Bundesliga A list long overdue: The best young players under...

A list long overdue: The best young players under the age of 23 (2015/16 edition)

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Before you do anything, let us tell you that it was worth building up the suspense. Although we must tell you this as well—we’ve left the most suspenseful league in the world out of the picture. No worries, though. We’ve accumulated a list of the best young players from all over the world, for your consumption. Here it goes:

South America:

  • Alisson, GK (Internacional de Porto Alegre), 23 years old – While Brazil hasn’t got this great history of developing world-class goalies, they have been concerned of doing it in recent years, and even though Alisson is not yet a world-class keeper, Brazilians still maintain hope that he becomes one. At 6’4″, he’s very imposing and reliable, which is shown by the over 100 matches he has played for his team in the last three years. He is also a regular for the Brazilian national team, although he is second-choice at the time.
  • Emanuel Mammana, DF (River Plate), 20 years old – While still very young, he’s gotten lots of experience with the youth teams of Argentina, having played for the U-15, U-17 and U-20. He also played his first match with Argentina before he even made his debut for River Plate, which is a testament to his potential. A 6 ft. tall central defender, he is regularly part of the first eleven, even though Gabriel Mercado, Jonathan Maidana, and Éder Álvarez Balanta are part of the team, and they are all going to play in the upcoming Copa América Centenario.
  • Benjamín Kuscevic, DF (Universidad Católica), 20 years old – With only five games under his belt, has nevertheless impressed due to his aerial prowess, and being composed to lead Universidad Católica’s defense during their title quest. Being 6’1″, he has been touted to be called up to the national team shortly, as Chile’s back four are lacking in height. He spent a year on loan with Real Madrid B, who were duly impressed, but chose not to renew the loan.
  • Adrián Cubas, MF (Boca Juniors), 20 years old – At a smallish 5’4″, he is considered as the natural heir to Javier Mascherano, a ball-winning specialist playing as a defensive midfielder. He has been part of Boca Juniors’ first team since 2014, and were it not for injury, he should be part of a major team in Europe. A very important tactical trait is that he can thrive playing by himself or in tandem with another central midfielder, which comes in handy whenever his coach wants to change things during a match.
  • Giorgian de Arrascaeta, MF (Cruzeiro), 21 years old – A meteoric career has made de Arrascaeta one of the starlets of Uruguay. 5’8″, he started playing for Defensor Sporting in his country, and was later sold to Cruzeiro (Brazil), not being 20 yet. An offensive midfielder, he has scored 23 goals in less than a hundred official matches. Played the U-20 World Cup in 2013 at such a high level that it was a matter of time before he was called up to the senior team, which he was in 2014. His manager handed him a start in last year’s Copa América, and he appears to be part of Uruguay’s future.
  • Jeisson Vargas, MF (Universidad Católica), 18 years old – At 5’3″, he’s seen as the next big star from Chile, He was called up to the national team for the fixtures against Argentina and Venezuela, although he failed to log minutes in any of the matches. A free kick specialist, his long range efforts are usually on target, creating a lot of scoring chances. Plays as a left midfielder in a 4-2-3-1 formation, effectively operating as a winger who cuts inside to take advantage of his powerful right foot. Can be compared to Carlos Tevez, because of the slight build and strength, and with Alexis Sánchez, due to his dribbling skills. Despite his age, it has been reported that both Borussia Dortmund and Udinese are keen to add him to their squads.
  • Jonathan Calleri, FW (Sao Paulo), 22 years old – A powerful striker, he cut his teeth in All Boys (Argentina), scoring 6 goals in 28 games. Boca realized his potential, and purchased him for a pittance, to which he responded with 16 goals in 41 matches. His skills soon became apparent, and it was rumored that Inter Milan was interested, but in the end it was Sao Paulo who acquired his services, and he has repaid their faith with 12 goals in 24 games, for an 0.5 goal average per match. It shouldn’t be too long before we see him go to Europe.
  • Nicolás Castillo, FW (Universidad Católica), 23 years old – A 5’9” striker, he dazzled on his first stint at Universidad Católica (Chile), from where he rose to the first team coming through its youth ranks. From 2011 to 2014, he scored 17 goals in 52 matches, which attracted the interest of European clubs. After the 2013 U-20 World Cup, in which he found the net four times, he was sold to Club Brugge (Belgium). Even though he didn’t disappoint, he was loaned to Mainz 05 (Germany), and later to Frosinone (Italy). He came back to Universidad Católica on loan, and scored 11 times in 11 matches, helping his team win the 2016 Clausura. Although he isn’t very quick, his strength helps him overpower opposing defenders, and he has also improved in set pieces, becoming a specialist in free kicks and penalty kicks. He’s been called up to represent Chile in the Copa America Centenario, and is certain to leave Universidad Católica, his value set to be over 5 million euros.
  • Gabriel, FW (Santos), 19 years old – At 19, he is already playing for the U-23 Brazilian national team. At 16 he signed his first professional contract with a release clause of 50 million euros. At 17 he played his first match for Santos, a 0-0 draw against Flamengo. He was called up by Dunga to play in the Copa América Centenario. Nicknamed Gabigol, he boasts a great a goal a game average per match, especially with Brazil’s youth teams.

