U-20 World Cup: Which players could come to MLS?

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It was June 8, 2019 when José Cifuentes opened the scoring for Ecuador against the United States in the U-20 World Cup quarterfinals, with the winning goal scored by Jhon Espinoza. Diego Palacios, Leonardo Campana and Gustavo Vallecilla were on the field as well, helping Ecuador past the Americans, 2-1, to an eventual third-place finish.

Those names were mostly unknown to MLS fans cheering on league standouts like Paxton Pomykal, Chris Richards and Justin Rennicks, but now they're familiar faces stateside.

So too are many of the Colombian standouts from the 2019 tournament, players like New York Red Bulls defender Andrés Reyes, Philadelphia Union midfielder Andrés Perea and Columbus Crew forward Cucho Hernández. Former LAFC winger Brian Rodríguez suited up for Uruguay, and Ezequiel Barco joined up with Argentina from Atlanta United.

Fast-forward four years, and there is a new crop of young talents taking the spotlight at the 2023 FIFA U-20 World Cup in Argentina. We're taking a look at eight candidates who stood out at the tournament and should be on MLS teams' radars.

Sebastián Boselli
Uruguay / Defensor Sporting Club | Defender

A versatile defender who can play both center back and right back, Boselli has been a key piece for a Uruguay backline with four clean sheets in five U-20 World Cup matches. Strong in one-on-one situations, skilled at progressive passing and blessed with good recovery speed, Boselli has been key for both his country in this tournament and his club, Defensor Sporting Club.

It's been a quick rise to prominence for Boselli, who's also become a starter for Defensor Sporting in Uruguay after debuting in October 2022. Of the nine starts he’s made this campaign, his club has lost just once.

Teams may have to work quickly, with Boselli already a reported target for River Plate in Argentina, as well as clubs in Italy.

Juan Cruz de los Santos
Uruguay / River Plate Montevideo | Forward

US fans may not want to see this one, but the current ace at River Plate of Uruguay was key for Los Charruas' quarterfinal victory over the Yanks and is drawing attention from all over.

Capable of playing anywhere across the front line, the left-footer works well with other players, as he showed in setting up both of Uruguay’s goals in a 2-0 defeat of the United States. Clubs may want the 20-year-old to add more goals to his name than the four he has in 29 first-division appearances in Uruguay, but his line-breaking passes and combination play could make him a player MLS squads will target.

Choi Seok-hyun
South Korea / Dankook University | Defender

While his defensive partner Kim Ji-soo likely is on his way to a top-four league in Europe, Choi Seok-hyun currently is playing with Dankook University. An undersized defender, Choi still has been able to contribute at both ends of the field, scoring the winning goal both in South Korea’s Round of 16 win over Ecuador and their quarterfinal extra-time triumph over Nigeria.

There are other candidates for MLS teams on Korea’s still-alive squad as well. Talented winger Kim Yong-hak is in Europe on loan with Portuguese club Portimonense but, with only one cup game under his belt, could be open to a move where he’d see more playing time.

Justin Cuero
Ecuador / Independiente del Valle | Forward

With teammate for club and country Kendry Páez off to Chelsea, Cuero is a central forward who could have a bright future in MLS. After the US downed Ecuador, 1-0, in their group-stage opener, Cuero scored in each of the next three matches, finishing the tournament with four goals.

No Ecuador player has ever scored more at a U-20 World Cup, not even Inter Miami forward Leo Campana. But Cuero likely already was on the radar for plenty of teams after scoring four goals in the CONMEBOL U-20 Championship in January and February. The 19-year-old now heads back to Independiente del Valle, where he will hope to become the latest export from the team’s impressive academy, and will look to build on his first-team career after making his domestic debut in February.

Ignacio Miramón
Argentina / Gimnasia de la Plata | Midfielder

Many of Argentina’s top players already have their post-tournament trajectory set out, but Ignacio Miramón was back on the field for Gimnasia de la Plata over the weekend after playing just more than 100 minutes for Argentina at the U-20 World Cup.

Beloved by Gimnasia fans, not just because it was Diego Maradona who elevated him to the first team but also because of the effort he puts in during matches, Miramón could be an intriguing option. His ability to recover the ball in the middle of the field while also keeping possession when pressed thanks to his skills on the ball are assets that most MLS clubs are on the lookout for.

Fernando Álvarez
Colombia / Pachuca | Defender

Álvarez was one of the first players linked to MLS during the FIFA U-20 World Cup, with Fabrizio Romano reporting several MLS clubs are interested in signing the Pachuca defender. There have also been reported inquiries from clubs in Europe.

Born in New York and also eligible for the US and Mexico national teams, Álvarez was a consistent presence for Colombia, both in the South American U-20 Championship and the U-20 World Cup, manning the left side of the central-defense pairing. With Pachuca, he's started four times for the U-20s, scoring in one of those matches.

Oscar Cortés
Colombia / Millonarios | Forward

Cortes’ destination may not be MLS, at least not at first. Reports in Colombia say his current club, Millonarios, have an agreement with Ligue 1 runners-up Lens wrapped up, but the player still hasn’t agreed to personal terms. For now, Cortés is with Millos for both their Copa Sudamericana and league campaigns.

They want to keep him as long as they can, with five league goals in nine domestic matches this season plus another in the Sudamericana. Cortes was also in fine scoring form in Argentina, leaving the tournament with four goals in 430 minutes thanks to a double against Slovakia and goals against Senegal and Israel in the group phase.

Marlon Gomes
Brazil / Vasco de Gama | Midfielder

One for the teams who are aiming high, with AC Milan having been mentioned as a destination for the Vasco da Gama midfielder since the South American Championship. Gomes wins the ball well, passes well and makes smart runs into the box to add danger. While he settled into a two-way midfielder role at the U-20 World Cup, he also can play further wide as an attacker or even as a fullback.