It’s good to be an MLS Homegrown these days.
The Homegrown initiative’s picked up steam over the past two years, and an influx of exuberant young coaches are handing over an increasing amount of trust to their youngsters. That’s a good thing, and you need only look at the relative success of the New York Red Bulls and FC Dallas the last few years in relation to the amount of Homegrowns they had on the roster. You can scribble down on your crib sheet: “a lot of success and lots of Homegrowns.”
This is my assessment at the current top five Homegrown signings currently in the league at each position. I devised a ranking system that took into account the entire gamut, from past contribution to current ability to future prospects. I weighed the final piece particularly heavily because a significant chunk of these players are still in the U20 age bracket, but each went into the cauldron. And to be sure, it’s still murky when it comes to young guys, most of whom haven’t yet broken into regular first team minutes.
All week on TDS, we’ve been rolling out our top 50 overall young prospects in MLS (you can see the complete up-to-date list here). This cuts across each position.
In any case, enough preamble. Let’s jump into it.
5. Lalo Fernandez, Real Salt Lake: It’s been difficult to peel back the tarp on Fernandez to see exactly how good he can be with Nick Rimando blocking his ascent to the first team. But it’s impossible to ignore his improving form for Real Monarchs, and he’s drawn rave reviews for his organizational capacity and shot-stopping. With Rimando aging, its Fernandez’s time soon at hand?
4. Maxime Crepeau, Montreal Impact: When Crepeau earned his full Canadian national team debut on Feb. 2 earlier this year against the US, Impact fans certainly weren’t surprised. The spry Homegrown netminder from Quebec is now solidly the Montreal No. 2 at just 22, and he should continue to impress at the national team level.
3. Jesse Gonzalez, FC Dallas: Before his 22nd birthday, Gonzalez already has 17 MLS starts and U20 World Cup experience with Mexico under his belt. Not a bad way to kick off what has the look of a promising career. At 6-foot-4, Gonzalez always seems to surprise with how quickly he can get down on low-driven shots.
2. Tyler Deric, Houston Dynamo: There’s a reason Deric is largely considered the best keeper on Houston’s roster. An unfortunate spate of injuries and red cards dampened his 2016 season, but a fully healthy Deric in 2017 is good news for Houston after his hugely successful 2015. There are few keepers in MLS more daring and willing to take chances than Deric.
1. Bill Hamid, D.C. United: At least in terms of sheer playing time, there’s no Homegrown in history who can hold a candle to Hamid at any position. More to the point, Hamid is the best goalkeeper the Development Academy has ever produced and might be the singular best in all of MLS at the moment. When he’s rolling, Hamid is a legit option as the US No. 1.
5. Hugo Arellano, LA Galaxy: We’re in something of an American golden age for U20 and younger center backs, and Arellano is proof positive. He captained the US U17 MNT at the 2015 World Cup for a reason, and the Galaxy should have no trouble finding Arellano minutes in the USL if not with the first team. At his size and with his distribution, though, we could see a flip outside to fullback with Los Dos.
4. Auston Trusty, Philadelphia Union: Some center backs are so intimidating physically so early that they earn an enforcer mantle by default. That’s been Trusty’s story. He’s a hulking presence at the back at 6-foot-3, and his frame allows him to win most every physical challenge he encounters. If he can improve his mobility, he’s national team quality.
3. Tommy Redding, Orlando City: When you’re talking well-rounded center backs, Redding has to be either at or near the top of the list among players to emerge from the Homegrown program. Redding isn’t notable for any one thing because he does everything well: he’s tremendous in the air, good in distribution and has keen instincts in the box.
2. Erik Palmer-Brown, Sporting KC: Palmer-Brown’s recently wrapped-up loan stint to Porto B clearly did wonders for his game. He returned so assured on the ball that US U20 MNT coach not only made him the team captain but moved him to the defensive midfield. He still projects as a center back, and SKC has a bona fide future starter on its hands here.
1. Justen Glad, Real Salt Lake: It’s not common anywhere for 19-year-olds to have 35 first team games under their belt, but Glad isn’t a common talent. Whether or not the press has been there on Glad’s early career, he might just be the single best US center back prospect in the entire pool (names like Miazga and Carter-Vickers included). RSL’s certainly benefitted.
5. Marco Farfan, Portland Timbers: Timbers brass is understandably pumped about having Farfan in the system. He’s a thoroughly modern left back who likes to press forward, and he’s already been value added at Timbers 2 despite being just 17. If he continues on this trajectory, the Timbers have one of the better left backs in the US on the way.
4. Danilo Acosta, Real Salt Lake: Acosta started his youth career as a No. 6, but a switch to left back seems to be in the offing. He’s been training there with Real Monarchs and plays there now with the US U20 MNT. The early returns have been positive, which makes you wonder how high his star can soar at the position.
