Young U.S. youth national team attacker Diego Luna stole headlines recently with his move from the El Paso Locomotive in the USL Championship to MLS and Real Salt Lake. But he’s not the only hot prospect on the rise in the USL. Within the last few years, the second division has sent Jonathan Gomez from Louisville to Spain and Cristian Parano and Jose Gallegos from San Antonio to Portugal and Denmark, respectively.
Who might be the next young USL player to make a move? Let’s take a look.
CRISTIAN NAVA, AM, NEW MEXICO UNITED
Last summer, then-17-year-old Cristian Nava debuted for New Mexico United and his stock has risen ever since. The attacking midfielder was born and raised in Albuquerque and he still plies his trade in his hometown. Nava won the Golden Ball at this winter’s USL Academy Cup after leading New Mexico to a third-place finish and he’s started five of seven matches over the last few weeks while contributing a goal and an assist.
Nava may only be 5’3”, but he makes it extremely difficult for defenders to muscle him off the ball. A truly two-footed player, his game is reminiscent of Luna’s in that he uses his low center of gravity and sharp ball control to attack (and infuriate) opponents. Mostly used on the left wing in a 3-4-3, Nava can sprint to the endline and whip in an accurate cross or cut inside to fire a shot on goal with his right foot. In one of the USL’s most aggressive pressing sides, he’s also shown a strong work rate.
For my taste, Nava doesn’t quite have Luna’s bravery on the ball and he still has room to grow within his slight frame. Still, he’s already a bonafide USL winger and his upside as a central creator or deeper-lying midfielder means that he’s due for a breakout move sooner rather than later.
JOSHUA WYNDER, CB, LOUISVILLE CITY
Louisville City have one of the elite defenses in the USL Championship, relying on a high press backed up by a high defensive line.
The system requires an innate sense of positioning and breakneck recovery speed from its defenders – and 2005-born Joshua Wynder has displayed both of those traits this season as a center back. Playing about 75% of Louisville’s minutes across all competitions, Wynder is in the top-third of all USL players for pass completions and possession-weighted defensive actions per 90, all while playing in a very demanding system.
Every part of Wynder’s game is defined by his composure. He already shows high-level passing instincts and can play out from the back using his right foot. He’s athletic, too: Wynder moves a bit like a gazelle and his six-foot frame and jumping ability help him win aerial battles. He’s in the 70th percentile among USL Championship players in aerial win percentage.
Now, there are moments when the teenager’s lack of physicality shines through, especially when he’s up against physical forwards. And his positioning in Louisville’s high line isn’t perfect. But Wynder clearly has potential. He recently received his first call-up to the U.S. U-19 national team and a move to a possession-minded side in Europe or MLS may not be too far out.