Another first is set to roll out during this week’s MLS All-Star Game festivities: an MLS NEXT All-Star Game presented by Allstate.
A total of 45 players have been summoned to Minnesota, competing in an East vs. West format Tuesday (12 pm ET) at the National Sports Center in Blaine. It’s a chance for some of the rising academy stars to test themselves against top competition from around the country.
Here’s a rundown on 10 of the names to know before the game.
A rising center back prospect in the Pacific Northwest, Hawkins was one of the anchors of Seattle’s Generation adidas Cup-winning squad. He’s smooth on the ball and a tough defender at his age group; he’s also earned several call-ups to the US Under-17 men’s national team, and should be a key player for the 2023 cycle, where the US U-20 will compete in their fifth-straight World Cup.
Another standout, do-everything center back, Volmar has shown the tools and potential to be a high-level defender. He makes it look easy at the youth level as his ability to read the game and physical tools allow him to dominate. Volmar’s made five MLS NEXT Pro appearances during the current season for St. Louis CITY SC 2.
The center back prospect is well underway in his pro career, signing with Atlanta United 2, with a Homegrown deal kicking in at the start of 2023. Along the way, he’s played for the US Under-17 squad at a couple of national events, and starred at the Generation adidas Cup and MLS NEXT Flex.
In an All-Star game that features top talent up front and at the back, Cobb will relish the chance to leverage his pro experience in a quality field of players.
Just last week, Romero became the first Homegrown signing out of the relatively new Charlotte FC Academy. An attacking midfielder that operates on the flank or through the middle, his first taste of pro soccer will surely be Charlotte’s soon-to-launch MLS NEXT Pro side.
His experience this year is impressive, including excelling in MLS NEXT: He trained in the preseason with the first team, played against Chelsea FC in a recent friendly and also spent time with the US Under-17 squad.
An electric winger on the Strikers’ Under-16 squad, Lee’s ability to score goals and create from wide areas was huge on one of the top teams in the age group. There’s a real chance he is one of the most entertaining players to watch in the game.
Panayotou led New England to the Under-19 MLS NEXT Cup title back in July. His six goals scored during the tournament is one of several highlights achieved this year. Along with that, he’s been in camp with the US U-19 squad, made his debut as an amateur for Revolution II in MLS NEXT Pro and will be a part of the Georgetown men’s soccer program starting this fall.
It’s been quite the year for Bajraktarevic – from joining the Revolution Academy from his native Wisconsin, to signing contracts with the Revolution II and eventually a Homegrown deal earlier this year. He’s impressed at both MLS NEXT and MLS NEXT Pro levels, scoring seven goals. Along with that, he has 14 appearances in 2022 under his belt for Revolution II, and the attacking midfielder spent time in camp with the US youth setup.
His ability to unlock a defense and create chances should be on display in the All-Star Game.
The recent Homegrown addition at San Jose is one of the top players born in 2006 in the country. A midfielder that can play quickly and offer quality from deep areas, he has recently started getting regular minutes with Earthquakes II in MLS NEXT Pro. In fact, Medina scored his first pro goal on July 22 against Portland. Like Hawkins, he should be a key player for the US in the 2023 Under-17 World Cup cycle.
The attacking star at this year’s Under-17 MLS NEXT Cup, Zambrano secured the Golden Boot, scoring seven goals as the Philadelphia Union won the competition. He’s been in camp with the US Under-19 youth side, and impressed at the big national events in 2022, scoring seven times at MLS NEXT Flex and four at this spring’s Generation adidas Cup.
A line-leading forward at the New Jersey club power, Griffith earned MVP honors in the Under-19 age group. Like Panayotou, he’s an incoming freshman at a prominent Division I program this fall, as he’s set to join the University of Maryland.
Griffith’s been one of the top forwards in MLS NEXT the past two seasons, helping PDA to a deep run at the 2021 edition of the tournament. He finished the 2021-22 club campaign with 28 goals in 18 games.