By: Ariel Topaz

And now…the Bundesliga, ladies and gentlemen!

  • GK – Timo Horn – FC Cologne and Loris Karius – FSV Mainz 05 – the 22-year-old goalkeepers for the 6th and 9th place Bundesliga teams are nearly identical in age (1 month apart) and in most statistical categories. Karius made 86 saves on the season, Horn 79, second only to Manuel Neuer, with Karius edging Horn by 9 clean sheets to 8, having conceded 42 goals to 20 in 34 games – Horn was rested in Cologne’s last match. Horn is the better distributor with a weakish 62%, to Karius’ (60%) but, comparing them to Manuel Neuer, benefitting from a bevy of great options to receive the ball from his 86% distribution, is unfair. Still, being ranked 13th and 16th in distribution percentage is worth at least a pause, even if Cologne and Mainz both primarily play a counter-attacking style that does not rely on possession. With both netminders enjoying stellar seasons for two teams valued at around 65 million Euros who struggle to score (Cologne 38 and Mainz 46 goals in 34 games respectively), Karius for 7 million, or Horn for 8 million would be terrific options. If only there existed a former Mainz manager in the Premier League, whose goalkeeper has just signed an extension despite struggling mightily. Oh wait…
  • RB – There were several promising young options for this spot based on this season alone, but neither Benjamin Henrichs of Leverkusen – a converted CAM who had to play both fullback positions and excelled, nor Nico Elvedi, another 19-year-old from Gladbach who was the star of their 3-1 win that broke Bayern’s unbeaten streak, played consistently enough to make it. The best choice is probably Mitchell Weiser, a Bayern youth product that made it to Hertha BSC on a free transfer and became a huge reason for the club’s torrid Hinrunde. Although he tends to lose possession too often and needs to improve his passing, the 22-year-old is a handful of a two-way player that causes all kinds of problems with his athleticism. It’s no surprise that his Transfermarkt value shot up from 750k from last February to 5 million at the time of this article.
  • CB1 Jonathan Tah – Bayer Leverkusen: He is another recent member of the twenty-something club, and more importantly a key reason why his team are second only to Bayern in goals allowed with 22. At 1.94 meters and 204 lbs the German U-21 international has tremendous size, and his 1 yellow card despite playing every minute this season suggests he has the discipline as well. In a comparison with top Bundesliga defenders, Joel Matip (18 million euros), Jerome Boateng (40 million), Mats Hummels (32 million), the Hamburg native comes out looking like a stud: his Squawka defensive score is higher than any of those 3, he has more interceptions and only Matip has 2 more clearances than Tah does. The one improvement he can make is in pass completion, where his 78% is a bit below par. The good news is that in the Champions League and in last year’s Bundesliga those numbers were at 83%, so at just 10 million, he would be an ideal fit for a team struggling to find a central defender, like Manchester United, but could also be a replacement for Per Mertesacker at Arsenal.
  • CB2 Niklas Süle – Hoffenheim: Süle has all the size at 6 ft 4 and 194 lbs (same as Leicester City star Robert Huth) to excel in physical battles that the Premier League is renowned for. In addition, Süle possesses good speed, excellent anticipation (2 interceptions per game) and commits under 1 foul per game (the 2nd lowest mark in the league) despite playing the full 90 minutes all 29 times. Even though he is only 20 and missed 8 months to an ACL tear from December of 2014 to July of 2015, Süle has already made over 70 appearances in the Bundesliga and is considered alongside the previously featured Jonathan Tah to be the future center back pairing of Germany. Overall, Squawka rates him as the 9th best Bundesliga defender, behind superstars like David Alaba, Philipp Lahm, Mats Hummels or the new Liverpool signing Joel Matip. He also has scored 5 goals in his career, and has been winning 69% of his duels this season. An excellent passer of the ball at 85%, he does not neglect his defensive duties with 9 defensive actions per 90 mins – 11th among all defenders in the Rückrunde. Hoffenheim have allowed the 2nd most shots in the league, and are ranked in the bottom 3 in every advanced defensive metric but concede only the 8th most goals with 44 in 29 games, or 1.5 per match. Since February 11th, the date that 28-year-old coach Julian Nagelsmann finally took over, Hoffenheim are the 3rd best team in the Bundesliga behind Dortmund and Bayern, with 17 points from just 9 games. Chelsea and Liverpool are not that far off at 1.37 per match, with the Merseyside club blogs already scouting him. UEFA.com already ran a feature on him in December and were drawing Vincent Kompany comparisons. 8 million seems like a bargain for such a rare talent.

