22 Under 22

What every 22 Under 22 presented by BODYARMOR player needs to work on


Even the best young players need to improve.

Here’s what I’ve seen from this year’s 22 Under 22 presented by BODYARMOR crop, and what they need to work on:

Jesús Ferreira
Age: 21 | MLS NEXT Academy: FC Dallas | Forward · FC Dallas

Leading the league in non-penalty goals as a 21-year-old despite not being at all aerially dominant or having real poacher’s instincts is absolutely remarkable. Ferreira thinks his goals, and I’m not sure there’s a proper comparison for him in league history.

Anyway, I just want to see him doing some Wondo stuff out there – always on the balls of his feet, sniffing out rebounds, ghosting to the back post for unmarked headers, etc. If he does that (and starts taking penalties), a 25+ goal season is not at all out of reach.

Thiago Almada
Age: 21 | Academy: Velez Sarsfield | Midfielder · Atlanta United

Like most super-skilled young playmakers, Almada has a propensity toward taking too many touches. Needs a little bit of that Maxi Moralez-style efficiency with his decision-making.

Talles Magno
Age: 20 | Academy: Vasco da Gama | Forward · New York City FC

If he’s going to make the Taty Castellanos transition from false winger to true No. 9, he’s got to do what Taty did and make a bazillion off-ball attacking runs per game.

The tracking stats aren’t kind to Magno in this regard. As per Second Spectrum, he’s in the first percentile (as in, the bottom 1%) of off-ball attacking runs per possession leaguewide over the past two years, ahead of only Luiz Araujo.

Gaga Slonina
Age: 18 | MLS NEXT Academy: Chicago Fire FC | Goalkeeper · Chicago Fire FC

Footwork is obviously the big one if he’s going to get to the very top of the game, but before that has to come controlling his box. It’s elite for an 18-year-old, but not all elite 18-year-olds manage to develop that part of the game – look at Donnarumma.

Julián Araujo
Age: 21 | MLS NEXT Academies: Barça Residency Academy/LA Galaxy | Defender · LA Galaxy

Araujo still struggles to balance his attacking instincts with his defensive responsibilities. He can – and does – regularly get caught out.

John Tolkin
Age: 20 | MLS NEXT Academy: New York Red Bulls | Defender · New York Red Bulls

Gifted left foot, tenacious, reads the game really well. Tolkin checks a lot of boxes, but modern attacking fullbacks have to be able to beat defenders off the dribble – attacking closeouts, basically – semi-regularly. Tolkin struggles to do that and create separation for the final ball.

Alan Velasco
Age: 20 | Academy: Independiente | Forward · FC Dallas

Velasco almost never makes box-arriving, off-ball runs of the sort that result in back-post tap-ins. It’s something a lot of young players struggle with, and developing that habit is the difference between an 8-goals-a-year guy and a 13-goals-a-year guy.

Ismaël Koné
Age: 20 | Academy: CS Saint-Laurent/CF Montréal U-23 | Midfielder · CF Montréal

Kone’s at his best when he’s going full throttle, and he should continue to nurture that. But he’s also got to refine his possession instincts, because sometimes it’s best to just put a foot on the ball and knock it around some.

Kwadwo Opoku
Age: 21 | Academy: Attram De Visser Soccer Academy | Forward · Los Angeles Football Club

Opoku’s great at attacking the space behind backlines even in possession, and seven goals is a good ROI. Three assists and sub-mediocre playmaking numbers, however, point to a need to refine his abilities as a playmaker.

Jack McGlynn
Age: 19 | MLS NEXT Academies: BW Gottschee, Philadelphia Union | Midfielder · Philadelphia Union

Just get him 300 grams of protein a day and stick him in the gym.

Cade Cowell
Age: 18 | MLS NEXT Academies: Ballistic United/San Jose Earthquakes | Forward · San Jose Earthquakes

There are a lot of holes in Cowell’s game, still, but the most obvious one for an athlete of his caliber is that he can not head the ball. He should be scoring three or four goals a year just by beating a fullback in the air.

