You can just feel the “why do you hate my team’s best young player?” in the air, can’t you? That can only mean one thing. It’s 22 Under 22 presented by BODYARMOR time.
MLS’s young, talented players seem to get better every year, which makes voting for the annual 22 Under 22 list extremely challenging. Several good players often end up missing the list, which is exactly what happened this year. According to a handful of underlying statistics, there are valid arguments for why some of the players left off the list deserved to make the top 22.
So let’s dive into five of the biggest snubs from this year’s 22 Under 22.
- Why he should be on the list: Shot-stopping
Things have been…busy for David Ochoa.
He went from starting for Real Salt Lake in the Audi 2021 MLS Cup Playoffs to not stepping on the field for RSL in 2022 to being traded to D.C. United in less than eight months. All of that chaos means we haven’t seen a ton of Ochoa this year. Even so, he’s been a strong option in goal for Wayne Rooney’s D.C. team since landing on the East coast in the summer.
According to American Soccer Analysis’ goals added metric, Ochoa is 12th in MLS this year in post-shot expected goals minus goals allowed among goalkeepers with at least seven starts. That means he’s saving difficult shots at a well above-average rate. Plus, he’s sitting right above NYCFC’s Sean Johnson in that metric. How’s that for promise?
For his career to truly take off, Ochoa will need to put up similar numbers across a larger stretch of the season in 2023. But the Mexican international, who’s out of contract at the end of the season, is certainly a player to watch. A year ago, Ochoa placed 18th on the 22 Under 22 list.
- Why he should be on the list: Promising young attackers don’t grow on trees
Do you know how many attackers were put on this year’s 22 Under 22 list ahead of Jhon Duran? Eleven, by my count. Positions are fluid, but let’s go with that number for now. And do you know how many of those 11 attackers have scored more non-penalty goals than Duran in 2022? Only two of them.
Duran doesn’t get a ton of love playing for the Chicago Fire, but he’s had a really strong season with six goals and three assists in just over 1,100 minutes. With his long frame, his speed, and his developing aerial ability, Duran has put in some impressive shifts for the Fire in 2022.
Duran, 18, pops when you watch him on tape and he pops when you look at the numbers, too. Per Second Spectrum, the Colombian is in the 91st percentile in non-penalty xG per 90 among MLS players with at least 1,000 minutes this year. Duran gets in good spots and causes real problems for opposing defenses.
He has a very, very bright future, even getting called into Colombia’s senior national team during this September international window.
- Why he should be on the list: Starting games for the Union goes a long way
Okay, so there’s more to Nathan Harriel’s resumé than playing over 1,600 minutes for a Supporters’ Shield contender in the Philadelphia Union. But also…Harriel has played over 1,600 minutes for the Philadelphia Union. He’s not starting every game at this point in the year – Cameroon international Olivier Mbaizo presents real competition – but Harriel is still an important piece of Jim Curtin’s squad.
Per American Soccer Analysis, Harriel is 14th among fullbacks with at least 1,000 minutes in MLS this season in goals added per 96 minutes. With his pressing ability, he makes life very difficult for opposing attackers. According to Second Spectrum, Harriel is one of the most active pressers in the league. He’s in the 92nd percentile in pressures per 90 and the 80th percentile in counter pressures per 90 among fullbacks and wingbacks with at least 1,000 minutes. Plus, he wins most aerial duels.
When you think about Philadelphia Union homegrowns, Harriel probably isn’t the first name that comes to your mind. But he deserves credit for some quality performances in 2022.
- Why he should be on the list: Goals and chance creation, baby
Remember that game we played earlier, guessing how many attackers on the 22 Under 22 list have more goals this year than Duran? Well, we’re going to skip the guessing this time and I’m just going to tell you that only one player who made the actual list has more goals this year than Gabriel Pereira: FC Dallas forward Jesus Ferreira, the top honoree and arguably the United States’ starter at the 2022 World Cup.
Pereira’s seven open-play goals this year makes him one of NYCFC’s most productive players. His underlying numbers don’t quite match his output, but there’s still plenty in the 21-year-old’s stats to catch your eye. Per FBref, Pereira is in the 73rd percentile for non-penalty xG per 90 minutes among attacking midfielders and wingers this year. He’s also one of the best players in the league at creating shots off the dribble.
I’d wager that Pereira’s shot of making this year’s 22 Under 22 list was hurt by the fact that NYCFC have so much young talent. Still, it’s clear the former Corinthians player is a dangerous MLS attacker, regardless of age.
- Why he should be on the list: Because doing stuff like this at 17 is ridiculous
Caleb Wiley can ball, man. The homegrown standout is still very much in the development stage of his career, but he’s been a key player already in 2022 for Atlanta United. Wiley has played both left back and left wing for manager Gonzalo Pineda – regardless of where he’s playing, the teenager can blow by you on the dribble. You saw that in the clip up above and it bears out in the numbers, too.
According to Second Spectrum, Wiley is in the 78th percentile among players with at least 1,000 minutes this year in successful dribbles per 90. The US youth international takes space quickly and is in the 83rd percentile in forward distance traveled per touch in 2022, with an average of 2.3 meters.
Wiley has plenty of room to improve his efficiency and his passing from the left side, but he’s been a bright light for Atlanta in an otherwise rough-and-tumble season.