Leaving Andreas Christensen out is heartbreaking, after the great season the 20-year-old had at Gladbach, but such is life. Chelsea fans should, however, be clamoring for his return from loan—which should happen after next season—and not for a further extension to John Terry’s contract.

  • LB – Ricardo Rodriguez of Wolfsburg is still somehow only 23 (he turns 24 in August) and despite a down year for VfL, remains one of the hottest defensive prospects in the Bundesliga. The Swiss international had his worst season with just two goals and three assists for a disappointing Wolfsburg side that was not able to overcome the Kevin De Bruyne hangover. Having said that the 23-year-old has a cannon of a left foot which have over 120 Bundesliga games of experience and are capable of being solid defenders and a threat on offense. And that simply cannot grow in trees, so clubs with some good to great left backs (Real Madrid, who of course have Marcelo and Dortmund who have the criminally underrated Marcel Schmelzer) are understandably lining up for his services. They will have to reach deep into their pockets, as Transfermarkt values him at 28 million Euros and if recent transfer periods are any indication it’s safe to double that amount. As a side-note, David Alaba of Bayern is still only 23, but he is arguably too famous and good for this list.
  • CDM – Julian Weigl is Borussia Dortmund’s and Germany’s answer to Sergio Busquets. The 20-year-old was let go from 2nd division 1860 Munich, where he was elected captain at 18, just months earlier. The genius making that decision was one Ricardo Moniz, a career journeyman of an assistant coach in the Netherlands, and for Tottenham and HSV, who managed to get fired from the Hungarian, Polish first divisions in back to back years, before Hoffenheim and Notts County sacked him after just three and six months each. The rail thin Weigl has a preternatural instinct for passing, both in terms of accuracy (he is in the 90+% range) and volume – he broke the Bundesliga record held by Xabi Alonso on the final week of the season with 214. While he can’t run a counter like Ilkay Gündogan, his intelligence on the ball and his good defensive instincts (1.6 tackles per match and 2.1 interceptions) have made letting the disgruntled Gündogan leave to Man City for 25 million Euros an easier pill to swallow for Dortmund fans. Joachim Löw taking a player who prior to this season had 0 minutes of Bundesliga experience to the Euros this summer speaks volumes about the future of Weigl. It’s safe to say that Dortmund have nabbed themselves the surprise player of the season.
  • CM -Mahmoud Dahoud – Borussia Mönchengladbach – the Syrian born playmaker has seen his value skyrocket from 600,000 Euros to a whopping 8 million since July, thanks to a breakout first Bundesliga season. Having played exactly 1 minute prior to the current campaign, Dahoud was mostly a substitute (50 minutes in 4 games) under Lucien Favre, who promptly got fired for losing the first five matches of the season. Since then, he has orchestrated the Gladbach renaissance with 5 goals and 8 assists in around 2100 minutes, as the Foals managed to finish fourth in the league despite those five losses to start the year. Despite his inexperience (turned 20 in January), he is a rare breed of a modern central midfielder, capable of winning tackles in the midfield and launching an immediate counter-attack and finding the right pass, just as he did in the buildup to the first goal of a 5-1 win over Werder Bremen. It should perhaps come as no surprise then, that he has been put on new Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola’s wish list.
  • CAM – Julian Brandt – Leverkusen – Brandt is a 19-year-old attacking wunderkind, with a 10 million Euro price tag at Leverkusen. Despite solid size at 6 ft and 181 pounds, he is a fleet of foot player and a ferocious dribbler that loves to march forward. Having mostly been used as a substitute last season and in the early parts of the 2015/16 campaign, Brandt has finally gotten an opportunity to play thanks to Leverkusen’s injuries and/or underperformance of its attacking players (Calhanoglu, Bellarabi) and has he taken advantage! He has scored 7 times in the spring, and is the club’s second leading scorer, despite ranking only 10th with 1600+ minutes played. Check out his finish to the season!