3. Dillon Serna, Colorado Rapids: Is Serna a left wingback or a left winger? That’s the question nobody seems quite certain how to answer. I think he’d be an ideal fit as a wide fullback in a 3-5-2, pushing pace and width on the left while utilizing his prodigious recovery speed. Either way, Serna’s a rare talent on the left in Homegrown history.
2. Sam Adekugbe, Vancouver Whitecaps: Unfortunately for Vancouver, this one might get away soon. Adekugbe recently commented that he’d like to make his loan stay at Brighton & Hove Albion in the English Championship a permanent thing. Considering he has starting quality written all over him for the Whitecaps, they may simply have to watch one of their brightest stars go.
1. Donny Toia, Orlando City: The history of left back in MLS is harder to pin down than any position, but Toia’s carved out a serviceable career at the position as a quality everyday pro. No Homegrown left back in history has more than his 6,304 minutes of first team soccer, and that’s for a reason. The guy simply doesn’t make many errors at a tough position.
5. Nick Lima, San Jose Earthquakes: The Quakes undoubtedly drafted Lima out of Cal in 2017 primarily to be a jack-of-all-trades defender, which is where he played in college. Lima’s one of the more versatile defensive draftees we’ve seen in a while, and he can probably play either fullback position well. With his mobility and defensive framework, why not on the right on the pro level?
4. Ethan White, NYCFC: The 26-year-old former D.C. United Homegrown may be a journeyman fullback, but he’s managed to poach minutes wherever he’s been, from D.C. to Philadelphia and now NYCFC. White’s a quality all-around fullback who can do a bit of everything, from cinching up the back four to joining in with the attack.
3. Reggie Cannon, FC Dallas: Cannon has a little ways to go before he’s considered in a league with the Lades of MLS, but in terms of outright talent ceiling there might be no one on this list more coveted. Cannon is a bullet train right back, preferring to live around the halfway line on average and pump in crosses. Think that’d fit in FCD’s system?
2. London Woodberry, New England Revolution: Versatility, thy name is Woodberry. The FCD-groomed Revolution Homegrown has the ability to do a bit of everything at the back, although the lanky defender’s best position is probably out wide at right back. Woodberry is on the more defensive end of the spectrum, but his 2,500 minutes in New England don’t lie.
1. Connor Lade, New York Red Bulls: As far as Homegrown fullbacks as a general rule, Lade is currently the gold standard. There’s a reason the now-27-year-old has north of 5,000 career minutes, and it’s largely down to his ability to both overlap and provide some defensive steel. It’s easy to take Lade’s contributions for granted, but that’d be a mistake.
5. Chris Durkin, D.C. United: The face of the American No. 6 is shifting. There’s a fresh glut of smaller, passing defensive midfielders who prefer to build and mark out space defensively rather than going in hard and playing kickball on the other end. Durkin is part of that evolution, and he’s a tremendous organizer in front of the back four. It helps he can pass a lot of No. 8s off the field as well.
4. Tyler Adams, New York Red Bulls: The Dax McCarty trade might’ve been unpopular with RBNY fans, but it also opens up playing time for the young bucks. Adams is perhaps the best defensive midfielder in the league who’s yet to break into significant first team minutes, and that should change soon. He’s one of those modern possession No. 6s every team covets.
3. Scott Caldwell, New England Revolution: If you couldn’t tell from this list, MLS has done quite well for itself in generating possession-forward defensive midfielders. Caldwell is more on the defensive side of the equation, but he can pick out a tidy pass or two as well. Diego Fagundez might get more publicity, but Caldwell has quietly put together a heck of a young career.
2. Kellyn Acosta, FC Dallas: If Acosta adds even a sporadic scoring element to his game as he claims to have done this offseason, then one of the best is about to get even scarier. Despite being typecast quite incorrectly as a fullback on the national team level, Acosta is about as good of a transition-seeking No. 6 as you’ll find in the league, Homegrown or not.
1. Wil Trapp, Columbus Crew: MLS doesn’t have another attacking defensive midfielder like Trapp. There isn’t anyone so comfortable pinging 40-yard through balls, building out of the back between split center backs or exploiting space. He takes some knocks for his defense, but it’s rarely an issue. And his ability to build out of the back is at a national team caliber.
Two-way central midfielders
5. Djordje Mihailovic, Chicago Fire: If the Fire wanted a reboot on Harry Shipp, it certainly looks like they have an opportunity in Mihailovic. The US youth international is probably a bit deeper than Shipp at his most comfortable, but they’re similar players technically. Mihailovic is so consistent as a possession metronome that you almost take his relentlessly successful passing ratios for granted. Almost.
