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Next man up: MLS reserve players ready to contribute to the first team

For a handful of clubs in MLS, the reserve team to first team pipeline is running smoothly. Let’s look at which young players might be ready for a big leap up to the first team.

3 min read
© Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Quick Hits

  • For a handful of clubs in MLS, the reserve team to first team pipeline is running smoothly
  • Let’s took at a trio of young players who could be ready for the jump up from the USL to MLS

Discerning USL Championship fans with an eye on MLS would’ve noticed that two Loudoun United stars, Sami Guediri and Kimarni Smith, earned minutes for Wayne Rooney’s D.C. United team over the weekend. Smith even chipped in the winning assist. Elsewhere, Atlanta United 2 stalwarts Aidan McFadden and Caleb Wiley earned minutes for the senior side on Saturday.

It’s safe to say that the reserve team-to-MLS pipeline is up and firing, but who might make the leap next?


With seven goals and three assists in 2022, 19-year-old Cameron Dunbar has been one of the biggest breakouts of the season in the second division. Dunbar is one of the fastest players in the league, but he isn’t just a pace merchant. The Galaxy man typically operates as the left midfielder in the team’s defensive 4-4-2, but he’s equally comfortable as a true winger or defensive wingback when the side transitions into their attacking 3-4-3 or 3-5-2. That intelligence and a penchant for timely runs make Dunbar a threat, especially when he gets the ball onto his left foot.

The Carson-born midfielder has 18 appearances for the first team but just two starts, and he hasn’t played in MLS since mid-2021. That should change sooner rather than later.


A fullback who could match the aforementioned Guediri for D.C. United, Jacob Greene has played more minutes than all but one of his teammates for Loudoun this year. Mostly used as a right back, he’s genuinely two-footed and can be used as a left back without a second thought. He rates in the top quarter of USL fullbacks and wingbacks for both expected goals and expected assists, but his most memorable contributions come in build-up when he gets a head of steam and single-handedly dribbles forward into the attack.

There are moments where he can be caught out defensively, but Greene has a high work rate and shines even when Loudon struggles.


A second-round pick in the 2022 MLS SuperDraft, Tristan Trager didn’t earn a start for Atlanta United 2 until mid-June. The Air Force alum immediately went on a heater, scoring six goals in a four-game stretch that culminated in a Player of the Week award in early July. Trager has an innate ability to navigate the box as a striker. He’s always darting into tight windows between center backs and fullbacks to make himself available for crosses, and he shows great agility in manipulating his body and turning his hips to open up shooting angles.

The 5’11” forward isn’t the quickest or most physical presence, but he has enough speed and pace to duel with most defenders. Still, it’s Trager’s intelligence that makes him a viable MLS prospect.