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 took at a trio of young players who could be ready for the jump up from the USL to MLS
© Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
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?
Cameron Dunbar, LA Galaxy II
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.
Tonight’s goalscorers teaming up 🤝— LA Galaxy II (@LAGalaxyII) July 10, 2022
Preston Judd with the beautiful ball, Cameron Dunbar with the perfect finish to score our third of the night! pic.twitter.com/kB2qAE0obB
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.
Jacob Greene, Loudoun United
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.
FCTL, sensing blood in the water when they drew LDN up, pushed their wingbacks on the overlap, but @LoudounUnitedFC took advantage. Jacob Greene was especially dynamic getting down the right, and he linked well with Aboukoura there. Greene never fails to impress me. pic.twitter.com/sOStjK5BF1— john morrissey (@USLTactics) July 5, 2022
There are moments where he can be caught out defensively, but Greene has a high work rate and shines even when Loudon struggles.
Tristan Trager, Atlanta United 2
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.
FULL TIME: Eric Calvillo scored a stoppage-time equalizer to earn @eplocomotivefc a 2-2 draw against @atlutd2 after Tristan Trager had struck twice for Atlanta in the first half.#ATLvELP | https://t.co/zd4PvHq3Kt pic.twitter.com/PVcq1X6kyL— USL Championship (@USLChampionship) July 3, 2022
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.