On Thursday, we ranked the players that finished 2018 as the revelations of the year. Today, we'll shift that gaze forward by consulting the crystal ball to identify who will come into their own next season.
This year, Sporting KC had not one, not two, but three precocious youngsters that were able to impress a little bit while getting their MLS feet wet. And while each remains behind a veteran hand on the depth chart, the countdown clocks for their respective breakouts has started ticking.
The one I'm most excited about is Lindsey, a teen right back who showed that his two-way game still can have impact when he's filling in on his off flank. Kuzain got a few midfield starts and proved he's quite capable of safely shuttling the ball through central park. Busio, the youngest of the trio at 16, merely punctuated his first pro start with what may have been the prettiest SKC assist of the year (above) to tee up a late road winner.
Though Tyler Adams is headed out the door to chase a Champions League berth with RB Leipzig, there is another Red Bulls midfield hotshot waiting in the wings to take up his spot.
The 18-year-old Casseres made his MLS debut with an August start so solid, the Red Bulls were quick to hail his ground-covering, opponent shackling, second-ball hoovering antics in defensive midfield. Sound familiar?
It's very possible that no Dallas player stands to gain as much from former academy director Luchi Gonzalez's promotion to head coach as Pomykal. After making a dozen stray first team appearances over the past two years, the 19-year-old will now be expected to contribute offense.
The gifted Pomykal can do that from any of the three attacking midfield slots, as he ably demonstrated by notching three goals and seven helpers in eight games during the US Under-20's recent Concacaf Championship title run.
During the spring, it was beginning to look like 2018 would be the breakout campaign for the elusive winger. Bwana drew raves after his Seattle bow in a CCL win over eventual champs Chivas, and then continued earning praise with some early season MLS starts.
Just a few weeks after opening his Sounders account with a winner away to MLS Cup holders Toronto, Bwana suffered a foot injury that kept him out until the fall. Now, the dangling dribbler who beat a defender every 26 minutes as a rookie is back for another chance to establish himself in MLS.
After his impressive first start in their August win over Minnesota, the hope around FCD was that the Chile youth international could quickly fill the big shoes of departed attack quarterback Mauro Diaz. That didn't happen (no great shock, really), and Aranguiz was mostly relegated to spot sub duty down the stretch.
A little bit wiser after his initial MLS indoctrination, Aranguiz once again has an open starting job to chase and a new head coach dedicated to blooming young talent. He can dribble past defenders, pass through the eye of a needle and now he's gotten the lay of the MLS land.
Is it just me, or does anyone feel that LAFC got rid of Moutinho far too quickly? Last year's top SuperDraft pick did have some hiccups during his rookie campaign, but he also put in a handful of encouraging shifts.
Blessed with a stocked skills tool belt and tactical smarts, Moutinho could prove to be a steal for Orlando in the long run. They just have to decide whether to use the versatile youngster at left back, center back or defensive midfield.
There's a couple things you should know about new Atlanta United boss Frank de Boer: he plays kids and he rests stars when his side races out to a big lead.
I'd imagine all of this sounds like sweet music to local prodigy Carleton, who was limited to 165 league minutes over two seasons while his teammates packed stadiums, broke records and eventually claimed the MLS crown over the past two years. He's got the unique vision to create exciting plays and the technical skills to actually pull them off.
The playmaker was starting games for the excellent 2017 Chicago Fire team mere months after his high school graduation, but that rookie progress was cut short by a serious knee injury. Many players need several months to get back to their best upon returning from such a setback, but not Mihailovic.
The 20-year-old started eight of the Fire's last nine 2018 matches, shining along the way with a Goal of the Week-winning stunner and three assists. Consider it a delayed sneak preview, with the full-length feature slated to roll next year.
2) Andre Horta
Let's be blunt: The LAFC midfielder did not have the happiest of debut campaigns. Horta committed that monster "Oops!" against the archrival Galaxy on his debut, and then continued having giveaway troubles throughout his 11 season outings.
Don't be fooled by his initial struggles. Horta is a supremely talented passer that was named the Portuguese top flight Midfielder of the Month this past March. And With Benny Feilhaber gone, there's a big role open in Bob Bradley's engine room.
1) Jesus Medina
Why is a guy who logged six goals and seven assists in 2018 on this list? Consider it a prime case of "blow-upus interruptus" (please forgive my use of ultra-scientific, Latin language terms in a soccer bit).
Ya see, Medina was just heating up with four goals in six games when he went down with a hamstring injury in August. While certainly not the sole cause, his sidelining coincided with NYCFC's slump toward the postseason. If he can leave such bad luck in the rear view mirror, don't be at all surprised if the crafty 21-year-old surpasses double figures in goals and assists in 2019.