Starting with players like Diego Luna, Joshua Wynder, and Kobi Henry, the USL Championship has emerged as a burgeoning platform for youth development. Clubs across the league are investing in academies, signing hot prospects, and preparing players for big transfers to MLS and Europe. With the USL starting to play a bigger role in development and in the transfer market, who are the youth stars to watch in the second division?
These ten players are the best of the best in the USL, and all ten are ready to make a leap in their careers. For some, that leap will be to the biggest stages in global and domestic soccer.
Fidel Barajas, 17, Charleston
A 17-year-old dual-national, Barajas led Mexico to the Concacaf U-17 title in the winter before breaking out as a star in the USL Championship. No team has made a bigger leap up the table in the East than the Charleston Battery this season, and Barajas’ two goals and league-best eight assists are a huge reason why. With 1,700 minutes already under his belt this year, he’s a crucial piece in a contending side.
Barajas is a left-footer, capable of starting on either wing. He isn’t crazy fast and doesn’t have much of a physical presence, but he has a special read on the game and sets the tempo for the Battery’s attack. Barajas’ passing vision is advanced for such a young player. There are moments where the youth international is a bit too reliant on his strong foot, but Barajas’ triple threat as a passer, dribbler, and long-range shooter enables him to wriggle out of most traps. If any player in the league is the heir apparent to now-Benfica center back Joshua Wynder as a high-priced export, Barajas seems to be the man.