Since last June, 33 homegrown players have been signed for 2021 across MLS, a sign of the liberal flow of young talent into the league from its academy pipelines.
Most of those signings are teenagers and many are long-term projects who may not blossom at the first-team level for years to come. But every year, at least a few homegrowns jump into the limelight, whether we’re expecting them to or not.
Some will benefit from hospitable circumstances on their club’s depth charts; some will prove they’re just too good, and too ready, to keep off the field. The fun part is watching them seize their opportunities. Here’s five of the newest crop that might just make an impact this season.
Patrick Weah, Minnesota United
He’s still considered a bit rough around the edges and it’s not really fair to compare him to his famous cousin Tim (much less his uncle George) – not yet, at least. He may yet be sent out on a loan stint this year, and let’s be honest: Minnesota are not known for fast-tracking youngsters.
That said, the Loons’ second-ever homegrown has “loads of raw, natural talent,” in Adrian Heath’s words, and as of now, the door to MLS minutes is cracked a little further ajar then we might’ve expected a few months ago. That’s because MNUFC have a glaring hole at the No. 9 slot, with Juan Agudelo, Foster Langsdorf and not much else penciled in at present.
The 17-year-old Weah, who offers a fun mix of athleticism and impudence on the ball, might just get a meaningful look.
Andres Jasson, New York City FC
Generally speaking, NYCFC’s attacking corps has been no country for young men (Jack Harrison being a prominent exception). But their fifth and most recent HGP might just be set to break out like crocus flowers through the late-winter snow. A member of the City academy’s talented 2002 age group alongside the likes of Gio Reyna and Joe Scally, Jasson helped the Cityzen kids win the 2017 Generation Adidas Cup and back-to-back U.S. Soccer Development Academy Under-19 national championships in 2018 and 2019.
His original plan was to gain some college experience at Yale – and he’s still taking classes there – but COVID-19’s extended disruption of Ivy League sports prompted a rethink and NYCFC boss Ronnie Deila offered striking praise this week.
“When it comes to Andres, he’s impressed a lot,” said the Norwegian on Wednesday, suggesting Jasson will be considered for minutes on both flanks. “I’m so happy that he chose to go 100 percent for football, and he's been training all the time, when we have had off, in the facilities and is very physically fit already and shows a lot of quality … So I have very good views of Andres, and he will get a lot of chances also now in the preseason.”
Jack McGlynn, Philadelphia Union
The Supporters’ Shield holders have plenty of contenders for the title of “next man up after Brenden Aaronson and Mark McKenzie.” And of their latest batch, I give McGlynn, a left-footed midfielder who can pass both expansively and incisively, the best odds out of the gate.
McGlynn – who doesn’t turn 18 until midsummer – tallied 5g/3a in 14 USL Championship appearances with Union II last year. His underlying numbers were arguably even tastier: 30 key passes, upwards of 50 passes per 90 minutes and a consistent urgency to play forward, a very useful trait in Philly’s system. Union supporters would surely enjoy the chance to root for a New York kid lured away from Gotham’s two local clubs.
Grayson Barber, Sporting KC
I find it hard to gauge the full extent of Barber’s upside at this stage. But the South Carolina kid looks about as pro-ready as anyone in this year’s crop, thanks in large part to three NCAA seasons at Clemson, a proven talent incubator where he put up good numbers for title-chasing teams.
He’s slated as a wing option in Sporting’s 4-3-3, where defensive work rate and reliable service to striker Alan Pulido are key metrics. Barber’s got the engine and the audacity on the ball to provide both. With Peter Vermes’ depth chart looking a little thin in those spots, a good preseason might just push him into the mix. And anyone who can conjure up a play like this is worth keeping an eye on, IMHO:
Kalil ElMedkhar, FC Dallas
Here’s a puzzler for us all to ponder: What does it mean when one of the league’s top player development machines trades away a prospect before they’ve played a single professional minute (often a red flag) – but ships them to one of the league’s OTHER top player development machines (often a promising sign)?
That’s more or less the deal with ElMedkhar, who came up in Philly’s academy before taking the college route at the University of Kentucky, where he scored 20 goals and 21 assists in 66 matches (50 starts). Shifty and goal-dangerous, he fits the mold of a traditional inverted left winger in a 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3.
Alas, the Union don’t have as much need for a player like that as they once did. FCD do, though, and while Luchi Gonzalez’s roster is pretty stacked, the North Texans have shown that, if he performs, ElMedkhar will get a look.
Honorable mention: Michael Edwards, Nathan Harriel, Isaiah Parente