We have our 24, and – full disclosure – I’m mostly satisfied with the list. There are a few players I’d move up, a few I’d move down, and as many as seven that I think should be moved off entirely.
Five of those seven spots would go to these guys, who weren’t on 24 Under 24, but absolutely should be:
Kelyn Rowe, New England Revolution
What he does well: First touch, ability to beat people off the dribble and then still make a telling play; instinctive understanding of attacking space and how to put others into it (see above GIF); attitude – he is one of the league’s biggest trash talkers and regularly backs it up.
What he needs to work on: Can be sloppy/inattentive on the ball in the middle third; needs to play at a high level consistently for an entire year.
Why he’s on my list: Same reason he’d be on everyone’s list if the votes were tallied now: he’s arguably been the league’s second-best attacking midfielder since the end of July. Once Jay Heaps moved Rowe central, he became a force.
Worth noting that in a sophomore class primarily of disappointments, Rowe is the one attacker who has improved by leaps and bounds. The league figured him out, then he figured it out right back.
This kid will battle Mix Diskerud, Dillon Powers and Darlington Nagbe for the USMNT No. 10 shirt in the post-Landon era.
Chris Klute, Colorado Rapids
What he does well: Magnificent crosser with either foot and, most importantly, on the run; great size and pace; reads when and where to overlap very, very well when Colorado are on the attack.
What he needs to work on: Isn’t as secure in possession as he should be; has problems defending combination play wide because his defensive instincts aren’t great.
Why he’s on my list: Come on, did you see that freaking cross? Oh wait, you probably didn’t – and that’s why he didn’t make the 24 Under 24. People who have followed the Rapids all year have had him as high as No. 4, and I had him in my top 10. He’s a must-watch player who’s reminiscent of a young Tony Sanneh going forward.
And here’s the crazy thing: Of everybody on this list or the other one, I think he has the best chance of being in Brazil next summer. His game is that advanced and his skillset is that valuable – I'd be shocked if Jurgen Klinsmann didn't give him a good, long look in January.
Erick “Cubo” Torres, Chivas USA
What he does well: Precise finisher from anywhere in the 18; finds space in the box like a true poacher and isn’t afraid to have a go; pressures the backline with and without the ball.
What he needs to work on: Adds very little in possession; needs to learn how to “figure out” teams that have figured him out; has to become more secure with his back to the goal.
Why he’s on my list: He’s the hottest striker in the league right now, so he’s on my list for the same reason Jack Mac was on everybody’s list through June. The fact that Cubo didn’t make the final list comes down to timing.
That said, there are some red flags. Yes, he’s off to a scorching hot start here in MLS, but he did the same in the Liga MX. Then they scouted him, and he ended up scoring one goal in his second season.
Will he be able to adjust to the adjustments? That’ll be the difference between a smart goalscorer and an instinctive goalscorer. So far, Cubo is primarily the latter.
Joao Plata, Real Salt Lake
What he does well: Creates chances for himself and others in very, very tight spaces (see above gif); takes quick touches on the ball and doesn’t allow defenders to set themselves; seems to like big moments.
What he needs to work on: He needs to know when to slow the game down and cycle the ball around; often plays the same way 2-0 up in the closing minutes as he would if the team were 2-0 down; has a quick shot, but it’s not accurate.
Why he’s on my list: He makes plays in and around the box that other guys don’t. Plata’s a chance creator thanks to those instincts, but not in the same way that teammate Javier Morales is, or even in the way Rowe is. He’s always looking for quick, clever combos and rarely for game-breaking passes.
And – this is a hobby horse of mine – he’s improved since his first year in the league. Plata’s marginally better on the ball, but significantly better off it. He’s learning how to be a weapon without dominating the ball, which is an huge part of the RSL culture.
Soony Saad, Sporting KC
What he does well: Rocket of a shot with either foot; takes his touches forward and doesn’t ever let the defender get set; very honest player defensively and in possession.
What he needs to work on: Lacks the close control and flash that many of the other young attackers display; rarely sees the last pass; his thinking is often too linear.
Why he’s on my list: Saad is never going to be the type of player you build an attack around, and his upside isn’t as high as the others. But he's figured out how to contribute all over the field, and is smart enough to let the players around him make him better.
A team needs useful cogs, guys who can go to work, do their job and not demand that everything is about them. That’s Saad’s game right now, and he ends up adding value because of it, basing his movement off of guys like Zusi, Bieler and Feilhaber instead of forcing them to base their movement off of him.
It’s a significant step for a youngster who many thought might never find a place in the league, and a big reason why he’s getting big minutes for one of the best teams in MLS.