Paxton_pomykal_-_asn_top_-_isi_-_u.s._u-20_wcq_-_nov_1_-_2018_-_roy_k._miller Roy K Miller/ISI Photos
MLS Feature

20 U.S. youth internationals who have the potential to breakout in 2019

The 2019 Season is about ready to get underway and the signs are promising that it could be a good year for a number of young American players looking to breakout. Brian Sciaretta goes deep and looks at 20 players who could emerge in the months ahead. 
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
February 28, 2019
10:00 AM
THE START OF THE 2019 MLS Season is just days away and the past offseason was a whirlwind that saw some rather impressive player movement where clubs in the league sold some key young players to impressive European teams.

Even before the outstanding sales of Tyler Adams to RB Leipzig and Alphonso Davies to Bayern Munich, the league was trending this way. Jack Harrison left NYCFC a little over a year ago and is currently a big part of Leeds United’s promotional playoff push while on loan from Manchester City. Chris Richards was sold to Bayern from FC Dallas after an impressive loan.

Based on the preseason, comments from coaches stating a desire to play younger players, along with the high level of talent from the U.S. youth national teams, the 2019 season looks promising for a an impressive number of U.S. youth internationals.

Last year saw Philadelphia’s centerback duo of Mark McKenzie and Auston Trusty earn over 2000 minutes to help the club push towards the playoffs. The same could be said for Real Salt Lake’s Brooks Lennon and FC Dallas right back Reggie Cannon who also became established last year.

Leaving those players out, here are 20 players to watch in 2019 who could make the transition to becoming established players for their clubs. All are eligible (or soon to be eligible) for United States youth national teams at either the U-17, the U-20, or the U-23 level.

Will all of them succeed this year? No. But if a majority or even half do, then it will be a good year because there will also be U.S. youth national team-eligible players who are not on this list who surprise.

1) Paxton Pomykal (attacking midfielder, FC Dallas)

Paxton Pomykal, 19, enjoyed a breakout performance at the recent U-20 CONCACAF tournament where he was one of the team’s best players. When various players from that U-20 team (along with the those at the recent U-20 January camp) were interviewed, virtually all singled Pomykal as a player who stood out.

Thus far in preseason, Pomykal has played well for FC Dallas and he seems set for playing time to start the season. With former FC Dallas academy director Luchi Gonzalez now the head coach, it is not unreasonable to think that Pomykal could hit 2000 minutes for Dallas this although he will miss significant time at the U-20 World Cup (and possible U-23 camps if Dallas releases him).

Pomykal is certainly trending in the right direction for both club and country.

2) George Bello (left back, Atlanta United)

George Bello, 17, is one of the top youth prospects in American soccer and his development is even more important because he plays a true position of need. He started the team’s CONCACAF Champions League opener but probably won’t be a regular starter for Atlanta during the season – which is fine.

The key questions is how Bello adjusts over the course of the season and whether or not he can seize the starting spot. New manager Frank DeBoer ran out a 3-4-3 in the Champions League and it didn’t work out and Bello looked lost at times.

Hitting 2000 minutes seems unlikely but if Bello can emerge in the second half of the season, that would be impressive (and likely hurt his chances of playing at the U-17 World Cup since that tournament takes place during the MLS playoffs).

3) Djordje Mihailovic (attacking midfielder, Chicago Fire,)

Djordje Mihailovic, 20, has a lot of momentum heading into the season after playing for the U.S. national team at January camp – where he earned two starts. Chicago did not have a great offseason but could exceed expectations if players like Mihailovic exceed expectations.

Mihailovic has a lot of talent but lost most of the 2018 season while recovering from a torn ACL. He is still shaking off rust but once he gets back into form, he could be a surprise player in the league. Earning 2000 minutes seems likely at this point and the Florida-born, Illinois-raised No. 10 should also be an important part of the U.S. U-23 team for Olympic qualifying.

4) Jesus Ferreira (forward, FC Dallas)

As one of the few forwards on this list, Jesus Ferreira, 18, has a lot going for him heading into 2019. He played very well for FC Dallas in preseason and will be playing under his former academy coach in Luchi Gonzalez, who will know how to use him.

Internationally, Ferreira is still a question mark. U.S. U-20 head coach Tab Ramos told ASN that Ferreira played well in the team’s January camp but his citizenship is still not yet complete. So it will be a race against time to have him eligible for the U.S. U-20 World Cup time.

