Having a team laden with youthful talent might not make one a contender in the present, but it does offer a sunny view to the club's future.
Which MLS teams have the top young cores right now? That's what we have attempted to sort out using a nebulous formula where rules are made to be broken. For instance, players had to be under 25 today to be considered as a young core asset — except for goalkeepers, who often hit later primes.
Primary weight was given to players who contribute now, above guys just breaking through, above prime prospects. Depth of young player pool broke ties. Perhaps most importantly, players most likely to head abroad will only count so much, no matter how good they are. Brenden Aaronson is amazing, but he won't be in Philly's core much longer.
Before we start the countdown, let's salute the "near miss" honorable mentions: New England, Philadelphia, Portland and Vancouver.
10. Montreal Impact
Setting aside the soon-departing Luis Binks, the Impact could conceivably fill more than half a starting XI with developing core guys when everybody's fit. Fresh catch Mason Toye can patrol for goals with Ballou Tabla, Lassi Lappalainenand and Orji Okwonkwo setting the table for him. Zachary Brault-Guillard has star quality at right back, while Shamit Shome could be a late bloomer for the engine room. Netminder Clement Diop is actually 26, but that's still pretty young for a 'keeper, so I'm granting him an exception inclusion.
9. LA Galaxy
Cristian Pavon passes the age requirement, but not knowing if he'll still be in Carson next year obviously diminishes his impact in the ranking. Julian Araujo and Efrain Alvarez certainly will be around and look like real keepers. The long "bubbling under" prospects list scores strong bonus points thanks to Mauricio Cuevas, Cameron Dunbar, Jonathan Klinsmann, Diedie Traore, and the one I'm most excited about, Jonathan Perez.
8. Atlanta United
As with a few other players, Ezequiel Barco only counts for so much because he'll be sold at some point. He's not the only young regular at the Mercedes-Benz. George Bello, Miles Robinson and Brooks Lennon nearly comprise a full back line for the future, while Mo Adams and Emerson Hyndman have exhibited midfield value. Erik Lopez and Tyler Wolff are teen attackers to watch, George Campbell has the same lure at the back. And don't forget the Five Stripes will also get Lagos Kunga and Andrew Carleton back from loans.
7. New York City FC
The Bronx Bombers might have actually landed higher at the start of the year, but Valentin Castellanos has struggled beyond belief and Keaton Parks would probably rather have Alex Ring playing behind him. Still, Jesus Medina has finally shown some life and James Sands is already a dependable worker bee at 20. I won't count Joe Scally (as he's about to be off to 'Gladbach), but Nicolas Acevedo and Tayvon Gray are also in the talent pipeline.
6. New York Red Bulls
This ranking could look either a bit low or too high a few years from now. Cristian Casseres, Kyle Duncan and Brian White have shown they belong at this level, but many of the Red Bulls' points here come from a depth of prospects expected to grow into regulars. Omir Fernandez, Jason Pendant and Dru Yearwood are getting the chance to cement playing time. Kenan Hot and John Tolkin should get there one day, and nobody should sleep on Mathias Jorgensen and Ben Mines.
5. Colorado Rapids
Jonathan Lewis and Andre Shinyashiki have already broken through to some extent, and Cole Bassett may well be doing it right now. Auston Trusty and Sam Vines have a lot of back line experience for Olympic-age players. Teens hotshots Sebastian Anderson and Braian Galvan could one day work in tandem on the Rapids right side.
4. Columbus Crew SC
Taken overall, the Crew have the fourth-oldest squad in the league. That doesn't prevent them from having plenty of important cogs for the future. Artur is still just 24. Milton Valenzuela and Aboubacar Keita could hold down half the back line for a while. Luis Diaz and Derrick Etienne are speedy drink stirrers for the attack. Beyond them, Sebastian Berhalter, Aidan Morris and Chris Cadden have started contributing.
3. Orlando City SC
The Lions land high almost entirely on current contributors who have plenty of room to grow. Chris Mueller, Darryl Dike and Benji Michel constitute a full, respectable front line, especially with Jhegson Mendez and Andres Perea doing the midfield dirty work behind them. Joao Moutinho and Kamal Miller could provide Orlando City with bookend fullbacks for years.
2. FC Dallas
Paxton Pomykal, Brandon Servania and Tanner Tessmann would make for a perfectly reasonable FC Dallas starting midfield now. Bryan Reynolds looks a worthy successor to Reggie Cannon, while Jesus Ferreira and Ricardo Pepi are already scoring MLS goals. That's more than half a lineup, and we haven't even gotten to the huge potential of prospects like Justin Che, Edwin Cerrillo and Dante Sealy.
Even with Diego Rossi sure to leave before long, and Eduard Atuesta and Brian Rodriguez probably not terribly far behind, LAFC are stacked for the future. It may be easy to forget, but Latif Blessing and Eddie Segura are still young aces. Jose Cifuentes, Francisco Ginella, Diego Palacios are busy trying to grab regular roles for the first time, while teens Bryce Duke and Antonio Leone have star potential.