22 Under 22 - 2018 Rankings

Evaluation criteria and voting panel  |  Fan vote results

Born in Ghana, Jones arrived in the US when he was 14 years old and joined the Union academy when he was 16. The midfielder would go on to receive a call-up to the US Under-20 national team and eventually appear in four matches at the 2017 U-20 World Cup, where the US advanced the quarterfinals. Jones has been a consistent presence for Bethlehem Steel in USL, the Union's affiliate, and has come on strong in MLS play during the second half of the 2018 season. Expect him to compete for a starting role in 2019. Full stats and highlights

Seemingly out of nowhere McKenzie was able to come in and contribute to the Union's first team shortly after signing his first professional contract prior to the season. The Homegrown center back played one season at Wake Forest and his partnership with Auston Trusty could develop into one of the best MLS has seen, as the 19-year-old has shown some special abilities defending on the ball. He's also shown his leadership abilities with the US U-20s as a full-time starter who typically captains the side. Full stats and highlights

The Charlotte, N.C. native came into 2018 knowing the playing time would be at a premium, with US international Graham Zusi at right back and a cadre of players competing for time at left back. Nonetheless, the 18-year-old product of Sporting's academy was able to start six matches at left back despite being a natural right back. Like all young players Lindsey has room for improvement, but has already flashed moments of brilliance in the few chances he's gotten, and is expected to play a major role this autumn as the US U-20s attempt to defend their regional crown. Full stats and highlights

Swag. That's what Carleton has in spades. One of the most distinct prospects to come through the U.S. Soccer system in recent history, Carleton – an Atlanta United Homegrown playmaker – was an integral part of the US U-17 World Cup team last year, scoring two goals in five matches and hitting countless visionary passes to split open opposing backlines. While he's played sparingly in MLS, he's been productive in limited minutes, is expected to be the creative force for the US U-20s, and the 18-year-old is likely to break through with the first team next season. Full stats and highlights

Hailed as the replacement for 2016 Best XI playmaker Mauro Diaz, Aranguiz is still finding his way after signing with Dallas in July. The 21-year-old was named the U-20 player of the Year in Chile after just one year of full-time action before making his move to the US and could have been higher on this list if voters were able to see him more in action. In the few minutes he has played, El Principito has flashed a quality first touch and the ability to make the defense-splitting passes that can unbalance defense and lead to goals. Full stats and highlights

For a player who has yet to play first team minute, Alvarez has made about as much noise as any 16-year-old could imagine. The LA native has been the talk of US and Mexican soccer over the past few months, as the two federations fight over the future of the dazzling midfielder. Groomed by in the Galaxy academy, Alvarez has grown into a player who is capable of scoring goals with his deadly left foot — as evidenced by his 12 tallies in USL this season — and playing the inch-perfect pass over the top of a defense to a sprinting teammate. While he is still has some maturing to do physically, his technical ability is off the charts and whatever country he decides to play for as a full international will surely be thanking him for his choice for years to come. Full stats and highlights

Among the big names signed by LAFC, Atuesta's arrival on loan from Independiente de Medellin largely went under the radar just before the season began. Touted as a defensive midfielder, the Colombia U-20 product isn't actually a pure “destroyer” in Bob Bradley's lineup, instead balancing a two-way role while still doing much of the dirty work for his teammates. Most notably, at 21 Atuesta has shown a growing consistency in his debut MLS season, avoiding the major errors that keep many young players on the bench. On top of that, his steady play, which includes a goal and two assists to date in MLS, has helped keep him a regular presence in the lineup, ahead of players with far more experience or a bigger price tag. Full stats and highlights

Lennon was developed through RSL's Arizona academy as an attacking player and his standout performances, including 31 goals on the club's Under-18 team, led to a move to Liverpool in 2015. After a couple seasons in the English Premier League club's academy, the 21-year-old was loaned back to RSL for the 2017 season. He did a serviceable job as a winger in Mike Petke's system — playing 1,525 minutes while registering three goals and four assists — but with Joao Plata and Jefferson Savarino on the roster, the technical staff decided to move Lennon to right back this season. This move could prove to be one that ignites his career as the skills he accrued as an attacker will set himself apart among fullbacks, especially with the way they are being used in the modern game. Full stats and highlights