But regardless, even if that falls apart, he could factor into the U.S. U-23 team if he plays well for Dallas this season. Given that his father was a former regular with the Colombian national team, there is also the potential that program shows interest in Ferreira if he plays well.

2000 minutes will be very hard for Ferreira as he will likely be an attacking option off the bench for Dallas. But he looks ready for this level and has a lot of talent. He will get chances, now it’s up for him to make the most of it.

5) Chris Durkin (defensive midfielder, DC United)

Chris Durkin, 18, earned about 1500 minutes for DC United last year across all competitions – but the problem is that most of those minutes were front loaded in the early part of the season. Once Russell Canouse returned from injury, his minutes fell off.

Generally, Durkin is in a three way battle with Canosue and Venezuelan international Junior Moreno for two spots on the field. But Durkin could still the field. Canouse has an injury history and Moreno will miss games due to international involvement. If Durkin shows progress in the minutes he gets, he has the ability to bump Canouse or Moreno out of the starting spot. With that said, competition could bring out the best in Durkin.

Hitting 2000 minutes will be tough but possible. He is very likely to make the U.S. U-20 World Cup team which could pull him away for a month.

6) Brandon Servania (central midfielder, FC Dallas)

As a key member of the U.S. U-20 team, Servania has shown himself to be a player with an upside. Like many young players at FC Dallas, he will have the chance to play under a familiar face with Luchi Gonzalez.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Brandon Servania’s opening for for the U-20s was very nice. Important goal in World Cup qualifying to give the US a 1-0 lead over T&amp;T. Now 2-0 <a href=""></a></p>&mdash; Brian Sciaretta (@BrianSciaretta) <a href="">November 6, 2018</a></blockquote>
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There will be competitions for minutes as Dallas has Ecuadorian international Carlos Gruezo also in his spot. Gruezo is only 23 and is a veteran of the team. But Gruezo will also miss time due to international commitments. Servania likely won’t hit 2000 minutes but he should get a lot of professional experience this year to start his career.

7) Jonathan Lewis (winger, New York City FC)

There will be a lot of eyes on Jonathan Lewis, 21, this year who recently impressed with the U.S. national team in January – where he came off the bench, played very well, and had assists in both of the team’s two friendlies. It showed that Lewis could be an effective player and made some question why he hasn’t played more with New York City the past two seasons.

Lewis has the talent to be a good player. Gregg Berhalter figured it out and now it is up to Dome Torrent at NYCFC to also figure it out. Otherwise, Lewis could try to seek a transfer – and rightfully so.

Internationally, Lewis will likely be in the mix to be a big part of the U.S. U-23 team, whenever that team gets up and running in 2019.

8) Cole Bassett (central midfielder, Colorado Rapids)

Last season, Cole Bassett, 17, earned some regular playing time down the stretch (six appearances, three starts, one goal) for Colorado where he was a bright spot in an otherwise disappointing season.

This year, Colorado’s prospects look better and Bassett appears to be in the plans under manager Anthony Hudson and should be one to really keep a close eye on. It is also easy to see Bassett getting a surprising amount of playing time as he probably won’t figure into the plans for the U.S. U-20 team and shouldn’t miss time internationally. The Littleton-native is young enough to be on the 2021 U.S. U-20 team and that is probably where he will have his first big chance at the international stage.

9) Jeremy Ebobisse (forward, Portland Timbers)

It is debatable whether or not to include Jeremy Ebobisse, 22, on this list as you could argue that he has already broken out in the mold of Auston Trusty and Brooks Lennon. After all, Ebobisse did start in the playoffs and MLS Cup in December. Still his emergence was late in the season and was overall shy of 1200 MLS minutes in 2018.

This year Ebobisse should hit 2000 minutes and anything less will be disappointing. He showed progress in the second half of the season and that should lay a solid foundation to continue trending upward. But at 22, he is the oldest player on this list.

If he succeeds and can get into double digits with goals, he will have a lot of confidence as he prepares to perhaps taking a staring role with the U.S. U-23 team for Olympic qualifying.

10) Frankie Amaya (central midfielder, FC Cincinnati)

Frankie Amaya, 18, was a regular with the U.S. U-20 team in 2018 where he scored a goal against France and was part of the CONCACAF winning team. That, along with his time at UCLA, helped convince FC Cincinnati to take him with the number one overall draft pick in January.

