22 Under 22

Anonymous takes: MLS technical staffers on 2022’s 22 Under 22 presented by BODYARMOR


This year’s 22 Under 22 presented by BODYARMOR list has been released. The final ranking was voted on by an expert panel consisting of MLSsoccer.com analysts, MLS Player Department staff and external media members.

MLSsoccer.com spoke with technical staffers at various MLS clubs to get their anonymous thoughts on what we got right and wrong.

Did we get No. 1 right?

Of the technical staffers asked, almost all agreed that Jesus Ferreira should have indeed been No. 1.

The 21-year-old homegrown forward has 18 goals and five assists in 31 appearances for playoff-bound FC Dallas. He signed a new contract this winter as the first homegrown-to-DP contract extension in league history.

“Absolutely you got it right, there are so many things that make him special. His finishing is just getting better. He’s getting more mature, there’s so many qualities. He improves every season.”

“Yeah, you got it right. We like him, he’s a handful. His movement is really clever.”

Barring injury, Ferreira will not only be at the World Cup with the United States in November, but is currently the most likely starting center forward.

“In this season, Ferreira is definitely the most successful. He’s a talented player. Maybe \[Thiago\] Almada is more talented at a different position, but Ferreira deserves it.”

While most asked were in agreement, one club executive said he would have voted for Gaga Slonina at No. 1.

“It depends what we’re using to measure this. If a player who has a value in which one of the richest teams in the world signed him, I’m trying to think of a rationale why that player wouldn’t be No. 1. They could get any young goalkeeper in the world, they went and got Gaga. If it’s solely 2022 performance, then there’s less variance in the lists. It’s Ferreira. But it’s not just cut and dry, so there’s a legitimate case for resale value.”

Chelsea agreed on a deal to acquire Slonina for January 2023 from Chicago Fire FC for potentially as much as $15 million, including add-ons, which would make Slonina one of the most expensive teenage goalkeepers ever.

Slonina has 12 shutouts in MLS this season, his second year as a starting goalkeeper in the league after winning the job in 2021 as a 17-year-old.

Who is likely to be sold for the highest transfer?

Can any player beat Slonina’s potential $15 million transfer? Numerous technical staffers think so.

While some thought maybe Ferreira or NYCFC forward Talles Magno could reach that figure in the future, they were all in agreement that the player to watch is Thiago Almada.

“Almada is going to be the guy, but he’s not there yet. I expect him to be sold for the most money.”

“Almada has incredible individual skills. It’s only his first year, playing for a disjointed team, but wow.”

Almada was called into Argentina’s senior national team this month in their final pre-World Cup camp. He has a chance to make the World Cup squad. The attacking midfielder has 6g/11a in 27 appearances this season.

Atlanta acquired Almada for a league-record $16 million deal this past offseason from Velez Sarsfield.

“Almada could be sold for a lot of money, but the investment was the highest in the history of this league. He NEEDS to come good. Players sold for the highest profit will obviously be one of the academy kids. Slonina, Ferreira, \[Jack\] McGlynn or \[Ismael\] Kone, who was brought in for small money. Magno is a top talent too.”

“In general, you have to compare homegrowns with $15 million transfers. It’s a little unfair. But it is what it is.”

What about other players who could move to Europe soon?

Eight of the top 11 players in last year’s 22 Under 22 list were transferred out of MLS by the time of this year’s rankings. The top three were all gone in the winter.

It’s not a matter of if any of these players will hit the next level, but how many. While Almada is the consensus pick for most expensive, his compatriot Alan Velasco also received some shouts for being ready for the next level.

“Almada is very special, Atlanta paid a lot for him. He’s being considered for the World Cup. Alan Velasco is special, too.”

“I like Velasco, he was a great signing.”

Velasco, 20, has 6g/6a in 25 FC Dallas appearances after arriving this winter on a $7 million transfer from Independiente. He could be an early favorite for No. 1 next year as he’ll still be age-eligible. Another import who will still be age-eligible next year is NYCFC’s Talles Magno, who arrived in a reported $8 million transfer in 2021 from Brazil's Vasco da Gama.

