Each fall, the official Major League Soccer website releases its “24 Under 24” list for that particular regular season. Showcased in that piece are, as one could guess, top MLS players under the age of 24. While 24-year-old footballers are rarely regarded as being young, the men highlighted in the top ten here should all improve over the next several years.
The top ten spots of this year’s list is a mixed bag. It starts out with a goalkeeper who could, if he progresses while with his current club, have a bright future in a top-flight European league and with the United States Men’s National Team. Second is a striker who had a breakout MLS campaign while featuring for the worst team in the league. The man atop the list plays for maybe the best overall side in MLS.
That individual will soon be making an anticipated move overseas.
Here are the 10 best up-and Coming Major League Soccer players for 2014
10. Bill Hamid – GK – DC United
The best young goalkeeper in all of MLS has played a major role in DC going from worst to first this season. United have been near or at the top of the Eastern Conference standings for much of the campaign. While it appears unlikely that they will contend for the Supporters’ Shield, United will enter October as favorites to win the conference title.
Hamid could receive Goalkeeper of the Year and Most Valuable Player votes at the end of the season. The 23-year-old is second in the league in clean sheets (8). He is third in the league in saves (95). Hamid has posted an incredible 1.24 goals-against average, quite the turnaround from his 2013 GAA of 1.56.
9. Wil Trapp – M – Columbus Crew
Just how important has Trapp become to the Crew during his brief time with the club? The hometown Columbus product is already being referred to as “The Franchise.” Trapp’s confidence on the ball and his in-game leadership skills are traits one would expect to find in a veteran midfield cornerstone.
Trapp is 21 years old.
Columbus supporters love seeing him in Crew yellow, but Trapp should soon also be wearing red, white, and blue. He will, so long as he is healthy at the time, be part of the US squad that attempts to qualify for the 2016 Summer Olympics. Fans may be able to catch Trapp and his Columbus teammates on national TV this fall, as the Crew are a playoff side as of the posting of this piece.
8. Luis Gil – M – Real Salt Lake
Salt Lake are hoping to show that they possess the perfect combination of youth and experience. The club is responsible for back-to-back players in this list, and Salt Lake are true MLS Cup contenders. While they will need some help in order to pass both LA Galaxy and Seattle Sounders, Salt Lake are only five points off of the top spot in the overall league table.
Gil has yet to reach what was believed to be his full potential back when he opened his MLS account versus the New York Red Bulls in 2011. Critics should remember that the American is only 20 years of age. He needs to find his true spot in the midfield if he is to reach expectations.
7. Joao Plata – F – Real Salt Lake
Pace, pace and more pace. Plata has pace and plenty of it. He has, in 2014, developed into more than just a speedster who can strike on the wing. The former Toronto FC player has been a savior for RSL, picking up for the injured Alvaro Saborio (knee) and notching 13 goals and 5 assists.
Plata’s previous high in goals scored in a single season was 4 (in 2013).
Plata has shown himself to be a dangerous weapon while inside of the final third. The question does have to be asked: Is this the real Plata, or is 2014 a one-off for him?
6. Mauro Diaz – F – FC Dallas
Dallas has gone as has Diaz in 2014. FCD came out of the gates flying in the spring, leaping to the front of the league standings and of MLS power rankings. Diaz, meanwhile, was named Player of the Month for March.
Then came a knee injury that resulted in Diaz requiring surgery. Dallas lost their winning ways, to the point that there was speculation that they would not qualify for the postseason. The club has since righted the ship, and while they haven’t yet punched their ticket for November soccer, Dallas are all but guaranteed to make the playoffs.
The key stat pointed by the MLSSoccer.com piece: Dallas are 10-3-1 whenever Diaz plays, and 4-7-5 without him.
5. Diego Fagundez – F – New England Revolution
Fagundez is the one name on this list who has been a bit of a head scratcher in 2014. While teammate Lee Nguyen is playing at a level that has him being mentioned as an MVP candidate, Fagundez has just 5 goals and 4 assists to his name. He also went through a 14-game goal drought during the campaign.
Fagundez has shown that he has the natural talent to get the job done in the North American top-flight. He is also only 19 years old. If ranking on production alone and not factoring in promise, Fagundez wouldn’t break into the top-ten of any “24 under 24” list let alone be a top-five mention.
4. Gyasi Zardes – F – LA Galaxy
Casual soccer fans should familiarize themselves with this name. They’ll soon be hearing more of it.
To suggest that Zardes is having a breakout season would be an understatement. He could, depending on what others achieve during the final month of the campaign, be league MVP. Zardes is tied with teammate Robbie Keane for third in goals scored (15) in 2014. Those two along with Landon Donovan have made for a three-headed monster that could lead LA to Supporters’ Shield and MLS Cup runs.
The hope is that USMNT boss Jurgen Klinsmann has been watching the 23-year-old over the past several months. Zardes needs to be in an upcoming national team camp.
3. Fabian Castillo – F – FC Dallas
The second FC Dallas player to crack into the top-six has developed into an exciting overall attacking option. His 9 goals and 4 assists don’t jump out on paper, but Castillo’s ability to take defenders 1-on-1 is as good as you’ll see from any young MLS player. That aspect of his game is deservedly respected, but Castillo also has a knack for making his way into ideal spots inside of and around the penalty area.
Club América are apparently interested in Castillo’s services, and Eric Gomez of FOX Deportes reported on September 24 that Dallas could lose this player this winter:
“Source tells me that ‘likely nothing MLS can do’ if América makes an offer for Castillo. They can rip him away with a simple ‘yes’ from him.”
2. Erick “Cubo” Torres – F – Chivas USA
Chivas have been a dumpster fire throughout 2014. They are far and away the worst team in MLS and perhaps the worst organization in North American professional sports. The club could be rebranded, moved or even “relegated” to USL Pro after this season.
Torres isn’t part of the problem.
The “Summer of ‘Cubo’” saw the 21-year-old bury goals in six consecutive matches. Torres hasn’t scored since the middle of July, but let’s be honest: Chivas have been a disaster over the past several months.
Get Cubo in the right market, MLS, and make him a star.
1. DeAndre Yedlin – D – Seattle Sounders
Yedlin had a dream summer, making himself a household name among casual fans for at least a few weeks during the 2014 FIFA World Cup. The new USMNT mainstay didn’t just impress viewers. He drew the attention of Premier League side Tottenham Hotspur, and Yedlin will become a Spurs player in 2015.
Some hit out at Yedlin’s defensive skills – or lack thereof in certain situations. Yedlin does need to improve in that aspect of his game, but it remains possible that Tottenham will use him as a winger rather than as a right back.
Tottenham are once again a team with more questions than answers during the first half of a season.