Amaya could play for Cincinnati and play a lot as the club will likely experiment as it tries to find something that works. Amaya is also versatile and he should be an option at any number of positions.

Internationally, Amaya is in a tough battle to make the U.S. U-20 World Cup team – if everyone is healthy. But injuries to others and regular playing time to start the season (as well as familiarity of being a regular under Ramos) increase his chances.

11) Kyle Duncan (right back, New York Red Bulls)

At the start of 2018, Brooklyn native Kyle Duncan looked ready to be a breakout player. He compared very favorably to Reggie Cannon at FC Dallas who played the same position and is the same age. But Duncan suffered an ACL tear and missed the remainder of the season.

Duncan, 21, is back now at the start of the 2019 season and returned to play in the Champions League and will likely start next week against Santos Laguna.

His playing time will be determined in how he competes against Panama international Michael Murillo. But Murillo is also set to miss time internationally and that should open the door for Duncan. The Red Bulls also have a history of transferring players to make room for young players (not that Murillo is old at 23). But if Duncan looks like he could be a solid starter for the Red Bulls, the Red Bulls might cash in on having two good right backs.

Also, if Duncan plays he could compete with Cannon for that right back spot on the U.S. U-23 team.

12) Justin Rennicks (forward, New England Revolution)

In his youth career, Rennicks has had a rocky relationship with the New England Revolution – which suspended him from its academy for going on European training stints. But after Rennicks played well with the U.S. U-20 team in the CONCACAF title run, both parties moved beyond their differences to agree on a homegrown contract.

Rennicks, 19, looks as if he will get playing time with the Revolution at the start of the season but it will most likely come off the bench. 2000 minutes is unlikely but it is certainly fair to expect that he will be given a fair shot to impress. The U-20 World Cup should also be a nice boost of momentum for him in the second half of the season.

The former Indiana Hoosier has talent but is still unrefined. His development will be an important test for a New England team that is starved for some success.

13) Jaylin Lindsey (right back, Sporting Kansas City)

Last year, Lindsey, 18, got his feet wet at the professional level with 560 minutes and six starts for Sporting Kansas City. This year Lindsey should play more, but he will have to perform well to break 1000 or 1500 minutes.

A veteran of the 2017 U.S. U-17 World Cup team, he has the ability to cover at left back and central defense but he is a right back and that position is occupied by Graham Zusi at the moment. But Sporting KC has an older backline with Zusi, Matt Besler, and Seth Sinovic all over 30. That should force Peter Vermes into heavy squad rotation throughout the season. If Sporting goes on a run in the Champions League, that rotation should only be exacerbated. That rotation mixed with an older backline bodes well for Lindsey.

Lindsey is likely to be on the U.S. U-20 World Cup team although minutes in Poland will be tough as his competition is the very impressive Sergino Dest at Ajax. But with group stage games coming every three days, Lindsey will get a shot.

14) James Sands (defensive midfielder, New York City FC)

In its very brief history, New York City FC hasn’t been a hotbed for the development of young American players. James Sands, 18, will be an important test as he played four times for the club in 2018 and looks ready to take on an expanded role. The Rye native is versatile and can play as a central defender but his best position is defensive midfielder.

Breaking 2000 minutes is highly unlikely as Keaton Parks and captain Alex Ring occupy the holding midfield spots for NYCFC at the moment. But NYCFC doesn’t seem to be a club with a lot of players who are set starters (Parks himself has not played much first-team soccer) and Sands brings some defensive bite. It is not unreasonable to see Sands push towards 1000 minutes and given a fair chance to see what he can do.

Internationally, Sands was a veteran of the U.S. U-17 World Cup team in 2017 but has not been able to effectively make the transition to the U-20 level in 2019. Making the U-20 World Cup team seems unlikely but he could sneak into the mix if there are injuries or release issues.

15) Danny Acosta (left back, Orland City SC)

Danny Acosta, 21, had a rocky time at Real Salt Lake under head coach Mike Petke but should get a fresh start on loan (with an option to buy) at Orlando City. Acosta has always had talent and there is a very good chance things improve for him due to a change of scenery.

