What do all five of those players have in common? They were all left off the 22 Under 22 Rankings presented by BODYARMOR in 2020.

Again, these guys were snubs…

  • 2021’s 22 Under 22 No. 1, the starting No. 9 for the US men’s national team
  • An 18-year-old Bundesliga starter
  • A 17-year-old attacker with four goals and four assists in less than 1,500 MLS minutes
  • A 22-year-old midfielder (five goals, five assists) getting WCQ minutes for Ecuador
  • A Homegrown No. 10 who's second in MLS in assists (13, plus four goals)

We don’t know what we don’t know. Until we know.

We don’t know whose goals are going to force a Designated Player No. 9 to the bench. We don’t know which teenager is going to adapt to European soccer immediately (and with scant MLS minutes to boot). We don’t know what a change of scenery can do for a career in need of a boost. We always don’t know how to value experience outside MLS (and incoming transfer fees) against those who have already proven themselves in our league.

What we do know is that there’s big-time potential outside the 22 Under 22 Rankings every single year. Many players will make a leap or perhaps, like Pepi, even The Leap. A lot can change in a year.

Onto the 2021 snubs! There were so many I had to break them down into categories.

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Homegrown teenagers with MLS chops
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John Tolkin
Left back | Age: 19 · New York Red Bulls

Thanks to the Red Bulls' middling form, we don’t talk enough about John Tolkin, which is probably why he fell just short of making the list. Tolkin won the left back job in late May – he’d never played an MLS minute prior – and hasn’t really let go (19 GS, 24 GP, 1,742 minutes) despite Andrew Gutman and Jason Pendant's presence on the roster. Gerhard Struber trusts him so much he even tried him in midfield recently. The Red Bulls have their left back of the future, and he’s oozing personality. Yung Cletus has arrived!

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Joshua Atencio
Center mid/Center back | Age: 19 · Seattle Sounders FC

Ho-hum, a ball-progressing teenage central midfielder mature beyond his years starting 14 games for the Sounders and not looking out of place whatsoever. The veterans in Seattle trust Atencio, and you can see why.

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Ralph Priso-Mbongue
Midfielder | Age: 19 · Toronto FC

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Priso was pushing his way into Toronto FC's starting midfield, even displacing Michael Bradley at times, until an ankle surgery cut his season short. He’s one to watch, both for club and country.

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Aidan Morris
Midfielder | Age: 19 · Columbus Crew

Remember the guy who helped the Columbus Crew win MLS Cup in 2020? Morris has been out of sight and out of mind recovering from a torn ACL, but we already know he’s a huge talent.

Next big thing?
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Paxten Aaronson
Midfielder | Age: 18 · Philadelphia Union

Why couldn’t Paxten win a starting job with the Union in 2022 and replicate his older brother’s 22 Under 22 trajectory? Snubbed this year, top 10 in 2022 and maybe even No. 1 the year after that, just like Brenden.

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Danny Leyva
Midfielder | Age: 18 · Seattle Sounders FC

The other half of the Sounders’ teenage midfield duo – he turned 18 in May – Leyva is building career momentum once again after breaking his foot and missing most of 2020.

Manchester United, Juventus, Manchester City, Porto and Bayern Munich. All clubs that are reportedly monitoring Marshall-Rutty's progress. Back in January, he became the youngest-ever player to earn an invite to Canada’s senior national team. He’s got 103 MLS minutes to his name, and the next Toronto FC manager ought to have a plan for his future.

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Mbacke
Center back | Age: 18 · Los Angeles Football Club

Things are happening fast for Fall, who was signed in June from the Montverde Academy in Orlando. The highlights tell you he has real aerial ability, three headed goals in less than 1,000 minutes during his first MLS season. LAFC's Bob Bradley tells you the rest: "Fall, for a young player, he’s confident, he’s got a lot of personality, obviously he’s also very talented. Working with him has been fantastic, and you can just tell that he’s got a real desire to become a top player”

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Gabriel Slonina
Goalkeeper | Age: 17 · Chicago Fire FC

Slonina made history in August as the youngest goalkeeper to start an MLS match. He’s since been between the post for five more games for the Fire. Could he win the job for 2022? Why not? Pepi was a 17-year-old waiting for a chance to be a starter this time last year.

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Quinn Sullivan
Midfielder | Age: 17 · Philadelphia Union

Sullivan only scores bangers. Just watch if you don’t believe me.

Big potential (and often price tag), but still unknown in MLS

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Léo Chú
Midfielder | Age: 21 · Seattle Sounders FC

Leo Chu's first MLS goal was a scrappy one in garbage time, but that wasn’t going to stop the young Brazilian from celebrating with the faux bow and arrow. He turned professional during the pandemic and hadn’t played in front of real crowds until he arrived in Seattle. It’s only going to get better for him as he gets more comfortable in the Sounders' setup.

Between these two and Thiago Andrade, I found it hard to sort NYCFC's trio of recently signed South American attackers. I trust my eyes. I trust City Football Group’s scouts. Both Magno and Rodriguez have had special moments this year, just not enough to force their way into the list.

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Federico Navarro
Midfielder | Age: 21 · Chicago Fire FC

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The Fire paid handsomely for Navarro, who arrived from Talleres in September with 42 starts across all competitions for the Argentine Primera División club. He's their defensive midfielder of the future, and they invested with that in mind. Now, what can Chicago build around him?

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Santiago Moreno
Midfielder | Age: 21 · Portland Timbers

Moreno arrived from America de Cali with three Copa Libertadores goals in 500 minutes of action in the competition. He was a starter in the Colombian league. He reportedly cost the Timbers a multi-million-dollar transfer fee. Remember what I said about the tug of war between outside experience/$$$ and whether a player has done it in MLS? Moreno is a prime example. He’s already accomplished more than many on the list. Time to do it in MLS!

Internationals … but not 22 Under 22?
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Szabolcs Schön
Forward | Age: 21 · FC Dallas

You might have seen him scoring (the goal was called back) for Hungary at this summer's Euros, where he was a livewire super sub. Perhaps you caught that World Cup qualifying start and win against Andorra a month ago. If you’ve been watching FC Dallas, it would have been hard to miss the six assists Schon has dished out in 811 minutes (8 GS, 19 GP). He’s a direct and powerful runner, has a good eye for the cutback and is technical enough to take set pieces.

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Lopez has started five of Peru’s 11 World Cup qualifiers for Qatar 2022. He came off the bench in four others. Those credentials got the Quakes man No. 31 in this year’s 22 Under 22. That’s sort of astounding. Could he be more consistent in MLS? Absolutely. Lopez has been in and out of the lineup for Matias Almeyda, but his exclusion is another indication of the depth of young talent in MLS.

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Zan Kolmanic
Defender | Age: 21 · Austin FC

Slovenia's national team rates him, and so does Josh Wolff (19 starts). Will Austin FC exercise the purchase option on Kolmanic's loan from NK Maribor?

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Christian Makoun
Defender | Age: 21 · Inter Miami CF

Makoun's a former Juventus player, Venezuela U-20 captain and now, after some bumps along the road, a starter for Phil Neville's Inter Miami side. He was on the bench for Venezuela’s most recent World Cup qualifiers, but he’s not on this year’s list.

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