22 Under 22

Anonymous takes: MLS technical staffers on 2023’s 22 Under 22


2023’s 22 Under 22 presented by BODYARMOR list has been released. The final ranking was voted on by a panel consisting of MLS Season Pass talent and select MLS staff.

MLSsoccer.com spoke with technical staffers at various MLS clubs to get their candid and anonymous thoughts on what this year’s class offers.

Here are their responses:

Evaluating the potential and skill of this year’s top-rated player

“I’ve always liked Alan Velasco. Even back when he was at Independiente, we followed him closely. He’s got an eye for the pass, he can score a goal. He’s got great work rate and he plays both sides of the ball. I think one downside to him, especially when you look at maybe going to Europe, he might be a little bit on the small side in terms of being able to handle the top-five leagues. He’s got all the other stuff for sure and he can play in Europe, but I’m just not sure it would be at one of the top clubs.”

“He's a player we looked at in the past and I think a lot of MLS clubs were following; he was a big name coming out of Argentina. He plays with confidence, he's direct, he's willing to take players on. He can go both ways, which for a defender is very difficult to defend against when you've got a defender running at you with confidence, with pace and can change direction. That makes him unpredictable. He came in and hit the ground running last year with goals, assists, and a lot in the attack. He's got a tricky element too to beat players, so he's a real attacking threat in this league. He's definitely one to watch for the future.”

“Alan is a high-level player, with a great personality and has shown what he is capable of doing at such a young age. If he can keep having consistent performances, I’m sure he will soon be having a lot more interest from European clubs.”

“Good young player with a balance of vision, final-ball ability and an eye for goal. While not the paciest, he is improving his ability to get defenders off-balanced and is shifty with the ball. I question the ability to truly impact at the highest level as he may struggle to fit into a system, and his physical profile would be in question.”

“Struggles sometimes as an out-and-out attacking midfielder to get on the ball and dictate the rhythm of the game. He has shown he is probably more effective when he is given the freedom to float and operate off the left side as a false winger. While still young, he will need to improve production consistency in MLS.”

Which homegrown prospect do you like the most and why?

Of the technical staffers asked, almost all agreed on one name: Atlanta United homegrown left back Caleb Wiley.

“Caleb Wiley. He’s got the physical qualities, he’s left-sided, he can play both on the wing and as a wingback. I think he’s only going to get better as he gets older, I know he’s already got interest in him already, but I think he could be the next homegrown guy that gets sold for a decent amount of money.”

“Caleb Wiley is one that sticks out. His profile is really interesting for MLS, for big clubs in Europe and for the national team. What's so impressive is how young he still is and how he looks like a man out there. Some of the younger players still look a little bit young, they look like they've got a bright future. Caleb is far from a finished product, but he plays with maturity with his presence, his pace, his power, his strength. The exciting part is he still has so much to offer. He's willing to learn and he's good in two positions as a winger and a fullback, the latter which I think is his best position. I'm excited about his future here, in Europe and with the national team.”

“Caleb Wiley. He has the best profile to make it to the highest level in Europe as a fullback.”

“Caleb Wiley has great pace and looks like a physical profile that can continue to improve and be maximized. While probably best used as a wingback, you could see him transition to a very attack-minded left back at a much higher level with a club that dominates possession and asks little defensively of their outside back. Has shown a willingness to join attacks, and he can get in behind the backline where he shows to be calm and collected in front of goal.”

From this year’s list, who will go for the biggest transfer fee?

While Dylan Borrero (New England Revolution) and Benjamin Cremaschi (Inter Miami CF) received shoutouts from technical staffers, in-depth answers went to other top players on the list.

Brian Gutiérrez in Chicago. He’s an attacker and I think he could go for quite a bit of money if he keeps progressing the way he is.”

“It might not be what most people say because of the season he's had, but I think Talles Magno. Part of the reason he's not been as productive is he's had to play a few different positions – as a center forward, as a 10. He's best, in my opinion, as a winger. I think being in the City Football Group as well has an impact on that, and his profile, his size, his pace, ability on the ball – a lot of European clubs would look at him as a really interesting prospect for them. If he puts it together next season, even over six months, he could command a pretty high transfer fee.”

“Caleb Wiley or one of the American players. With all of the MCO and American investors now involved in the sport all over the world we have seen a trend in which Americans have gone for sizable transfer fees such as Ricardo Pepi and Gaga Slonina. You would have to think one of these young players will get a similar opportunity that wouldn’t be turned down in their first sale, where some of the international players on the list have already been bought for decent-size figures.”

Who is the biggest snub?

With just 22 spots up for grabs, it was always going to be the case that some top performers were left off. Who is missing?

Julián Fernández. Looking at the list, there are not that many attacking players. Given his development at a club with a track record, and now being in the City Football Group pipeline, he has a tremendous opportunity while still being just 19 years old. I would expect this time next year for him to be much further up this list.”

Jake Davis has racked up a lot of minutes this season and when you use different scoring systems and data points, he’s outperformed many players on this list already.”

Aziel Jackson. He's had a really good year for St. Louis and he's got a bright future. He and Cristian Olivera at LAFC could have been on this list.”

Obed Vargas. He has the profile of a complete midfielder and is already contributing at the MLS level.”

Which “next generation” prospect do you like the most?

“I like Nathan Ordaz. Anytime he goes into a game, he usually goes in as a second striker or the lone striker and he always seems to be in the mix of scoring a goal, redirecting something, maybe getting the first shot and somebody else gets the rebound; he always seems to be on it. Even with his size, because he’s not huge, he gets his head on stuff in the box. He’s got a lot of intangibles that don’t always show up on the stat sheet, but I think he’s a decent soccer player too.”

Marco Angulo at Cincy. I saw him before the move and really admired his game, liked what he brings. He's maybe not a snub right now, but that long-term potential is there.”