Screenshot via WhoScored.com

His goals are blurs of quick movement, sublime first touch and great technical ability often on the end of lightning fast runs from midfield. He has a keen eye for goal from direct play and set pieces (if Hakan Calhanoglu ever allows anyone else to take then) and has already developed a habit of scoring game-winning goals. His emergence might have saved Leverkusen’s season and Roger Schmidt’s job (which was very much in jeopardy after crashing out of Europe twice, going on a near 4 game losing streak and his shenanigans against Dortmund) as die Werkself took 11 points from their last 5 games – the only 5 times Brandt has played the full 90 minutes. Chelsea and Liverpool both missed out on him in 2014, and MU would also be smart to take him into consideration given their uninspiring 2015/16 campaign.

Screenshot via Transfermarkt.com

  • LW – Leroy Sané – Schalke – He has probably been linked with every single big club in the universe, with Barcelona, and the two Manchester teams being the latest suitors for the mercurial 20-year-old winger. A son of a gymnast and a football player, Sané possesses magnificent speed and virtuoso moves on the ball, and at his best can turn defenders into practice cones. He can also shoot, as Real Madrid and Iker Casillas found out in last season’s Champions League matchup. His one big weakness is a tendency to needlessly over-dribble and take on too many players, which tends to alienate his teammates and frustrate his managers. Still, when you consider the mess of coaching that Schalke have had under Di Matteo and Breitenreiter (who would switch lineups more often than most people change underwear), and that his forward options were a washed-up Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and an always awful Franco Di Santo, getting 8 goals and 6 assists in 2300 minutes is not too shabby. If this were an NBA style draft, analysts would be raving about this tremendous upside potential (sup Jay Bilas!): he can either become the next Neymar if things break right, but if he signs for the wrong team and gets some more bad coaching, he could just as well be the next Pato or Denilson.
  • RW – Kingsley Coman – Bayern – Coman was a virtually unknown French kid at Juventus when Matthias Sammer – the former Germany star who is currently sporting director at Bayern – stole him on a loan deal for 7 million. Six goals and 12 assists later (including UCL) Coman has become a household name in world football and has collected eight trophies before his 20th birthday.

Kingsley Coman’s vast number of trophies. (Photo via BBC)

  • FW – This is actually the toughest choice on the list. I’m going to let you in on a little secret: the Bundesliga has a (young) forward problem.

Screenshot of WhoScored.com

Not a single player under 26 on there, and aside from the Lewa, Auba, Müller trio you essentially have a bunch of feel-good stories of guys who have failed elsewhere (Kalou, Chicharito, Pizarro and Wagner). By the way, the next ten guys are not much better in this regard either.

Screenshot via WhoScored.com

Timo Werner of Stuttgart is the shrug emoji pick for this spot, mostly because of his potential and the lack of better options. The 20-year old did only pick up just two goals in the spring and lost his place in a Stuttgart starting eleven that was starved of forwards. In defense of his coach, the much maligned Jürgen Kramny, sitting Werner after misses like these below were entirely justified:

The good news is that he takes close to two shots per game – that ranks him 29th in the league among all players. A bunch of big clubs, mostly in the EPL have taken notice, and if he finds the right situation with a solid team around him there is a chance that he could be a star. He has a lot of all-around strengths – his passing is at 70% and he has created 22 chances on the season (same as Lewandowski). His asking price is 8-10 million and while he probably wouldn’t be ready to contribute for a top team in the EPL or LA Liga right away, he could be a solid option for a mid-table/Europa League squad.

