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:
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.
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.
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.
Araujo still struggles to balance his attacking instincts with his defensive responsibilities. He can – and does – regularly get caught out.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Just get him 300 grams of protein a day and stick him in the gym.
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.
The No. 1 thing he needs to improve upon is not being stuck on the depth chart behind Daniel Gazdag – Paxten’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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.