4. Adam Najem, Philadelphia Union: The caveat here is that the Red Bulls actually developed Najem, who couldn’t come to terms and signed for the Union this offseason. That’s Philly’s gain, since he’s a difference-maker as a connector in the middle. He can play as a No. 6 or a No. 8, and it’s in the latter role as a metronome that he made a name for himself at Akron.
3. Jay Chapman, Toronto FC: Chapman tends to do a lot of dirty work for TFC, so he maybe doesn’t get the adulation of some of his peers, but that should change on closer inspection. Chapman is quiet like a BMW engine is quiet. You know it’s working because everything around it looks so good. It’s only when you lift the hood and check the machinery that you understand why.
2. Ian Harkes, D.C. United: This was a big get for D.C. United, which has a bona fide jack-of-all-trades in the middle in Harkes. He can fill a number of roles depending on the situation, and while out-and-out defensive spadework isn’t his forte, he’s an absolute field general in the middle. The leadership comparisons to Michael Bradley aren’t unfounded, even at 22.
1. Sean Davis, New York Red Bulls: Few central midfielders in MLS history broke into the first team with more immediately discernible calm than Davis. He’s so unfazed by pressure you get the sense he’s on vacation when he’s connecting the lines. His distribution is excellent, his vision is second-to-none and he can go box-to-box with the best of them.
5. Bradford Jamieson, LA Galaxy: Like most left wingers in the U.S. system, Jamieson’s played in a few different deployments throughout his career, notably as a second striker. But I think he’s best when given some space to roam and not forced into a crowded phone booth. Then Jamieson can open up the throttle and run, which is where you want him.
4. Derrick Etienne, New York Red Bulls: After a single year at the University of Virginia, the Red Bulls wisely locked up Etienne to a Homegrown deal. He’s one of those rare dribblers to emerge from the academy system who almost seem to prefer the challenge of a heads up duel in space. And when he flips the afterburners, you’re not catching him.
3. Jesus Ferreira, FC Dallas: I don’t know if anyone’s quite sure where Ferreira will settle at the next level just yet (at 16 he has time), but if you can get your hands on some tape of his with the FCD academy, your jaw will drop. He scored in bunches for years, and he impressed with the senior team in preseason. It’s hard to find better than this out wide anywhere.
2. Andrew Carleton, Atlanta United: Like Ferreira, this one is a play for the future since Carleton is just 16 and we don’t have first team evidence just yet. But it’s hard to ignore his production for the academy, internationally and in Atlanta United’s successful preseason. If he continues on his current trajectory, Carleton is a generational winger talent.
1. Diego Fagundez, New England Revolution: Wide players like Fagundez are not common, let alone promoted straight out of an MLS academy. In a lot of ways Fagundez looks like he’d be comfortable in just about any system in the world with his tricky dribbling and one-v-one terror. There aren’t many MLS sides (if there are indeed any at all) where Fagundez wouldn’t start tomorrow.
5. Paxton Pomykal, FC Dallas: Coy Craft has the bigger profile between the two FCD Homegrown right mids, but I actually think Pomykal has the higher ceiling. He’s fresh off another Development Academy championship with FCD’s U18 team, and he was arguably the best player on the field for the league’s best academy. He might need time, but the tools are all there.
4. Jordan Allen, Real Salt Lake: Allen’s been vocal this preseason about wanting to shed his label as a Swiss Army Knife in favor of specialization, and right midfield might just be his ticket there. Whether as a raiding fullback or as a linking winger in the Darlington Nagbe mold, Allen has starting XI talent. It’s just down to finding a position that works and sticking with it.
3. Alex Muyl, New York Red Bulls: There were certainly more hyped Red Bulls Homegrowns out of the gate than Muyl, but there probably hasn’t been any who’ve taken to pro soccer as fast. He had two goals and six assists as a rookie in 2016, and his pace and fearlessness were notable hallmarks. He’s the in-pinching winger fullbacks hate.
2. Tommy Thompson, San Jose Earthquakes: Thompson’s moved around positionally in his career, mostly on a steady march back from striker to second striker to No. 10 to winger. The adjustment hasn’t always been smooth, but Thompson remains one of the most technically skilled artists in Homegrown history. He just needs to be more goal dangerous.
1. Alphonso Davies, Vancouver Whitecaps: I don’t know that any Homegrown in all of MLS has more untapped potential than Davies. He seems to produce regardless of the circumstance, and his age certainly hasn’t prevented him from clowning veterans on the wing. I think with Davies it’s less a matter of whether he’ll be great as opposed to just how great he’ll be.
Central attacking midfielders
5. Sergio Camargo, Toronto FC: Like most others on this list (and in the MLS Homegrown system in general), Camargo has mostly played deeper than the pocket underneath the forward line. But that doesn’t mean he can’t – or shouldn’t – get a chance to pull the strings. Camargo is a virtual painter on ball, and he’s comfortable living in uncomfortable spaces. That’s No. 10 territory.