By: vanbasten9

La Liga:

  • Denis Suárez (Villarreal) – Quick on the ball and his feet, Denis started off at Barcelona. With room to grow, he was loaned to Villarreal where he exploded. Vision, pace, and gifted with an attacking spirit, Denis is young promising prospect.
  • Aymeric Laporte (Athletic Club) – Playing for Athletic club since the age of 16, the young 22 year old is already on the fast track to being a world class defender. Known for his eye for the game, pace, and defensive stoutness,  Laporte has already caught the eye of many top clubs around the world.
  • Jesé Rodríguez (Real Madrid) – Known as a “Super Sub” for Real Madrid, defenders in La Liga are quickly learning to fear the speedy attacker known as Jesé Rodríguez. Even as young as he is, the comparisons to CR7 are already quickly being drawn.
  • Jan Oblak (Atlético Madrid) – “You shall not pass” is probably Oblak’s favorite quote. The Atlético Madrid goalkeeper conceded the least amount of goals in the 2015/16 season. Under pressure from the world’s greatest strikers, Jan Oblak’s will is simply as ironclad as his goalkeeping.

By: Eman Tankou

Italian Serie A:

Defenders:

  • Daniele Rugani – Juventus – 21 years old: The Italian centre-back is most astounding for this one statistic: he sustained no yellow cards or red during the entire campaign at Empoli before he came to Juve. He didn’t miss the campaign, either, if you thought that was the ‘catch’. In all 38 appearances, he didn’t encounter a single yellow or red card. Simply amazing.

  • Alessio Romagnoli – AC Milan – 21 years old: Maybe it speaks volumes when AC Milan pay €30 million on a young defender and critics acclaim him as their best signing of the transfer market. Romagnoli’s move was more than welcome from Milan fans, with the former Sampdoria man being heavily courted by clubs all over Europe at the time of his arrival. He’s suffered a tumultuous campaign at Milan, where to his credit, he’s looked like the most un-tumultuous character on show. The Italian still has a bright future at the heart of Italy’s defence, and he will only get better, though much of it depends on what Milan’s deranged owner decides to do.

  • Lucas Digne – AS Roma – 22 years old: We’ve seen the best of this French left-back after Spalletti took over the club; striding up and down with the uttermost aplomb that you would expect to see from a much more experienced professional. But, then again, everyone seems to be playing that way since Spalletti’s appointment. It would be a big surprise if he doesn’t continue at Roma and terminate his relations with his employers-in-name, PSG.

  • Adam Masina – Bologna – 22 years old: Masina started out playing as a striker for Bologna Primavera, the football club’s U-19 team. Barely getting some minutes on the field, the club sent him on a loan spell at Giacomense, a club in the third tier of Italian football. The then Giacomense manager, Fabio Gallo, went head over heels to try and find a spot for this youngster, and ended up playing him as a left wing-back in his 3-5-2 formation. Seeing as Masina capably did his duties, Gallo was quick to shift his position slightly once more when he moved to a rather modern 4-3-3, this time to the left-back slot. Masina established himself as one of the regulars in Gallo’s team, and thus was called back consequently to Bologna, as the club recognized his development. The Moroccan born Italy International has experienced a breakthrough season in 2015-16, and his physicality from playing as a striker along with the instincts that he gained during it means that he is reliable on both ends of the pitch. Perhaps his defensive stats are more astounding, as he made more challenges this season(35) than both Ghoulam(11) and Marcos Alonso(17) combined; he now leads the defensive game from a statistical viewpoint, but it’s his attacking game that’s eye-catching.

Midfielders:

  • Paul Pogba – Juventus – 23 years old: The French midfielder is the brightest and arguably most expensive young footballing talent out there. He can do everything; make crucial tackles, run with the ball, dribble past two or three defenders, score goals, and make 40-yard passes with precision. However, since he’s really young, he still needs to develop, and he gets it. His 10 goals and 14 assists for this past season, though, isn’t bad at all.

