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Road to 2026: One U.S. youth prospect you should be watching at every position

It’s clear the United States needs more quality depth. So, here are some up-and-coming players who can help provide that depth in the near future.

6 min read

Quick Hits

  • While the United States’ 2022 World Cup run is over, it’s not too early to look ahead to 2026
  • It’s clear the U.S. needs more quality depth – here are some up-and-coming players who can help provide that depth in the near future

The 2022 World Cup is over for the United States.

There were some positives to take away from the team’s performance at the tournament. And there were, as always, some negatives, too. Let’s start with a positive: a young core of players gained valuable experience against England and the Netherlands, two of soccer’s global powers, and they showed an ability to go toe-to-toe with the best in the world.

Pretty cool, right?

Now for a negative: this World Cup served as a case study for the importance of depth. Gregg Berhalter only had a handful of players outside of his starting 11 that he trusted to play his preferred style of soccer. The USMNT must continue to add depth to the player pool so the group isn’t reliant on so few players on a tournament run. Fortunately for the US, their core is very young and there are plenty of exciting talents in the U.S. youth pool.

Today, we’re looking at youth-eligible US players at each position who have a chance at breaking into the senior team by 2026.

Youth-eligible players are born in 2001 or later, making them eligible for the Summer 2024 Olympics in Paris.

GOALKEEPER: GAGA SLONINA, CHELSEA FC

Birth year: 2004

Slonina holds the record for the youngest starting goalkeeper in MLS history when he started for Chicago in 2021 at the age of 17.

It didn’t take long for the biggest clubs in Europe to notice his impressive shot-stopping ability: during the 2022 summer transfer window, Chelsea paid over $9 million for Slonina and he will begin his European journey in January. Slonina will likely get loaned out for a few years since he’s still very young by goalkeeper standards. If he continues on his current trajectory, though, he could challenge Turner for the starting goalkeeper spot.

Honorable mentions:

  • Chris Brady, Chicago Fire (2004)
  • Diego Kochen, Barcelona Academy (2006)

CENTER BACK: JOSH WYNDER, LOUISVILLE CITY

Birth year: 2005

Wynder is potentially the best U.S. youth prospect you haven’t heard of. He plays for one of the most successful USL clubs, Louisville City, in the second tier of American men’s professional soccer. Wynder was a regular starter for Louisville as a 17-year-old this past season, which is extremely rare for a center-back. Wynder’s combination of size, passing ability, and discipline allows him to be highly effective at such a young age.

He also turns 18 this season which means he is now free to move to Europe if he wishes.

Honorable mentions:

  • Jonathon Tomkinson, Norwich City (2002)
  • Jalen Neal, LA Galaxy (2003)
  • Brandan Craig, Philadelphia Union (2004)

RIGHT BACK: BRYAN REYNOLDS, WESTERLO

Birth year: 2001

Reynolds is a former FC Dallas academy product who transferred to Roma during the summer of 2021 for a several million dollar transfer fee. While it looks like that move across the Atlantic was a little premature since he has struggled to take off in Europe, he is in the midst of his second loan to Belgium and seems to be finding his footing a bit. Reynolds is a converted winger with a ton of speed and technical ability, but he is still learning the position.

If he hits, he should hit big. But the “if” is fairly significant.

Honorable mentions:

  • Justin Che, Hoffenheim II (2003)
  • Alex Freeman, Orlando City (2004)
  • Reed Baker-Whiting, Seattle Sounders (2005)

LEFT BACK: JONATHAN GÓMEZ, REAL SOCIEDAD B

Birth year: 2003

Gómez, a Mexican-American left back, is one of the next big prospects who will need to make a decision between the two countries. He’s an attack-minded left back who excels at connecting with teammates in possession and has polish in the final third.

He’s already made appearances for both nations at the senior and U-20 levels, although Gomez hasn’t broken through with Real Sociedad’s first team yet in Spain. Once he does, expect the recruitment to heat up. There are a few competitive tournaments in 2023 that will give both federations an opportunity to cap-tie Gómez, so we will likely find out his long term plans in the next calendar year.