4. Jose Hernandez, Real Salt Lake: At 5-foot-3, there’s some question as to whether Hernandez can withstand the pressure of MLS’s deep, physical stable of defensive midfielders. He might find himself out wide, but there are few Homegrowns with his eye for space and creative juice. There isn’t a pass he can’t make in the final third.
3. Marco Bustos, Vancouver Whitecaps: I think Bustos is a bona fide No. 10, but the important question is whether Whitecaps coach Carl Robinson agrees. Like other smaller No. 10s, Bustos has often been shunted out wide to protect him, but I’m excited to see the fruit if Bustos is actually given the reins to a pro attack. He can be that good.
2. Harry Shipp, Seattle Sounders: As has been the case with so many American No. 10s, Shipp’s struggled to actually stay there on the pro level. He’s been moved both back and outside, but he can still fill that technical, slow-moving but fast-thinking No. 10 role if given the chance and an on-the-ground system. The guy is flat-out fun to watch.
1. Sebastian Saucedo, Real Salt Lake: Whether or not Saucedo is a next-level No. 10 depends on who you ask, but he can do a job if deployed with the right pieces around him. His vision, as U20 MNT fans have seen, is unmatched amongst Homegrowns, and he has broader and more far-reaching potential than most any of them. Can he put it all together, though?
5. Bryan Reynolds, FC Dallas: What’s the ceiling on Reynolds, exactly? Not even FCD’s expert coaching staff can answer that, and from their perspective that has to be particularly exciting. Reynolds already has the size at 6-foot-3 despite being a precocious 15-year-old, and he’s been a terror as a back-to-goal threat in the academy. Can he make the translation?
4. Caleb Calvert, Colorado Rapids: I’m still a believer in Calvert despite the fact that he still hasn’t played more than 165 MLS minutes in a season. He has surprisingly soft feet for a 6-foot-2 aerial giant, and his spacial awareness deserves praise. Unfortunately he hasn’t found the right system yet, but at 20 years old he still has time to make an impression.
3. Daniel Salloi, Sporting KC: The best Homegrown forward nobody’s talking about? That might just be Salloi, the Hungarian international who can’t stop scoring no matter where he is. He’s about as versatile of a target man as it gets, and he’s a bit quicker than your average No. 9. But he can pour in goals with the best of them and could challenge for minutes fast.
2. Jordan Hamilton, Toronto FC: As good as he is, Hamilton’s been hamstrung by a bit of back luck; he came up just as TFC put together the best strike force combo in the league and on the Canadian scene just as Cyle Larin hit his stride. That said, the 6-foot-1, 20-year-old has all the tools you hope for in a No. 9, and given the right situation he can bang them in with regularity.
1. Jack McBean, LA Galaxy: If you think I’m stretching in calling McBean a target striker, there’s some truth to that. But don’t discount his ability to put his back into a defender and score on the turn. He’s refined his game since struggling to get minutes early in his career, and he looks like an intriguing option to pair with Giovani Dos Santos up top.
5. Coy Craft, FC Dallas: Craft is here partially for a lack of options and partially because I think it’d be an interesting project. He’s spent the majority of his life as one of the fastest wingers anywhere, but Craft too often is marooned on the touchline. He’s always had a tremendous instinct for goal, and I think he’d find himself incredibly useful as a converted second striker.
4. Sean Okoli, NYCFC: The Sounders’ loss is most certainly NYCFC’s gain. Okoli never could catch on in Seattle, where he signed his Homegrown deal, and he exploded at FC Cincinnati as the USL’s leading scorer in 2016. An NYCFC contract soon followed, and now the slippery forward who likes to bust up the space between the lines is under the tutelage of Patrick Vieira. Not a bad gig, if you can get it.
3. Brandon Allen, New York Red Bulls: Allen was a lot of fun to watch for Red Bulls II in 2016. His unpredictability in the box is a positively Chris Wondolowskian quality, and he always seemed to pop up where the defense vacated space, however subtly. It should serve him well at the next level as a quick-witted striker who’s as good of a Ramdeuter – literally a ‘space investigator’ – as this Homegrown forward crop has.
2. Gyasi Zardes, LA Galaxy: Zardes’ best position has been something of a hot debate in recent times, and he’s generally split between winger on the national team level and striker for club. It’s the latter role where I think he’s most comfortable. As a player who can peel off the attack and launch back in at an uncomfortable angle, there are few more dangerous in MLS.
1. Jordan Morris, Seattle Sounders: Morris did phenomenally in 2016 as a lone forward in Brian Schmetzer’s 4-2-3-1, but he’s still a screaming second striker at heart. He wants to pull back from the front line and run at you, and he’s a freight train in space. After 14 goals and a championship his rookie year, what’s the encore? It’ll be a show, whatever it is.