  • Marcelo Brozovic – Inter Milan – 23 years old: Brozovic’s importance within a team cannot be distinguished with statistics. On the best of his days, he can get Inter rolling on his own by playing key passes to the forwards, or getting on the scoresheet himself. His 8 goals and 5 assists in all competitions this season isn’t particularly impressive, but then this is the season where he’s played the most games in his career in 4 years. If he stays with Inter for next season, we will see the best of Brozovic and what the Croatian International can do.

Forwards:

  • Mauro Icardi – Inter Milan – 23 years old: The Argentinean is one of the most coveted young strikers in all of Europe, and it’s easy to see why. He scored 16 goals and gave 4 assists during this past season in 34 appearances in all competitions to help Inter to a 4th place finish. However, he has had some problems with his inconsistency this season, the extent of which, besides his other issues, has caused manager Roberto Mancini to leave out his captain time and time again. Icardi’s future is still in doubt but he appears to be a born leader, certainly fitting with the captain’s armband at Inter at the age that he is.

Paulo Dybala in action for Juve. (Photo by STRINGER/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Paulo Dybala – Juventus – 22 years old: Another Argentinean, Dybala’s triumph comes at the perfect time for the Turin-based club. After the void left by the, in his own right, legendary, Carlos Tevez was thought by many to be impossible to fill, Dybala silenced his critics from the beginning of the season when he wasn’t fully integrated by scoring 23 goals and giving 9 assists in all competitions. Though early comparisons made by former employers Palermo’s executive Maurizio Zamparini of this Argentine with another rather special one residing currently in Barcelona may seem a little primitive, Dybala has shown flashes where he can be just as brilliant, though by no means has he proven himself to be capable of producing said brilliance on a much more quantitative basis. That won’t budge Juve fans at all, as they know they’re witnessing something special in front of their eyes every time they visit the footballing cathedral that is the old lady’s battle arena.

  • Mohamed Salah – AS Roma – 23 years old: Salah has revitalized his career since his move to Roma, reminding us just how good he was before in his days at Basel that made Chelsea acquire him. His role as a bench-warmer for the London club seems to have left a bit of afters in the Egyptian winger, perhaps producing an extra burst of pace in his mazy runs that were so common in the past season. However, in all seriousness, 16 goals and 6 assists seems like the sort of numbers that resemble a highly prospective footballer, and perhaps we will see him develop into one of the finest wingers in the game in modern day.

Ligue 1

Defenders:

  • Marquinhos – PSG – 22 years old: The Brazilian has suffered from a relatively poor season at PSG, but remains one of the most sought-after young centre-backs in the game. However, that may purely be down to the fact that there aren’t that many quality centre-backs in the game. More on that later.

  • Serge Aurier – PSG – 23 years old: When he isn’t involved with all the imbecility off-the-field, he is one of the best right-backs you will see in Europe, if not in the world. A superb athlete, he can march up and down the flank with his tireless set of legs all day long. Should he lessen his off-the-field antics he will be well-sought after by the Barca’s and Bayern’s of this world.

  • Ricardo Pereira – OGC Nice – 22 years old: A winger at the beginning, Pereira has had to adjust to the left-back and right-back slots for Nice. What’s more surprising is that for a player who previously dribbled endlessly, he’s turned out to be quite good at defending. Pereira is the third leading tackler in Ligue 1 with roughly 4 tackles per game and he’s been noticed by some of the bigger clubs as one for the future. His positional adjustment means that he now runs endlessly from one end of the pitch to another without losing energy, and he’s also turned himself into a rather deadly crosser of the ball with his left foot.

Midfielders:

  • Adrien Rabiot – PSG – 21 years old: The midfielder is reportedly unconvinced by the playing time he is receiving at Le Parisiens. His consistent outings in the closing stages of last season courtesy of Marco Verratti’s injury has given the youngster plenty of playing time. This has led to some suggestions that he will not be leaving the French capital, contrary to what the Elite clubs around Europe were hoping to hear. In any case, the former Manchester City player  is touted as being next in this generation of great French midfielders.

