academy pro contract which means he isn’t getting paid and is still eligible for college soccer. He is committed to Notre Dame. His path to playing time looks difficult, so this deal is more about seeing how he adapts to the professional environment. If he does well in training, Hartford may be compelled to try to persuade him to sign a pro deal instead of heading to South Bend, Indiana. 

CM, Ben Norris, Orange County (2006)

Norris is one of the best players in the 2006 class that most people do not know a lot about. I believe he will likely sign with OCSC under an academy deal, allowing him to still be eligible for college soccer. If Norris gets on the field and impresses again this year, he should have a lot of professional options from USL, MLS and abroad. 

CM, Luis Moreno, El Paso Locomotive (2006)

I’ve always been a big fan of Moreno’s game. He is undersized, but quick and extremely technical. He didn’t give much of an opportunity at all last year. It’s usually year two in USL when young players start to emerge. We will see if that is the case for Moreno. 

CM, Blake Willey, Sacramento Republic (2007)

Willey is a USYNT player and RBNY made every effort to make him their player as well. Instead, Willey signed a professional contract with hometown club and while I don’t think he will have a big impact this year, he may get his debut. 

CM, Nate Worth, FC Tulsa (2007)

Worth is the next big prospect coming out of USL after a great finish to the season last year. He won’t turn 18 until February 2025, so he will be with Tulsa for the entire 2024 season. He will have an entire season to garner as much interest and attention as possible ahead of his likely move in 2025. 

CM, Kyrome Lumsden, North Carolina FC (2007)

Lumsden moved from LAFC to NCFC last year and is still considered one of the top 2007 players in the United States. Lumsden won’t turn 18 until June of 2025, so he has time before he figures out his next step. He likely won’t get a ton of time with NCFC this year, but will get to train in a first team environment and have the flexibility to trial across Europe as he figures out his next step. 

AM/W, Gavin Turner, Loudoun United (2007)

A couple of years ago, Turner was widely thought of as a top five 2007 prospect in the United States. Unfortunately for Turner, injuries have taken a toll over the last year or more. He is back healthy and I expect him to have a role with Loudoun this year where he can rebuild his stock. 

W, Bryce Jamison, Orange County (2006)

Is this the year Jamison breaks out in USL? It could be. He showed flashes last year, but struggled in the final third. His technical ability is still too inconsistent, but the raw talent is evident. Jamison is 18, so he is now eligible to go wherever he wants. If he shows improvement and is productive early in the season, he could be on the move to Europe or MLS this summer. Could he follow former teammate Korede Osundina’s path to Holland?

W, Benjamin Barjolo, Orange County (2007)

I think Barjolo is still a year or two away from being an impact player in USL, but he has talent and it will be important to monitor his progress this year. 

CF, Nighte Pickering, Memphis 901 (2005)

It's hard to argue with nine goal contributions in 37 league appearances. I am not sure Pickering has a natural positional fit for most modern formations, but the kid always finds a way to produce.

CF, Julian Placias, North Carolina (2006)

Placias is the fourth NCFC player on this list. He had a brilliant U17 campaign for LA Galaxy, helping lead his team to MLS Next Cup. Now, he is looking to make his mark in USL. He turns 18 in April and I have heard that he already has his next club solidified. We will see how long he actually stays with NCFC.