This year's 22 Under 22 presented by BODYARMOR rankings have been unveiled, which means the time has begun for all those precocious youngsters across MLS who didn't make the 2021 cut to plot next year's list invasion.
Since they'll be thinking about who has a 22 Under 22 nod in their future, we'll do the same and offer up a magnificent nine of 18-and-under MLS talents – most of whom are homegrown – worth watching for 2022's edition and beyond.
Don't consider this a best-of-type ranking; it's really more a collection of the prospects standing out at this time. Things can change fast in the development game, but it certainly wasn't difficult to pick out prime 18-and-under 22 Under 22 candidates for both next year and beyond.
We're a year removed from the Philadelphia homegrown's older brother claiming the top spot in this annual ranking. The way things are going for little bro, we could be a year away in the other direction from Paxten making it two Aaronsons in the 22 Under 22 club. It can be tough breaking into the Union lineup, but the 18-year-old homegrown has already put in three strong 90-minute showings (including two against the Revs). And like Brenden before him, he has quickly shown a nose for the big play.
The 17-year-old playmaker is growing up fast. The elusive homegrown made four sub appearances during the spring, and has been growing steadily more comfortable playing against grown men with USL League One side Fort Lauderdale CF ever since. Inter Miami boss Phil Neville is a big fan, so Azcona's days of dribbling MLS foes dizzy can't be far off.
The Sounders' midfielder (and MLS player whose name sounds most like a law firm) was part of an epic win over Austin FC earlier this season, when Baker-Whiting joined a five-teen lineup that secured an improbable 1-0 win. He's gotten one other start and a couple of other appearances, bouncing between the first team and USL Championship side Tacoma Defiance. Though still only 16, he's showing a maturity that bodes well for his future in Rave Green – or even on Europe's biggest stages, per a report from MLSsoccer.com's Tom Bogert.
The New York Red Bulls playmaker hasn't lit up MLS scoreboards yet, but it's not for a lack of trying. Carmona is among the team leaders in most shot creation and area breaching rate stats. The 18-year-old has yet to surpass platoon-starter level, but it may not be long before he holds the team's attack keys. The X-factor to Carmona's game is he's at least as adept at causing pressure turnovers as he is at activating the resultant rush. In other words, the Venezuelan midfielder fits right in at Red Bull Arena.
We may as well start calling the LAFC teen defender "the Elevator" because he goes smoothly to the top floor. Three soaring header goals from set-pieces have earned the 18-year-old some press back home in Senegal, but he's still a promising work in progress at the back. The good news is Fall's learning fast on the job. When he becomes as consistently dominant in the air in his box as he is on attacking restarts, he should be ready to make a run at this annual list.
The clever midfielder had already enjoyed a short run of encouraging starts before turning 18 in June. More than anything, Gutierrez showed a real eye for the killer pass before the injury bug (right ankle) bit in August. In just over 400 minutes, he's chalked up 19 shot-creating actions (a per 90 rate that puts him second on the Fire). The homegrown kid has played in just about every position in the attacking half of the formation, so it remains to be seen which station suits him best at this level. He's got the goods to shine, though.
Marshall-Rutty attracted attention from the entire soccer world by being named to The Guardian's top 60 players born in 2004 list, building upon the hype that's followed the Toronto FC homegrown throughout his nascent career. TFC general manager Ali Curtis noted upon his January 2020 signing, "Jahkeele is the top player in his age group across Canada and the U.S, and he is among the top young players in all of North America. He is an incredibly talented young man." Clubs in Europe have noticed this as well, meaning he could be headed for a new destination beyond BMO Field in due course.
I can't imagine anyone expected the Chicago Fire netminder to burst onto the scene so soon. An injury and other circumstances have made Slonina the youngest player to ever start in goal for an MLS club. The 17-year-old has now worked six matches, shutting out both Nashville and NYCFC (them twice, actually). His xGA-GA number (what I like to call the theft index) stands seventh in the league chart among 'keepers with at least a half dozen starts. The Fire's future outlook in goal hasn't looked this bright in eons.
Philly's homegrown midfielder has made 19 MLS appearances this term, along with a few Concacaf Champions League cameos. That sort of involvement for a 17-year-old seems to have flown under the radar, as Sullivan hardly gets any press. It shouldn't have. The local boy is making good with a game that pushes the tempo in the direction of opposing goals, and his first two pro strikes were a bicycle kick and a precision laser from outside the top of the box.