  • Sofiane Boufal – Lille – 22 years old: The next ‘Eden Hazard’ they call him. It’s easy to see why, with the Moroccan International possessing an extremely gifted set of legs with which he wades his way through opposition defences. All the major clubs want him, but there is the occasional case of doubters he still has to prove wrong before he is wanted by the top dogs of Europe.

  • Ousmane Dembele – Rennes (transferred to Dortmund) – 19 years old: After completing a somewhat surprising transfer to Dortmund earlier on in the summer, Dembele will be remembered fondly for his time at Rennes because it is here that the future superstar started to blossom in his career. He scored 25 goals in a total of 48 appearances for Rennes and its lower league brother, Rennes II. No surprise he’s already being backed as a future Ballon d’Or winner by many across the globe.

Forwards:

  • Michy Batshuayi – Marseille – 22 years old: 17 goals in 36 league appearances speaks for itself. The Belgian is supposedly the country’s next big thing, after Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne.

  • Lucas Moura – PSG – 23 years old: It’s a surprise to see Lucas not start more often for Brazil. The talented winger is a joy to watch and undoubtedly possesses the technical gift that is found in all great Brazilian footballers. The player still needs to prove himself, as constant struggles with injury and a lack of goals in his game mean he is far from the finished product just yet.

By: Mario Vontey

Wait what? Young stars? MLS??!!

Forwards:

  • Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders FC) – The Washington native and Stanford Alum has been in the spotlight for a few years now. Ever since his appearance (and goal) with the U.S. national team, he has been widely regarded as the future of U.S. soccer. After repeatedly turning down offers for a homegrown deal after his freshman and sophomore years, Jordan finally succumbed to the pressures and left Stanford University a year early to pursue a professional contract. After a short stint with Werder Bremen, Jordan turned down the German club to sign the largest homegrown deal in MLS history with Seattle Sounders FC. At $225,000 a year, Jordan Morris is certainly the most expensive U23 player on the list. Overall, Jordan Morris embodies everything about the typical American soccer player. Standing 6 feet tall and 185 pounds, he is a brute on the ball and deceptively fast. His physical ability is what makes him such a big threat to defenders. Take that away and he might be just a your average Joe. Nonetheless, he is off to an impressive start. 11 games into his rookie season and Morris has already tallied 4 goals and 1 assist. Not too shabby for a 21 year old kid.
  • Khiry Shelton (New York City FC) – Khiry Shelton was selected second overall by New York City FC in the 2015 MLS SuperDraft after an impressive 4 years at Oregon State University. Khiry grew up through the U.S. national team system, playing for the U18’s and currently with the U23’s. At 22 years old, Khiry is a player with a ton of potential. His MLS career hasn’t exactly been sunshine and rainbows thus far though. With only 3 goals and 5 assists in his time with NYCFC, Khiry is still trying adapt. Some maturity issues may play a role but once he finds his groove, watch out. He is lightning quick and can turn your defense upside down in the blink of an eye- a physical beast. He is 6’ 3” and 191 pounds of pure athleticism. Khiry Shelton hasn’t proven anything yet, but he is on the list because of his potential. Keep an eye out for this kid in the upcoming years.
  • Cyle Larin (Orlando City SC) – The 21 year old Canadian had himself a record setting rookie season last year with 17 goals for Orlando City SC. With 7 goals in 11 games, Larin is on set to beat that mark this year. He has made a laughing stock out of defenses in his short time in the MLS. Nothing else needs to be said about this young man. He scores at will and has a long career in the MLS (if not overseas) awaiting him. Larin is possibly my favorite U23 on this list, making me wish he was born on our side of the border. Unfortunately, Larin has to play for the Canadian national team where he has represented Canada in the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup.