The good news is that Acosta is likely to start and could easily hit 2000 minutes this year. The bad news, however, is that Orlando City has a terrible defense and conceded the most goals in league history in 2018. If that doesn’t improve, it could be a frustrating experience.

But with great challenge lies a great opportunity for the 2017 U.S. U-20 World Cup veteran who should also be in the mix for the U.S. U-23 team in 2019.

16) Gianluca Busio (attacking midfielder, Sporting Kansas City)

Gianluca Busio, 16, is the youngest player on this list so expectations should be tempered a little bit. Last year he played 153 MLS minutes for Sporting and showcased a high level of potential. He also looked strong in the USL for Swope Park Rangers.

Like Jaylin Lindsey, Busio should benefit with squad rotation but he will need regular minutes to develop. He should continue to see minutes with the U-17 team in a World Cup year where he is one of the team’s best players.

But if Busio continues to show progress, Vermes probably will encourage him with increased minutes from last year and to flex the muscle of the club’s academy – which ownership is heavily invested.

17) Omir Fernandez (winger, New York Red Bulls)

No other MLS club has more success in signing local players, developing them, playing them, and selling them to Europe. Omir Fernandez, 20, will be an interesting case as the club went through a lot of effort to sign Fernandez to a homegrown deal during the offseason. Fernandez played in the club’s academy and recently won the ACC Offensive Player of the Year for Wake Forest.

A high level of playing time will be hard to come by for Fernandez as he will have to compete with established players like Daniel Royer and Alex Muyl (who were both key to a Supporters Shiled win) for minutes. The Red Bulls will be competitive again in 2019 so Fernandez will also have to shift time with Red Bulls II – which isn’t a bad thing either as John Wolyniec has a stellar reputation of preparing players for the next level.

That doesn’t mean Fernandez won’t play for the first team. Chris Armas will likely continue with the team’s history of playing young players. Fernandez has found himself at a club which is not afraid to give young players a chance. Then it will be up to him. But his talent is encouraging.

18) Andrew Carleton (attacking midfielder, Atlanta United)

No one questions Andrew Carleton’s talent. He has shown a lot of glimpses of it – whether it be for Atlanta United II, the U.S. U-17 team in 2017, or the first team in friendlies. Last season did not end well as he did not play much during the course of the season and wasn’t part of the final due to disciplinary reasons. But Carleton is now 18 and has a fresh start under a new coach in Frank DeBoer.

While there is a lot of competition at his position, Carleton looked promising at times during preseason but it will be up for him to make a strong early impression with DeBoer and Atlanta. If he succeeds, he could earned continued playing time for a very talented Atlanta team and could even force his way onto the U.S. U-20 World Cup team. If he starts off slowly, it could be another year where he is stuck.

19) Julian Araujo (right back/central defense, LA Galaxy)

The LA Galaxy academy has bled a lot of talent to Europe and signing Araujo was a step in the right direction. Araujo has a lot of potential and played for the team in preseason (before he was even signed to a pro deal). But now that his signing is reportedly complete, the Galaxy will have a challenge to get its youth onto the field and provide a pathway to the professional level. The team struggled with that in the past but it is under new management with manager Guillermo Barros Schelotto and general manager Dennis te Kloese.

Araujo, 17, is young but seems to be full of promise. U.S. U-20 head coach Tab Ramos included him on his CONCACAF Championship team as one of three players who was also eligible for the 2021 U-20 team.

Playing time will be a challenge at his age but occasional minutes is very possible as the club was very eager to sign him. 500 minutes or so would be positive.

20) Aboubacar Keita (central defender, Columbus Crew)

2019 is off to a strong start for Aboubacar Keita, 18, who left the University of Virginia after his freshman season, signed a homegrown contract with the Columbus Crew, and earned his first call-up to the U.S. U-20 team for January camp (where Tab Ramos spoke favorably of his performance).

Columbus probably won’t rotate central defenders very much so playing time for Keita won’t be easy, but it is possible. Keita is helped by the fact he can also play left back and that should open doors to be on the matchday 18 as Caleb Porter recently praised his performances there for a friendly last week. His potential is pretty good but it could take some work to have him reach his ceiling. If Porter succeeds, Keita could be a regular in the second half of the season. 

Internationally, Keita is on the bubble for the U.S. U-20 team which needs depth in central defense behind Mark McKenzie and Chris Richards.

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