The USL’s young talent is impacting the U.S. youth setup, league play

Quick Hits
  • The USL is a crucial building block for this new generation of up-and-coming stars, and the doldrums of the league’s regular season have introduced the next wave of prospects
  • From youth national teams to league play, the USL’s young players are impacting games

This is an excerpt from Monday’s Weekend Recap. Subscribe to our free newsletter to get future editions of the Weekend Recap delivered right to your inbox.

Last week, the U.S. men’s U-19 team started Orange County SC’s Korede Osundina as captain with Kobi Henry, Osundina’s former teammate, playing alongside Louisville City’s Josh Wynder in the backline. Then on Saturday, the U.S. U-20s took on Mexico with a starting 11 built entirely of players with experience in the USL Championship and USL League One. 

The USL has been a crucial building block for a generation of up-and-coming stars, and the doldrums of the league’s regular season have introduced the next wave of prospects.

Finding the right pipeline

Orange County is leading the player development charge, as evidenced by the examples of Osundina and Henry. This weekend, the club announced the signing of Bryce Jamison, 16, with multiple caps for the U.S. U-17 and U-19 teams. Jamison started in the MLS NEXT All-Star Game this summer and came on late against Pittsburgh just days after inking a multi-year USL contract. Still, 17-year-old Ashton Miles stole the show. He started as a central defender and registered a tackle, an interception, and four clearances in limiting the Riverhounds to just one shot.

Jamison is a product of the Barca Residency Academy in Casa Grande, Arizona.

That program is a pipeline for young players to join USL clubs, with Diego Luna as maybe the best example. The El Paso Locomotive signed Luna in the spring of 2021, gave him the playing time to emerge as a star, and sold the youth international to Real Salt Lake this year. Since the Luna signing, El Paso also added defender Miles Lyons and midfielder Brooklyn Raines from the Barca program.

Tulsa getting in on the action

Other USL clubs have caught on to the trend. FC Tulsa gave a debut to attacking midfielder Luca Sowinski, a three-year veteran of the Barca Residency Academy, this weekend. Sowinski is the youngest-ever player to sign a professional contract with Tulsa, and he completed 88% of his passes as a left-center midfielder over the weekend. Behind him in defensive midfield, Tulsa started Jamaican youth international Christopher Pearson. The 19-year-old showed good positional intelligence and his 6’2” frame helped him navigate the rigors of the USL Championship.

About 60 minutes into their game against Detroit City, Tulsa swapped those two starlets for former FC Dallas youth player Angel Bernal, 17, and native Oklahoman Aimar Membrila, 18. The teenage tandem came in at right back and right wing, respectively, and Tulsa scored two goals within five minutes of their entrance. Ultimately, the team earned a draw away to Detroit, one of the most imposing road trips in the USL.

Both Orange County and Tulsa are out of the playoff race, but both have effectively cashed the blank check of meaningless late-season games to introduce young talents to professional soccer. And over the weekend, those up-and-comers proved to be up to the challenge. Given the examples of Osundina, Henry, and the dozen-plus USL products that suited up for the U.S. this weekend, it’s clear that giving experience to young players has value. 

It can raise the USL’s profile and contribute to on-field success.

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