Lots of young players have the technical or physical skills; few have the game presence and awareness. Can they get into the right spots and find the ball enough to influence the game? For Durkin, a D.C. United Homegrown, the answer is yes. He's stepped into the most complicated spot on the field, defensive midfield, and looked like he's been doing it for years. He's the rare teenager whose mind might be ahead of his feet. And those feet, particularly his ability to pass, have USMNT potential – as he's shown with the U-17s, and will be showing with the U-20s this autumn. About the only limitation is his ability to win the ball in those life-or-death moments, which is something that will hopefully come with time. Full stats and highlights

In one of the most inauspicious starts to an MLS career, Horta played an ill-advised backpass to his goalkeeper in LAFC's second match against the LA Galaxy this season. The pass led to an equalizer for LAFC's rival, but the Portuguese midfielder will be sure to not let that be the lasting memory of his MLS career. His arrival in the US was much ballyhooed, as a rare young player from Europe signed to a Designated Player. The club paid a reported $7 million transfer free for the March midfielder of the month in Liga Portugal, who has been a regular fixture in Portugal's youth setup. While he's still adjusting to the MLS game, the box-to-box midfielder will surely start to control matches with his passing ability and long-distance shooting. Full stats and highlights

A product of the same Newell's Old Boys academy in Rosario, Argentina that helped produced Lionel Messi, Gabriel Batistuta and Maxi Rodriguez, Valenzuela arrived in Columbus as a Young Designated Player before the season with immediate expectations to be the starting left back for Gregg Berhalter's club. With Jukka Raitala and Waylon Francis no longer suiting up for Crew SC, Valenzuela was afforded no extra time to learn Berhalter's system, which demands a lot from fullbacks. The Argentinian youth international did not disappoint. Though Valenzuela displays a valued, disciplined approach in 1v1 defending, it's his modern-attacking mentality that's drawn plaudits form league observers in 2018. Valenzuela not only beats isolated defenders on the flanks and in the corners, but also serves consistently lethal crosses to Columbus' attacking corps. Full stats and highlights

The Ghanaian was unheralded signing for Sporting KC prior to the 2017 season. The diminutive attacker was named the 2016 Ghana Premier League player of the year and came to the US to learn under Peter Vermes. He started 16 games for SKC in 2017 but really stood out as the team made a run to the U.S. Open title, as Blessing scored three goals including the opener in the final. He was selected by LAFC in the expansion draft, and has been a useful piece for Bob Bradley as a change of pace option. The 5-foot-7 forward has blazing speed and the shiftiness needed to make any defender stumble in a 1v1 situation. Full stats and highlights

As one league executive described Trusty: “He reads the game well, he’s super athletic, he can pass out of the back, and he’s left footed. How many of those guys are there in the world?” It’s true; that combination tends to be a rare commodity in the world market. And it’s easy to forget that it’s only the first year Trusty’s been a first-team regular. He got his first start in March and has played every minute since, anchoring Philly’s defense into a playoff position and an Open Cup final appearance. For as good as he’s been this year, it’s probably just the start, and a bright, shining light on what Philly’s academy is capable of producing for both club and country. Full stats and highlights

Another product of the RSL Academy, Glad wasn’t supposed to be starting MLS games as a too-skinny 18-year-old prospect, but when injuries opened the door Glad walked through it and took his chance. That was three years ago, and in the past 36 months he has established himself as one of the better CBs in the league, a regular with US youth national teams and a centerpiece of the new RSL era. His speed puts out fires and makes up for mistakes – his own and his teammates’ – and his distribution is, at times, a real weapon. He still needs to add strength (he can be ragdolled by bigger center forwards) and has yet to make the leap to best XI caliber that his talent level suggest is his ceiling, but few CBs in league history have done as much by age 21 as Glad has. Full stats and highlights

The 21-year-old attacker has been a known quantity in his home country of Paraguay since he made his pro debut with Libertad, his childhood club, at just age 15. As he climbed the ranks professionally – eventually becoming both a starter and a star – he became a mainstay with the Paraguayan youth national teams as an attacking focal point first for the U-17s and then for the U-20s before earning his first full national team cap in 2017. He’s continued that trend with NYCFC, posting solid boxscore numbers of 6g/7a through 1900 minutes in his maiden MLS voyage, the vast majority of it spent on the wing. If you want to know what makes him special, check out his ability to connect attacking passes while on the run. Full stats and highlights

