Before we get to this year’s robust crop of 22 Under 22 presented by BODYARMOR snubs – we’re talking players who cost MLS clubs millions upon millions of dollars – allow me to explain how this particular voter thought about his 2020 list.
I voted on production, with MLS production prioritized. How important is this player to their club right now and over the past year? What do they contribute, consistently? How much have they improved? Outside of the league, what place do they occupy in their national team setup? Have they made their senior debut and made an impact? Only after I considered those things did I weigh potential, the most exciting and unpredictable aspect of youth development.
When this list was still 24 Under 24 and homegrowns didn’t litter gameday rosters throughout the league, more than half the list was guesswork. Straight up projection, really. Teenagers (or even older) that hadn’t played first-team soccer. That’s not the case anymore. We’ve got MLS starters who missed the cut. We’ve got near-$10 million transfers on the outside looking in. You can disagree with those calls, but you can’t deny that the level of young talent in MLS has never been higher.
To be honest, I already have beef with my own list. I feel confident about my top six or so, but after that you can shuffle the deck and probably come out with something coherent. That speaks to the depth and quality of the 22 Under 22 player pool.
My regrets, in retrospect, are as follows:
- Cole Bassett should be much higher. Upon reflection, I’d put him in the 7-13 range.
- I really like Sam Vines, Julian Araujo and Bryan Reynolds, but including those outside backs convinced me that I needed to make room for others instead of finding a place for George Bello and Zachary Brault-Guillard.
- I let recency bias convince me not to include Jesus Ferreira. I’m still not sure what his long-term position is, but he belonged on my ballot.
- Cade Cowell’s combination of age, performance and fearlessness should have gotten him more consideration for inclusion.
- I didn’t vote for Moses Nyeman, who at 16 is already doing special things against men in the center of the park for D.C. United. I’ll be honest here: I haven’t seen him play as much as the others, and if I hadn’t seen a player enough to make a judgment I feel confident in, I didn’t include them on my ballot.
With that, we’re onto the snubs, starting with those who appeared on my list but didn’t on the official list.
Francisco Ginella, Jose Cifuentes and Diego Palacios (LAFC)
I had Ginella No. 11 on my list. I think he’s got a calmness in possession and an eye for a pass that makes him special. He’s struggled a bit with the physical side of the game, but I’m not willing to punish a 21-year-old for adapting slowly to a new league and country in the middle of a pandemic. LAFC fans got on me for not including Cifuentes, who has already been capped by Ecuador, which is fair. Palacios is a full Ecuador international, too, and chose LAFC over big-time European interest. All three got votes, finishing 23rd (Ginella), 26th (Palacios) and 27th (Cifuentes). Their futures are bright, for both club and country.
Ricardo Pepi (FC Dallas)
I had Pepi at No. 22 and considered putting him much higher. I’ll let David Gass explain what makes the 17-year-old special, via Thursday’s Extratime episode.
“Pepi has that Pippo Inzaghi style,” Gass said. “It doesn’t really matter what the soccer game is, a ball is going to go in the net off his foot.”
Djordje Mihailovic (Chicago Fire FC)
I had the 21-year-old attacking midfielder 19th on my list. He finished 32nd in official voting. I get it: 2019 was basically a lost year for the entire organization, so the luster was lost. Sometimes timing and health is everything. That ACL injury and the Fire’s struggles derailed the hype train. Still, you can’t deny Mihailovic’s talent, even if it’s difficult to define exactly what role he’s destined for long-term. Is he a No. 10? Is he a No. 8? Right now, it seems he’s more of a winger who likes to tuck inside, and that’s fine. This goal is decent, right?
GOAL: Djordje Mihailovic, Chicago Fire FC - 95th minute
Matias Pellegrini, Julian Carranza (Inter Miami)
I had Pellegrini at No. 10. Maybe I’m buying too much into the hype, but he really seemed to have improved recently and a big part of me thinks we just haven’t seen the best of the Argentine given the pandemic and the fact that he plays for an expansion team. I think Gonzalo Higuain will make him look much better than he has, though Higuain might want to keep his referee commentary to a minimum in order to stay on the field.
Andres Perea (Orlando City)
I had Perea 21st, which was maybe a reach. He’s only made seven starts for Oscar Pareja, but I like what I see. The 19-year-old isn’t a flashy player, but he’s tough and effective in the holding role he’s asked to play. I think he’s one that’s just scratching the surface of what he can be in a year or two with more playing time and experience.
Cade Cowell (San Jose Earthquakes)
The youngest goalscorer in San Jose history just turned 17, but he doesn’t play his age. He’s direct. He’s powerful. He’s got some trickiness and guile to his play. He’s got the trust of Matias Almeyda. But … Cowell's only started three MLS games and played 362 minutes. On potential, the homegrown goes on my list, but I already told you that’s not how I voted. The next two years will be the base his career is built upon.
Anthony Fontana (Philadelphia Union)
What can I say that Charlie Davies and Matt Doyle haven’t said already?
Joe Scally (NYCFC)
In previous years, a teenager like Scally who's already been sold to a Bundesliga club, would be a sure thing. That the Borussia Monchengladbach-bound defender only appeared on two ballots tells you something about his competition.