24 Under 24

Wiebe: Six MLS game-changers barely too old for 2017's 24 Under 24

24 Under 24 isn’t forever. At some point, players age out.

To qualify for this year’s list, which you can find here, players had to be 23 years old or younger as of October 22, the final day of the 2017 regular season. And while 23 may not be particularly young on the international stage, there’s something to be said for the fact that this year’s list is, in my opinion, the most talented and productive yet.

That combination of promise and production, from 16-year-old Alphonso Davies all the way up to 23-year-old Miguel Almiron, says something about MLS. Namely, thanks to the academy system and a shift in transfer philosophy, there are more players in this league ready to be difference makers well before they hit their mid-20s. Many are even doing the business as teenagers.

That brings us to the players who just missed the cut thanks to a couple months. No, these six weren’t eligible for this year’s 24 Under 24 list, but they are entering their respective primes in the league we all watch every single weekend. They aren’t “young” anymore, but it’s still reasonable to expect they’ll get even better week by week, month by month and year by year. That's exciting, and it's a big reason why it's so fun to follow this league.

I’ve ordered the players below by birth date, closer to the cutoff come first. Feel free to banter in the comments section below.

Yordy Reyna (Vancouver Whitecaps)

  • Age: 24
  • DOB: 9/16/1993
  • 2017 stats: 15 GP (9 GS), 5 G and 3 A

Guess whose return from injury sparked the Whitecaps’ run to first place in the Western Conference? Reyna is best hovering behind a striker with freedom to find gaps, and his direct, pacey style of play certainly matches Carl Robinson’s shift to a counter-attacking style. He's only going to get better, and there's no telling what he'll do in a full season come 2018. Now, how about an international call-up, Peru?

Anthony Jackson-Hamel (Montreal Impact)

  • Age: 24
  • DOB: 8/02/1993
  • 2017 stats: 19 GP (10 GS), 9 G and 4 A

Didier Drogba and Matteo Mancosu forced Jackson-Hamel to wait patiently for his chance to shine, but the Homegrown forward has gone from super sub to starting the Impact’s last five games in 2017 after banging in goals off the bench. I’m just going to leave this here…

Matt Polster (Chicago Fire)

  • Age: 24
  • DOB: 6/08/1993
  • 2017 stats: 19 GP (18 GS), 1 G and 7 A

We thought Polster was a central midfielder, but then the Fire went out and signed Dax McCarty, Juninho and Bastian Schweinsteiger. Turns out the move to right back might have been the best thing for the former first-round SuperDraft pick. His skills (awareness, range of passing, comfort on the ball, better-than-advertised athleticism) allowed him to transition into one of MLS’s best attacking right backs. It’s no surprise the Fire have gone 11-4-3 with Polster in the XI.

Josef Martinez (Atlanta United)

  • Age: 24
  • DOB: 5/19/1993
  • 2017 stats: 17 GP (14 GS), 18 G and 1 A

What more is there to say about Martinez, who is threatening to win the Golden Boot with just 1,282 minutes spent on the field this season? His goal-per-90 numbers (1.26)  blow away all comers, and that's with the 24-year-old being somewhat wasteful in front of net in Atlanta’s past two games. The next step for the diminutive but powerful forward is to earn a consistent starting place with Venezuela. That won’t be easy with Salomon Rondon in front of him and captaining the team, but Martinez appears to be the future forward for La Vinotinto.

Walker Zimmerman (FC Dallas)

  • Age: 24
  • DOB: 5/19/1993
  • 2017 stats: 21 GP (18 GS), 1 G and 1 A

It’s been a tough year for Zimmerman and FC Dallas, with injuries hampering the campaign of one of the best young centerback in MLS. He’s big, athletic, reads the game well and has proved a perfect partner for Matt Hedges. Somewhat inevitably, rumors of Bundesliga interest followed Zimmerman’s coming-out-party in 2016. Now, can he rebound from a frustrating follow-up campaign and push his way into the USMNT after the 2018 World Cup?

Diego Rubio (Sporting Kansas City)

  • Age: 24
  • DOB: 5/15/1993
  • 2017 stats: 11 GP (7 GS), 5 G and 2 A

“How is Sporting Kansas City going to replace Dom Dwyer?” That was the refrain following the blockbuster trade that sent the newly-minted USMNT forward to Orlando this summer. Well, Rubio’s gone a long way to answering that question, averaging almost a goal every 90 minutes he’s seen the field since returning from torn ACL. He’s rugged, holds the ball up well and makes hard, determined runs. He was the insurance policy that allowed Peter Vermes to rake in TAM and GAM for Dwyer.

ExtraTime Radio Podcast

Wiebe: Six MLS game-changers barely too old for 2017's 24 Under 24 -

LISTEN: It's Wednesday night and there are eight games on MLS LIVE ... that's what the ExtraTime boys call heaven. Andrew, David and Matt banter through a wild slate of games, then talk 24 Under 24 Top 10 before US U-20 coach and US youth technical director Tab Ramos joins to add his expertise (38:07). Subscribe now and "Like" our Facebook page so you never miss a show! Download this episode!