Before signing as FC Dallas’ 18th Homegrown Player in December 2016, Cannon had already won back-to-back national championships with the FC Dallas Academy and enjoyed a season of successful play at college powerhouse UCLA. Cannon’s first season as a professional was far less eventful. He appeared in only one regular season match in 2017 — an unceremonious, one-minute cameo against the New York Red Bulls. In the offseason, Dallas elected not to renew starting Hernan Grana’s loan for 2018, who was the starting right back in 2017. With a sudden vacancy at right back, it was Cannon’s turn to burst onto the scene. In just his first season as a regular in Oscar Pareja’s plans, the 20-year-old became a mainstay on the backline. Not only does Cannon contribute to Dallas’ potent counterattack with clever overlaps and inverted runs, he’s also improved Dallas’ defensive performance during their return to the top of the Western Conference standings. His play has earned him a call-up to the US men’s national team for the first time during the October FIFA window. Full stats and highlights

The hope in Atlanta will be that the best is yet to come from the league’s record signing. They spent $15 million last offseason on the then-18-year-old winger, who had starred with Independiente en route to the Buenos Aires club’s second ever Copa Sudamericana title, which included a huge, clutch penalty conversion in the second leg of the final against Flamengo. His adjustment to MLS hasn’t been seamless, though, as he’s struggled to build chemistry with his teammates and his final third impact has been pedestrian. His ball security, though – he rarely commits bad turnovers – has made him a useful piece, and one that the Five Stripes will presumably build around in the years to come. Full stats and highlights

There’s a rare trait among attackers, and it’s probably the best compliment one could give: When he or she gets the ball, you get a rush of excitement – anything could happen. Savarino, a 21-year-old Venezuelan international, has it. He can accelerate past almost anyone in the league; he can stop on a dime; he can cut right or left; he can play inch-perfect passes; and he can hit crazy curlers into the back of the net. He’s nearly impossible to defend, and it makes him amazing to watch. It’s particularly entertaining when he plays a pass forward, then uses his quickness and center of gravity to squiggle through defenders and pick up the layoff before driving the game forward again. Full stats and highlights

NYCFC’s record this year when Herrera played 75+ minutes: 7-1-3, +10 goal differential. NYCFC’s record in all other games: 8-8-5, +4 GD. It’s always at least a little bit dangerous to buy in complete to the correlation/causality argument for on/off splits, but in this case the numbers match the eye test. Herrera is a monster in central midfield, covering more ground than almost anyone, winning a ton of duels, and bringing more than his fair share of skill to the game as well. He captained the Venezuelan U-20 team that finished runners up at the 2017 U-20 World Cup, and was awarded the tournament’s Bronze Ball for his play (and yeah, he ate Tyler Adams up when they played head-to-head). The Pigeons have simply not been able to replace him this season. Full stats and highlights

The 20-year-old attacker was one of LAFC’s first big signings, inking a DP deal in December of 2017 after starring at Peñarol – Uruguay’s biggest club – and for the Uruguayan youth national teams. Rossi has evolved from a true forward in his youth days to more of a winger in the early stages of his profession career, and that evolution has been impressive: 10g/8a by the end of September with LAFC, which is second on the team in each category. He’s at his best on the break, running off of a playmaker and using his blinding pace. That said, his work in combination play has continued to improve throughout the season, and he drove that point home with a stunning finish against the Fire on September 29. Full stats and highlights

In most years Adams would be the easy pick for No. 1 on this list. The 19-year-old was a best XI-caliber player at right wingback for last year’s excellent RBNY team, and has followed that up by being a best XI-caliber defensive midfielder for this year’s even better RBNY team, repeatedly coming up clutch in big games on both sides of the ball for his club. He’s also made himself a regular for his country already, and the only debate is where to best use him (No. 6? No. 8? RB?), though if he continues to play like this as a true No. 6, that debate’s pretty much over. It’s the hardest and most important position on the field and Adams – who got his start in the RBNY Academy as a 12-year-old – has adapted to it like a seasoned veteran as his skills in distribution and reading of the game have improved. And his field coverage is almost possible to believe, as he eats up ground like few other d-mids in MLS history. Some of Europe’s biggest clubs have noticed. Full stats and highlights

If there is a blueprint for what every single academy in the world looks for, Davies is it. Soft, quick feet, head always on a pivot, technique that’s built for go not show, the first touch of a pillow and courage to make a game-changing play. Combine all of that with elite physical attributes – his first step and top-end pace are otherworldly – and Davies was a can’t-miss kid. And, of course, he didn’t miss, evolving from a 15-year-old with tons of talent to a 16-year-old who makes solid contributions to a 17-year-old All-Star winger who’ll be headed to one of the world’s greatest clubs on a record transfer fee this winter. He is the best prospect ever produced by an MLS academy, and the trail he’s blazed has been noted literally throughout the soccer world. Full stats and highlights

Evaluation criteria and voting panel  |  Fan vote results

Series: