Time to break out the 22 Under 22 sorting hat.
It’s one of my favorite weeks of the year (#PlayYourKids). ExtraTime Live driven by Continental has the honors of revealing the Top 10 on Thursday (2 pm ET, MLS channels) after Nos. 22-11 drop on Wednesday. Before the numbers, come the categories with tiers and some choice words.
Only players eligible for the list were included, but not all 99 got sorted. Players are listed in alphabetical order in each tier, and your thoughts go below in the comments. We’ll see you on Thursday. You might as well subscribe to ExtraTime Radio before you start scrolling.
1. They’re Bona Fide Stars Now
All-Stars. Full internationals. Game-changing talent. When you talk about the best players in MLS at their position, these guys are a shoo-in for more than just a mention.
Tyler Adams (RBNY)
Like Alphonso Davies, Tyler Adams is a valuable commodity for club and country. | USA Today Images
It’s always been easy to root for Adams. Nobody represents the Red Bulls ethos more than the Homegrown midfielder-turned-US international. Academy → USL → MLS → US national team → Bundesliga (???).
Alphonso Davies (VAN)
Just enjoy the kid (yes, he’s still just 17) in MLS while you can.
2. Flirting with Stardom, but Not Quite There
Ezequiel Barco (ATLUTD)
Fifteen million dollars. His star may have dulled a bit this year, but he belongs in this category nonetheless. He’s 19 years old, folks, and so far you can tell. Give the Argentine some time.
Reggie Cannon (DAL)
I had him here before the USMNT call-up. Depending on your perspective, I’m either a tad early or a little late, but my place on the hype train is now reserved. Name a better right back in MLS this year. Did they just turn 20?
Here’s how I’d order the three South American attackers above: Savarino, Rossi, Medina. You can’t go wrong with any of them. Good chance you’ll find their names in World Cup qualifying box scores for years to come.
September 30, 2018
Milton Valenzuela (CLB)
Earnie Stewart only wishes he was American.
3. They’re Starters Now
Pretty straightforward. If you need it spelled out: these players have earned a starting spot. Congrats, for now. There’s still more to prove.
Eduard Atuesta (LAFC)
In an inaugural season of inspired moves, Atuesta flew under the radar for LAFC. He signed late in preseason and didn’t really get going until May, but the Colombian shows more and more of his quality every single game. The D-mid job is his for the time being, thanks to form and Mark-Anthony Kaye’s season-ending injury.
Justen Glad keeps his eye on the ball for RSL. | USA Today Images
Two of four on the Real Salt Lake backline, with a couple more below. The bigger story, since Glad is already north of 100 games as a pro, is Lennon’s transition to right back. Credit to Mike Petke, the former Liverpool winger is right there with Cannon in the Western Conference.
Auston Trusty (PHI)
One bad day does not a season make. Won’t make him feel any better, though.
4. Not a Starter Yet, But/And…
Stuck somewhere between seldom-used bench player and full-fledged starter. Flirting with 1,000 minutes. That could change next year! Or it could be a troubling sign. Or just a normal part of development. All depends on the player.
Latif Blessing (LAFC)
LAFC acquired Blessing in the Expansion Draft. He doesn’t take up an international spot, and he’s got five goals and six assists in fewer than 1,800 minutes. Good deal.
Imagine playing your first year in MLS, your first year away from home … in Orlando this year. Yikes. Coaching changes, drama for days and the losing streak from hell. Hard not to struggle, but Colman’s price tag means he’ll be expected to bounce back quickly.
Aaron Herrera (RSL)
There’s been an RSL Homegrown battle at left back between Acosta and Herrera, with minutes split between the two. For the time being, Herrera’s got the job. Long-term? Anyone’s guess.
Jim Curtin says he has “it,” and I believe him. Better decision making will come with reps and experience. McKenzie and Trusty … that could be something special in Philly sports lore. McTrusty, they’ll call them.
The Union's Auston Trusty, left, and Mark McKenzie are two of the league's best young center backs. | USA Today Images
Djordje Mihailovic (CHI)
The forgotten man. Every year there’s one in 22 Under 22. Mihailovic looked poised to take off last summer, then he tore his ACL and everyone forgot how good he was. How about that goal this past weekend?
5. Cameos, but We Want More
Just a taste, but it lingered. And now we want seconds. Those will probably have to wait until next year, but there’s something here.
Andrew Carleton in action during this summer's MLS Homegrown Game. | USA Today Images
More swag than I will ever imagine having, but how will Carleton crack the XI? The offseason might help expose the path to regular first-team minutes.
Pedigree is there. Now Horta just has to adapt and perform. That midfield is stacked, however. Time to grind with an eye toward 2019.
It says something that three of the players in this category come from Sporting. Peter Vermes has three teenagers he’s very high on, and they’ve all contributed when their opportunity has come. Does another front, in CCL, mean there could be more minutes to go around next year?
I saw what happened with Alex Muyl. Red Bulls Twitter is indefatigable. We. Want. More.
6. USL darlings we could see in MLS soon
Most, if not all, of their damage has come down a rung. Step by step. Who’s got next?
Efrain Alvarez (LA)
His USL performances have been rub-your-eyes-in-disbelief good. What he does with the ball is astounding.
Looking for Tyler Adams’ replacement in the center of the New York midfield? Look no further. Like Adams, the 18-year-old is cutting his teeth with the Baby Bulls first.
Jesus Ferreira (DAL)
Just search “Jesus Ferreira, USL, goals.” Here’s the shortcut to make it even easier.
Less than 500 total minutes as a pro. Pomykal should be a USL darling. That USL League One team in Dallas can’t come soon enough.