Major League Soccer’s 22 Under 22 Shows Where USMNT Is Going, For Better Or Worse

Ricardo Pepi and Daryl Dike lead the way on the list of the best young MLS players.

Like it or not, the fate of the USMNT is intrinsically linked with Major League Soccer. While there will always be players who jump straight to European football like Christian Pulisic, the U.S. men’s squad will always be comprised mostly of players who at some point in their careers have gone through the MLS ranks. For this reason, the league’s 22 Under 22 list of the best young MLS players is a road map for future USMNT success.

Major League Soccer unveiled its 22 Under 22 on Tuesday and it’s got a clear U.S. slant. While past years have featured plenty of foreign players, this year’s list is dominated by Americans. There are only five players on the entire list who could not appear for the USMNT if they had so chosen (there are four dual nationals who have chosen to represent other nations). 

And it’s all led by the latest USMNT sensation: Ricardo Pepi, who recently chose to play for the U.S. instead of Mexico.

Here's the full list of the best young MLS players, per the 22 Under 22. You can also find more details here.

Best Young MLS Players 2021

It would be easy to make the assumption that this list is skewed toward USMNT players because the league is in the U.S., but the league has been trending this way for a while. Sure there are some young South American players who could be the next Miguel Almirón and make the jump to Europe, but for the most part the top young players right now are American (or Mexican-American). 

Pepi leads the way, likely bolstered by scoring three goals in his first two USMNT appearances, in World Cup qualifiers, no less. Daryl Dike is right behind, perhaps a bit further down the pecking order for U.S. strikers but still promising after his loan at Barnsley. 

Here’s the full breakdown by nationality. Each of the Mexico and Canada internationals played for the USMNT at some level.

  • United States: Ricardo Pepi, Daryl Dike, James Sands, George Bello, Cade Cowell, Caden Clark, Jesús Ferreira, Cole Bassett, Kevin Paredes, Paxton Pomykal, Leon Flach, Justin Che, Moses Nyeman.
  • Mexico: Julian Araujo, Efraín Álvarez, David Ochoa.
  • Canada: Ayo Akinola.
  • South America: Brian Rodríguez (Uruguay), Brenner (Brazil), Cristian Cásseres Jr., (Venezuela), Déiber Caicedo (Colombia).

USMNT fans can shit on MLS all they like, but the truth is most USMNT players have gone through the MLS ranks at some point in their careers, whether it’s at the academy level or their first taste of pro ball. 

The list of USMNT players who have appeared in the last year or two and do not have a link to MLS is extremely short, representing less than 15 percent of the player pool in that time. Most of those who skipped MLS were born abroad and came up through European academies. 

Recent USMNT Players Without MLS On Their Résumés

  • Christian Pulisic
  • Sergiño Dest
  • Antonee Robinson
  • Yunus Musah
  • Luca de la Torre
  • John Brooks
  • Cameron Carter-Vickers
  • Owen Otasowie
  • Josh Sargent
  • Jordan Pefok
  • Konrad de la Fuente
  • Nicholas Gioacchini
  • Tyler Boyd

The point is, these young prospects represent some of the best and brightest talents for the future of the USMNT. Certainly if Gregg Berhalter wants to rely on depth for a road game against Panama, he’s going to need more of these players to step up to the plate to avoid the disaster that took place in Panama City on Sunday

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