Midfielders:

  • Will Trapp (Columbus Crew FC) – Arguably the future of the U.S. national team midfield, Will Trapp is one of the most reliable young midfielders in the MLS. He grew up in the Columbus Crew Academy and has started essentially every game for the first team since signing a homegrown contract in 2012. At 5’8” and 150 pounds there is nothing fancy about Trapp’s physique. He is quick and very comfortable on the ball, and is one of the few players in the MLS that relies on his touch and intuition more than his physical ability. Trapp has proven himself as one of the best young players the MLS and U.S.
  • Diego Fagundez (New England Revolution) – If you asked around about his age, many people would think he is well into his career as a professional. It seems like this kid has been around forever, yet he is only 21 years old. The New England midfielder signed with the club at 15 years old and has evolved nicely. Fagundez had a breakout year in 2013 when he scored 13 goals and 7 assists for the club, but has since quieted down some. Nonetheless, he has steadily produced goals and assists for a club that desperately needs it. His creative mindset and flashy on-the-ball work makes him very fun to watch as well.
  • Fatai Alashe (San Jose Earthquakes) – Fatai is one of the most promising defensive midfielders the MLS has to offer. He was picked number 4 overall by the San Jose Earthquakes in the 2015 MLS SuperDraft and has immediately played a big role with the team. Fatai has a solid build which makes him very hard to beat. He is also a part of the U23 men’s national team.

Defenders:

  • Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas) – Kellyn Acosta has been apart of the youth national team system since playing with the Under 14’s. He has risen through the ranks and become a top defender for the U-23 men’s national team. Despite being only 20 years old, Acosta already has 3 seasons under his belt as a professional and has been a vital part of FC Dallas’s defense. He is extremely versatile and has played both fullback and central midfield for the club. Even Jurgen Klinsmann has taken notice and called up Acosta for a national team game.
  • Erik Palmer-Brown (Sporting KC/FC Porto) – At 19 years old, Erik Palmer-Brown is one of the best prospects the MLS has to offer. He is the youngest defender in MLS history to start a game and has since appeared many games for Sporting KC. Recently he has been loaned to FC Porto and helped FC Porto B win a league title. Several failed attempts to buy him by Juventus and other big European clubs have left him at the disposal of Sporting KC. Unfortunately the club has one of the deepest defensive lines in the MLS and has sent him to FC Porto to gain some experience. This kid is as good as they get. He might be a boy playing against men but you would never think it. He has been fully developed for a few years now and fits right in with the older professionals. In a few years Erik Palmer-Brown will be a household name throughout the soccer world.
  • Brandon Vincent (Chicago Fire) – Brandon Vincent is one of the best players to come out of this year’s MLS SuperDraft. His time at Stanford University has made him ready to jump right in and start for the Chicago Fire. Vincent is a solid defender who can join the attack from the outside. At 22 years old, Vincent has, what looks like, a long career ahead of him.  

Goalkeepers:

  • Jon Kempin (Sporting KC) – Sporting KC’s first homegrown signees, Kempin was widely regarded as one of the best young keepers coming into the MLS at 17 years old. He has His popularity has since faded when Sporting KC manager Peter Vermes decided to bring in keeper Tim Melia instead of giving the youngster a shot. But at 23 years of age, Kempin still has a lot of promise. He has been getting vital experience at USL club Oklahoma City Energy, where former teammate and goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen is coaching him. A little bias might be in my decision to throw Kempin on this list. Hopes of him turning into the next big keeper in Kansas City are still high, but that hope diminishes every year he isn’t in the starting role. It’s now or never for the Kansas City native.
  • Jesse Gonzalez (FC Dallas) – Jesse Gonzalez is the real deal. Gonzalez signed a homegrown contract in 2013 and has since grabbed the starting job from two veteran goalkeepers, Dan Kennedy and Chris Seitz. At 21 years old, Gonzalez is easily among the top keepers in the MLS. The past 2 seasons have ensured his role as a starter for FC Dallas and has even generated interest from bigger clubs across the pond. Although not as tall, he plays like Chelsea keeper Thibaut Courtois–very quick and lanky. His success over the past 2 MLS seasons has almost guaranteed him a spot on Mexico’s 2016 Olympic roster.

By: Nick Hagenkord

Honorable Mention:

Iñaki Williams – Athletic Bilbao – 21 years old: The Athletic Bilbao forward has been a revelation this season, scoring 13 goals and assisting in a further 4 in 36 appearances in all competitions. He is being coveted by the biggest clubs (no offense, Bilbao) in Europe, most notably Spurs, who are looking for a striker to cover for Harry Kane. Williams has recently decided to represent Ghana over Spain, where he has been living since childhood.

Note: This article was originally written in the summer of 2016, and contains information as is. Facts and statistics may have changed between the time of writing and the readers’ consumption.

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