Honorable mentions:

  • John Tolkin, New York Red Bulls (2002)
  • Caleb Wiley, Atlanta United (2004)
  • Mauricio Isais, Pachuca (2001)

DEFENSIVE MIDFIELD: PEDRO SOMA, UE CORNELLA ACADEMY

Birth year: 2006

Pedro “Pedrinho” Soma is the youngest player featured in this article, but hey, the defensive-midfield prospect pool is a little thin and Soma is a huge talent. And come on, we all love a little speculation, don’t we?

Soma is a Brazilian-American who plays at Cornella, a lesser known Catalonian club in the city of Barcelona that is well regarded for developing young talent. He’s the starting No. 6 for the U.S. U-17s, so you’ll have a chance to watch him at the Concacaf U-17 tournament in February, 2023. Keep your eyes out for his ability to control large portions of the field and progress the ball, because it’s only a matter of time before he moves to a bigger club and becomes a household name for USMNT fans.

Honorable mentions:

  • Aidan Morris, Columbus Crew (2001)
  • Gianluca Busio, Venezia (2002)
  • Daniel Edelman, New York Red Bulls (2003)

CENTRAL MIDFIELD: TAYLOR BOOTH, UTRECHT

Birth year: 2001

Taylor Booth is having a breakout season in the Netherlands.

He just won Eredivisie player of the month after notching two goals and two assists in November. Booth, a highly skilled and versatile player who can play all over the pitch, moved to Utrecht after spending two and a half years in the Bayern Munich program. He’ll likely be a key player for the 2024 Olympic team and could start integrating into the senior national team in 2023.

Honorable mentions:

  • Johnny Cardoso, Internacional (2001)
  • Amir Richardson, Le Havre (2002)
  • Jack McGlynn, Philadelphia Union (2003)
  • Niko Tsakiris, San Jose Earthquakes (2005)

ATTACKING MIDFIELD: MALIK TILLMAN, RANGERS

Birth year: 2002

A German-American who committed to the U.S. project over the summer, Malik Tillman was likely one of last players to be cut from Berhalter’s 2022 World Cup squad. He was a highly touted German youth international and has as much natural ability as any player in the U.S. pool.

Tillman is a powerful attacking player who possesses great ball control, vision, passing ability, and prowess in the air. He’s in his first full first season at Rangers in Scotland and needs to become more consistent to fulfill his potential and become a key player for USMNT.

Honorable mentions:

  • Ted Ku-DiPietro, DC United (2002)
  • Paxten Aaronson, Frankfurt (2003)
  • Caden Clark, RB Leipzig (2003)

WINGER: KEVIN PAREDES, WOLFSBURG

Birth year: 2003

Kevin Paredes is another U20 player who will likely be a key figure at the U-20 World Cup this summer – if Wolfsburg release him, that is. Paredes transferred to the Bundesliga club last winter from DC United and is a speedy, technical left-footed attacking player. It sure would be nice to have a left-footed right-winger who can cut in and strike the ball from that side of the field.

Honorable mentions:

  • Konrad de la Fuente, Olympique Marseille (2001)
  • Luca Koleosho, Espanyol B (2004)
  • Serge Ngoma, New York Red Bulls (2005)

STRIKER: RICARDO PEPI, GRONINGEN

Birth year: 2003

Let’s be honest: Ricard Pepi is the player on this list who you’re most likely to know.

He was the most controversial omission from the United States’ 2022 World Cup squad and he’s having a strong season on loan in the Eredivisie. With his high floor and impressive maturity, Pepi is one of the best striker prospects the United States has ever produced and he’ll be one of the favorites to start up top for the next World Cup cycle.

Honorable mentions:

  • Folarin Balogun, Stade Reims (2001)
  • Matthew Hoppe, Middlesbrough (2001)
  • Rodrigo Neri, Atletico Madrid Academy (2005)

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