Voices: Andrew Wiebe

Ten young MLS players I'm rooting for in 2021

Efrain Alvarez - LA Galaxy - close up from back

I root for chaos. I root for good stories. I root for young players to succeed.

The calendar dictates that, right now, we obsess over young North Americans abroad (or on their way there). Matthew Hoppe is the next coming, amirite?! Bryan Reynolds is about to seal a dream move to ... just let me know when it’s official. Jonathan David is finally settling and scoring for Lille to help keep their Ligue 1 title hopes alive. Weston McKennie is casting spells with and over Italy and the Old Lady.

Halcyon days for the Americans and Canadians Abroad genre, truly.

Same goes for the youth movement in MLS. There are more and better 22 Under 22 eligible players than ever before. The #PlayYourKids movement is only going to get bigger as the financial and sporting rewards for doing so continue to balloon. Just look at the many millions the Philadelphia Union just pocketed and the Supporters’ Shield they gave their fans. FC Dallas are about to sell two right backs in a single year for reportedly eight figures.

Watch: The Extratime crew discuss the young players they're rooting for in 2021

The talent is there, and I’m rooting for the “kids” to succeed. Here are 10 whose 2021 seasons I am personally invested in.

James Sands (New York City FC)

Enjoy Sands and his pragmatic, effective style of play while you can. MLSsoccer.com’s own Tom Bogert reported last November that a move to Europe within a year is the expectation for the 20-year-old central midfielder/central defender. The work he does isn’t “headline” stuff. Sands disrupts the hell out of opponents, both with his reading of the game and timely physicality, and knows when, where and how to move the ball. He’s consistent and consistently good.

He’s also been unlucky. He broke his arm AND collarbone in 2019. Season over. In 2020, a broken foot was the only thing that kept him out of Ronny Deila’s XI. Here’s hoping for a healthy and happy 2021 for the club’s first-ever homegrown.

Frankie Amaya (FC Cincinnati)

Quite the two years to start your professional career. Four head coaches, -68 goal differential, a revolving door of teammates and near-constant change. Oh, and then there was/is a pandemic. Rough might be a kind way of putting it. I’m not trying to rub it in, FC Cincinnati supporters, but I am saying, despite the chatter, the club has made just four additions (and only one assumed starter) to reinforce the team that finished last in 2020.

Amaya was the No. 1 overall SuperDraft two years ago. He is still just 20. He is already among FCC’s best players. In a perfect world, his performances and profile would rise rapidly, benefitting both club, country and player. That can’t happen without consistency and structure, and I want to see what Amaya (and FC Cincinnati) can do if they have those things. So ... do they have them? Here’s hoping so as a fan of the US youth international’s two-way game.

Moses Nyeman (D.C. United)

Hernan Losada's hiring was good news for D.C. United’s growing homegrown core. As Losada told us on Extratime, he believes in the academy, promoting young players and understands what it takes to cultivate and support the latest generation. Nyeman just turned 17. He has a young, passionate head coach that compares his approach to Marcelo Bielsa, Diego Simeone and Marcelo Gallardo: “My style of play demands a lot of energy and commitment.” That sounds like an opportunity to jump from elite prospect to foundational midfield piece. I hope he does it ... and same for Griffin Yow, Kevin Paredes and Donovan Pines.

Efrain Alvarez (LA Galaxy)

Deep breaths all around. He is only 18. Yes, what Alvarez does with the ball is often magical. No, it hasn’t happened all that often. Yes, he seems to be maturing and Greg Vanney ought to give him a better platform to realize his potential. No, we still have no idea what he can or will be. Deep breaths.

But c’mon, ~15 starts and 2,000 minutes all comps would be fun. I’m not greedy! I just want to see some magic (and all the more mundane stuff, too)!

Jeizon Ramirez (Real Salt Lake)

I won’t pretend to know much about Jeizon Ramirez, but I want to know. Eighty minutes. That’s all the Young Designated Player got in his first season in Utah, which was strange since he was a reliable contributor for Deportivo Tachira. Real Salt Lake have a track record of finding and developing Venezuelan wingers (Jefferson Savarino), but we’ll never know if Ramirez can realize his potential if he never plays. Corey Baird is off to LAFC, and the opportunity is there. Grab it, Jeizon. Show us what you did at Tachira (five goals, seven assists) to earn the move.

Jesus Ferreira/Paxton Pomykal (FC Dallas)

I have but one wish for this duo: take all of us back to 2019. I can’t get that carefree life back, but I do remember how Ferreira and Pomykal’s promise was paying off before our eyes. The former bagging goals, assists and January camp starts. The latter doing seemingly everything at a high level, across competitions. National team ... Europe ... plummeting form and yet another injury. Take me back, boys. Let’s get you back to your 2019 selves.

Michael Baldisimo (Vancouver Whitecaps)

Noted Extratime crush. The kid can spray, and quickly became a bright spot for Marc Dos Santos. Would I like to see him playing game-in, game-out behind, let’s say, someone like Otavio? Yes, I would.

Thomas Chacon (Minnesota United)

Play him or move him. Minnesota signed the Uruguay U-17 regular to a Young DP deal and then buried him in a snowdrift. The kid is on ice, 257 minutes in two years. I’m no Chaconista, but I am rooting for him to either break in or move on. The Loons aren’t getting much/anything out of the deal as it stands, and neither is Chacon. If they believe in his talent, he’s got to play. If they don’t, the writing is on the wall.

Anthony Fontana (Philadelphia Union)

Playing in front of Jamiro Monteiro and Alejandro Bedoya worked out pretty well for Brenden Aaronson. I am not saying Fontana is in the same mold. I am saying he’s in an ideal situation to develop and thrive. He just has to convince Jim Curtin to put him in the lineup and not take him out. Six goals in 509 minutes in 2020 was a good/likely unsustainable start – some of those finishes ... hoo boy, the man is an entertainer — and hopefully just the appetizer for a main course of minutes, opportunities and exposure.

(I cheated a little here, as Fontana isn’t technically 22 Under 22 eligible by a couple of months.)

Andres Perea (Orlando City)

I had Perea 21st in my 22 Under 22 ballot, but he missed out on the overall list. He kept doing his thing, fashioned himself a critical piece of an Orlando City team with championship aspirations and made a one-time switch to the United States. Gregg Berhalter gave Perea a serious vote of confidence and I can’t think of a better coach for his development than Oscar Pareja, but the midfield is crowded. Push someone out of the way, fellow Andrew.