“He’s extremely skillful. I’m not sure if he’s a striker though, it’s difficult for him to play. As a winger, he can go to a Champions League club. He’s that good.”

“He’s so crafty, an unpredictable dribbler. He’s elusive. Every time I picture how he plays, I think of him at the corner of the box snaking through defenders.”

As for MLS academy products, New York Red Bulls left back John Tolkin was a favorite among the technical staffers.

“Out of all the guys on this list, I had the hardest time to put Tolkin. I think he’s a future star for the national team. Not only does Tolkin ‘try s—t’ like Bruce Arena once said of Clint Dempsey, he’s got a chip on his shoulder. He doesn’t care who he’s playing.”

“I love Tolkin, he’s very good. He’s got the right engine, all the tools going forward. To be honest, I underrated him when I saw him in USL, but he really developed.”

The Philadelphia Union had three midfield players on the rankings between Paxten Aaronson, Jack McGlynn and Leon Flach. They could have had as many as six total with Quinn Sullivan, Nathan Harriel and Brandan Craig within a realistic shout.

“Paxten Aaronson has an extremely high ceiling and is already very talented. The problem is he has a player in the MVP conversation [Daniel Gazdag] ahead of him."

Aaronson has four goals in 975 minutes in MLS over two years, but won the Golden Ball at the U-20 Concacaf Championships earlier this year as the United States three-peated. McGlynn has broken through into the first team a bit more regularly, with 21 appearances (seven starts) this season.

“McGlynn has got a cultured left foot. He’s a good size and a really smart player. He fits well and works hard. I think Aaronson still has a little bit to develop. He’s like a wizard, two-footed, clever. A little light but he’ll catch up in growing his body.”

Who were the biggest snubs?

The influx of talent, both homegrown and imported, makes voting for 22 Under 22 more and more difficult every year. Talented players are left off all the time.

Who did we miss?

Daniel Edelman is a very good player. He's very young, one of the 03s. Jhon Duran has lots of quality, too. They should have been on the list.”

Duran was a big talent in Colombia before being signed by Chicago when he turned 18 last December. The striker has 6g/3a in just under 1,200 minutes. Edelman, a 19-year-old homegrown midfielder, is in his first season in MLS with the Red Bulls. He’s been captain of the US U-20s and has broken into the RBNY first team with more regularity of late, with 14 appearances (eight starts).

As for RBNY’s biggest rivals, some were surprised NYCFC winger Gabriel Pereira didn’t make the cut. The 21-year-old Brazilian has 7g/2a in just under 1,200 minutes during his debut MLS season, having arrived from Corinthians.

“I like Gabriel Pereira a lot. He has a higher ceiling than some of the players ahead of him. He’s an interesting player. Danny Leyva, too.”

Others receiving shoutouts included Portland Timbers midfielder David Ayala, a 20-year-old Argentine youth international, as well as the Colorado Rapids midfielder Ralph Priso, a 20-year-old Canadian youth international.

“David Ayala is really good. So is Ralph Priso. He probably has a high ceiling because of his frame, athleticism and quality.”

“Ralph Priso and Adilson Malanda should have been on. Priso is pretty raw, but in terms of natural talent and ability I like his progressive qualities and mobility. I think there’s something to him. Malanda is very good on the ball, he reads the game very well. Tall, athletic and mobile as well.”

Charlotte FC’s Malanda, a 20-year-old center back signed from the French second tier, was acquired this summer and had played two games at the time of voting. He has won a starting job on Charlotte’s back line already.

Seattle Sounders FC, who had Obed Vargas on the list, got a shoutout for another one of their homegrown midfielders.

Josh Atencio has either the benefit or the curse of sharing minutes with Joao Paulo and Cristian Roldan. I underrated Roldan early on because he was playing with great players, then he grew into his role. Someone like Atencio, I think we’ll find he’ll play a bigger role. Garth [Lagerwey] knows what he’s doing, he’s pretty smart. Seattle are pretty good.”