What constitutes a successful season?
There are goals, of course, but the game is more than that. Assists? Sure. Off-ball runs? Positioning? A dedication to the defensive dark arts while working over an enterprising forward? Maybe so. There are a million points of light that contribute to an individual season on the edge. Pulling them all together to determine whether one is better than another is the difficult part.
That’s what we’ve endeavored to do at TDS. Later this year, we’ll crown our first ever boys and girls TopDrawerSoccer.com Player of the Year Award presented by IMG. The award recognizes the top amateur boys and girls players in the country, and you can delve more deeply into the criteria here.
For now, we’re still assessing talent and taking stock in individual seasons of youth soccer enormity. We’ve already looked at a few top players, and you can see those assessments here and here and here.
But there’s still open space for challengers, especially on the wide open boys side. Here are two more players to add to the growing list.
Boys: Nicholas Taitague, FC Richmond
When you think about it, it’s fairly incredible FC Richmond was able to hang onto Taitague as long as it had. Taitague bucked the trend of playing the Development Academy, and amid USYNT call-ups and floated rumors about moves to clubs in Europe, Taitague stayed put. Part of the reticence to move was his age and lack of an EU passport, which rooted him in place until his 18th birthday. Given the fact that the talented creative midfielder is still just 17, his hands were tied.
Taitague signed an amateur deal with the Carolina RailHawks in April, allowing him to keep his amateur status while moonlighting in the NASL. He’s already played games too, making him the first amateur to garner minutes in NASL history. Whether Taitague moves abroad soon or not, professional soccer is almost certainly in his future. The No. 2 player in the 2017 class has also reinserted himself in the USYNT discussion. As recently as April he was called into a U18 MNT camp, his second in a row after being out of contention for almost a year.
The diminutive, skilled technician deserves his place in the sun as one of the most promising midfielders in the system. If his form continues to rise as the season winds down, we could see Taitague follow the rumors to a big club that’d join him with some of the biggest names in the U.S. youth pipeline.
Girls: Civana Kuhlmann, Colorado Rush
We’ve spoken before about how good the 2017 girls class is, and it may have the strongest top 10 we’ve seen in some time. Maybe ever. In most other years, Civana Kuhlmann might easily be considered the best player available in the entire pool. As is, she’s our No. 4 player. Go figure.
Kuhlmann was one of those rare talents who was plucked from the ECNL by college early. Stanford got to her in 2014, when she was a U14 player, and she committed late that year. Her star ever since has been on an ineluctable rise, pausing only briefly as she took another step up the age ladder. And even then, it didn’t take her long to readjust and smash the competition.
Kuhlmann’s loudest exploits have unquestionably been on the USYNT circuit, where she quickly earned the starting striker spot on B.J. Snow’s U17 World Cup qualifying team. She proved her mettle as one of the team’s best players in CONCACAF qualifying, and she’ll certainly have a role to play in the coming World Cup. But that certainly hasn’t been the entire measure of her 2015-16 season.
Due to missed time for various national team duties, Kuhlmann’s played sparingly for club side Colorado Rush U17s. But the fact that she’s scored eight goals in seven games speaks to her booming impact when she does see the field. She’ll likely be with Rush at some point during the ECNL playoff cycle, which will give her the biggest club stage yet to make defenders look silly. Based on her past, that’s almost a given.
Here’s a glimpse at a few more players making a case to be included on the shortlist as we arrow toward this summer’s ultimate vote.