Paxten Aaronson
Age: 19 | MLS NEXT Academies: Philadelphia Union/Real New Jersey Academy | Midfielder · Philadelphia Union

The No. 1 thing he needs to improve upon is not being stuck on the depth chart behind Daniel GazdagPaxten’s managed fewer than 400 minutes this year. When he gets out there, though, he’s had a propensity for kind of losing his connection with the rest of the midfield because he’s always, ALWAYS pushing vertical.

César Araújo
Age: 21 | Academy: Montevideo Wanderers | Midfielder · Orlando City SC

I love Araujo defensively, and right now he’s a pretty good passer of the ball who doesn’t make many mistakes. He’s got to take the next step of hitting third-line passes into the pockets, which would allow him to play more comfortably as a single pivot.

Leon Flach
Age: 21 | Academy: FC St. Pauli | Midfielder · Philadelphia Union

Flach’s a pressing machine with a very good understanding of time and space, and he often can not hit the broad side of a barn with his passing.

I do wonder if Philly move him to left back once they sell Kai Wagner. When Flach can see the whole field and not worry about 360 degrees, midfield stuff, he’s generally a good passer and crosser of the ball. “Run the show” stuff in midfield might just be beyond him.

Obed Vargas
Age: 17 | MLS NEXT Academy: Seattle Sounders FC | Midfielder · Seattle Sounders FC

First and foremost, he’s got to get healthy. Once he does, I want him to focus on receiving under pressure, on the half-turn. The best d-mids are the guys you can cycle the ball to without any fear that they’ll turn it over no matter the situation.

Thiago Eduardo Andrade
Age: 21 | Academy: Fluminense | Forward · New York City FC

Blazing speed and a decent nose for goal needs to turn into blazing speed and a good nose for goal, at the very least. And as with all these young wingers I’m not talking strictly 1v1 stuff, but rather those box-arriving runs for one-time finishes.

Efraín Álvarez
Age: 20 | MLS NEXT Academy: LA Galaxy |Midfielder · LA Galaxy

Efra’s always going to be limited by his athleticism, but so is Tommy McNamara, and he’s found a way to add value in multiple spots for multiple clubs for nigh on a decade. If Efra, with his skillset, got on the ball as often as Tommy Mac does, and in those same high-leverage spots, he’d be a weapon.

Benjamin Bender
Age: 21 | MLS NEXT Academy: Baltimore Armour | College: Maryland | Midfielder · Charlotte FC

Bender’s clearest path to progress is to become a pressing/work-rate monster, Ale Bedoya style. Like Ale, Bender’s kind of a ‘tweener, but if you add massive value defensively, that becomes an asset rather than a negative.

Aidan Morris
Age: 20 | MLS NEXT Academies: Weston FC/Columbus Crew | Midfielder · Columbus Crew

Angles. Morris is absolutely fearless flying into challenges and is very good at digging the ball out of scrums, but he sometimes takes over-aggressive angles, which means he gets cut out of the play more often than is strictly necessary.

Jayden Nelson
Age: 19 | MLS NEXT Academy: Toronto FC | Forward · Toronto FC

Nelson’s got to be a front-foot, Latif Blessing-style ball-winning free 8. It’s not just about searching out the ball in possession; it’s about understanding how the play is unfolding and thus being in the right spot to immediately win the ball back after a turnover.

Bryce Duke
Age: 21 | MLS NEXT Academy: Barça Residency Academy/Real Salt Lake | Midfielder · Inter Miami CF

The path to a larger role for Duke is by becoming a relentless midfield terrier. He’s got good-not-great skill and vision, and a good soccer brain. Now he needs to develop a Flach- or Blessing-like taste for duels and become absolutely miserable to play against.

Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty
Age: 18 | MLS NEXT Academy: Toronto FC | Defender/Forward · Toronto FC

Staying healthy is the most important step for him, but once he gets out on the field… I mean, he looked pretty lost no matter what position he played this year. If he just looks more comfortable with the speed of play, that’d be a great step for a kid who could top these rankings sometime in the next couple of years.