The US Under-17 men’s national team begins its World Cup quest this Friday.
A tough set of games await the US in Group A, with India, Colombia and Ghana on the docket. Despite that, expectations are high around a team that’s shown the ability to play exciting, attacking soccer over the past year-and-a-half.
Head coach John Hackworth revealed the US roster on Sept. 21 for the upcoming tournament, with 12 of the 21 players tied to MLS academies.
Here’s the rundown of the MLS products that will be on display over the next few weeks in India:
Justin Garces (Goalkeeper, Atlanta United FC)
Scouting Report: The former Weston FC netminder is slated to join Atlanta United FC’s U-19 side after the World Cup. A seasoned player for the US, he’s steady between the posts and has the size (listed at just under 6-foot-3) to cover his net well despite his age.
MLS Doppelganger: His play in goal is more focused on being reliable than pulling off several stunning saves in a row. Good with his feet as well, there are a lot of similarities between Garces and D.C. United backup Steve Clark.
Jaylin Lindsey (Right back, Sporting KC)
Scouting Report: One of the latest Homegrown signings for Sporting, Lindsey’s a tremendous prospect. A right back that can bomb forward with regularity, ensuring he picks his moments will be critical both at the World Cup and as he develops as a professional. The tools are there for a defender that can contribute sooner rather than later in MLS.
MLS Doppelganger: Think of Steven Beitashour, but with perhaps a touch more athleticism and dynamism going forward.
James Sands (Center back, New York City FC)
Scouting Report: After making inroads with NYCFC in the preseason, Sands (pictured above) signed a Homegrown deal with the club this summer. Smooth on the ball and the team’s outlet at the back, Sands will be a starter in central defense. He’ll need to be consistent defensively and limit his mistakes competing out of position.
MLS Doppelganger: Sands projects as a defensive midfielder but will play in central defense at the World Cup. He’s a bit like Dax McCarty with his ability to connect play, perhaps with a bit more of a defensive edge.
Tyler Shaver (Center back, New York City FC)
Scouting Report: Drafted into the US U-17 squad after recovering from a PCL injury, Shaver (above, left) is a new addition to the NYCFC Academy after competing at Beachside SC. A defender that likes to sit deep and look to snuff out fires, he can get caught ball-watching at times.
MLS Doppelganger: You can spot some parallels between Shaver and Drew Moor. Neither relies solely on their size, but both read the game well and put themselves in the right spots to intervene defensively.
Chris Gloster (Left back, New York Red Bulls)
Scouting Report: The Red Bulls Academy product is a perfect complement to Lindsey on the left side. He can get up and down the flanks with ease, but like his teammate has to pick his time to get forward in order to ensure that the US defense doesn’t get exposed.
Akil Watts (Right/left back, Portland Timbers)
Scouting Report: Joining the Timbers Academy for the 2017-18 season, Watts is an exciting, dynamic player that can play as an outside back or in the midfield. He’s primarily featured on the right side for the US, and is likely to serve as a backup to Lindsey and Gloster on both flanks. In the one game he’s played for Portland’s U19 team, Watts scored a brace in a 2-1 win over Real Salt Lake.
MLS Doppelganger: It’s only fair to link Watts with his fellow Fort Wayne, Indiana native DaMarcus Beasley. Like the US international, Watts also possesses the ability to play in midfield or as an outside back.
Chris Durkin (Defender / midfielder, D.C. United)
Scouting Report: Durkin has played as both a holding midfielder and in central defense for the US U17s; with Arturo Vasquez suffering an injury this summer, he is a prime candidate to reprise his role at the back. Durkin is very comfortable with possession and switching the point of attack. Keeping up with athletic attackers is the only knock on his game at this early stage of his career.
MLS Doppelganger: Real Salt Lake great Kyle Beckerman comes to mind when looking at Durkin, as the D.C. youngster projects more as a No. 6 rather than a center back.
Taylor Booth (Midfielder, Real Salt Lake)
Scouting Report: A midfielder that can feature as either a box-to-box guy or in a deeper position, the RSL man is versatile enough to spell any of the three central midfield spots. Booth’s soft feet help him maintain possession, and he’s shown that he can spring the attack with a good passing range.
MLS Doppelganger: It’s clearly a stretch at this point in his career, but a lot of Booth’s game is like TFC midfielder Michael Bradley, between the calmness on the ball and ability to pick a pass in the right moment.
Chris Goslin (Midfielder, Atlanta United FC)
Scouting Report: Like Booth, Goslin is a versatile player in the center of the park that can cover plenty of ground. He’s been deployed in a pressing No. 10 role, and can burst forward into the box to offer an option for his teammates. Being on point defensively is one of the keys for the Homegrown to enjoy a successful World Cup, as he’s in contention to start in central midfield.
MLS Doppelganger: Even if his defensive ability needs to be sharpened, there are some parallels between what Alejandro Bedoya does on the field and what Goslin shows with the US and playing for Atlanta’s academy.
Andrew Carleton (Forward, Atlanta United FC)
Scouting Report: Outside of Josh Sargent, Carleton (pictured above) has garnered the most attention amongst the US players. Capable of dazzling with his ability to beat defenders on the dribble and make smart passing decisions, Carleton’s willingness to play a bit simpler could be a big asset in India.
MLS Doppelganger: While several of his talented Atlanta teammates come to mind, Carleton could end up as an Ignacio Piatti-type attacking player, providing a creative presence and goal scoring from wide areas.
Bryan Reynolds (Forward, FC Dallas)
Scouting Report: The youngest Homegrown signing in FCD’s lengthy history of bringing up players from its academy, Reynolds will be competing for minutes in India off the bench. The tall, lengthy No. 9 serves is the primary backup to Josh Sargent and can ghost in behind defenses to provide a finishing touch. Consistency in front of goal for Reynolds could dictate what kind of playing time he’ll receive.
MLS Doppelganger: There’s a touch of Fanendo Adi around Reynolds, although the 16-year-old looks like he’ll be more of a run-in-behind type as opposed to a hold-up, classic No. 9.
Ayo Akinola (Forward, Toronto FC)
Scouting Report: Carleton and Sargent have garnered most of the headlines for the US attack, though Ontario native Akinola has done his share in the final third. Akinola is a direct and dynamic player, that looks to combine with his teammates to find space in behind. He’s consistently shown the ability to be effective at this age group, whether scoring goals or creating them.
MLS Doppelganger: The way Akinola has shown that he can wreak havoc against opposing defenders with his pace and athleticism brings David Accam to mind.
Trio of MLS Academy players to feature for Honduras, India
While the bulk of MLS Academy-based players will feature for the United States, both Honduras and India feature players with ties to North America programs.
Honduras called up two players from the Atlanta United Academy for its roster. Midfielder Alessandro Castro, a member of the Under-16 Development Academy champion side this past summer, will suit up alongside defender Alexander Bahr.
Host side India scoured the globe for eligible talent, and found one at the Toronto FC academy. Goalkeeper Sunny Dhaliwal will compete for a chance to start in goal for the host nation, which open up against the United States. The TFC product brings impressive size for his age, as he stands at 6-foot-5 and can cover the bulk of the goal. He’s certainly committed to the cause, because according to media reports, he had to surrender his Canadian passport to expedite his eligibility for India’s U-17s.