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USL Top Five – CONCACAF U17 Championship

By NICHOLAS MURRAY -, 04/21/17, 9:09AM EDT


Five players with USL experience to watch in Panama

Photo courtesy U.S. Soccer

The CONCACAF U17 Championship kicks off tonight in Panama, with not only a championship but also four places at the 2017 FIFA U17 World Cup up for grabs in the 12-team event that will conclude on May 7.

The U.S has received a tough draw, with a group that includes perennial rival Mexico, El Salvador and Jamaica, the latter representing the U.S. team’s first opponent on Sunday. Head Coach John Hackworth’s side has an unprecedented number of players with professional experience in its ranks, including five players who have competed in the USL over the past 12 months.

With the help of’s Will Parchman, here’s a look at those five players, all of whom should be expected to play a major role as the side looks to emulate the U.S. U20s' CONCACAF championship earlier this year.

Photo courtesy U.S. Soccer

Andrew Carleton, Midfielder – Atlanta United FC
USL – Charleston Battery, 2016

Andrew Carleton’s addition was lauded as a major signing for 2017 MLS expansion side Atlanta United FC last year, and he made three regular-season appearances and one postseason appearance for the Battery last year. Carleton was a standout at the 2016 Nike Friendlies, where he notched four goals as the U.S. defeated both Brazil and Portugal last December, and will be crucial in the final third in Panama.

Every team needs a flashy attacking provocateur, and Atlanta United Homegrown Andrew Carleton is that in spades for this U17 crew. He's so assured on the ball that sometimes he looks like a Brazilian winger, cutting into space and utilizing moves that made Clint Dempsey famous a decade ago. Carleton is Dempsey's second coming in a number of ways, mostly in how he tries... things. Carleton will be the No. 1 option on the left wing for the U.S. in Panama, and he's a show-stopper. Every time he gets the ball is like a mini-fiesta.

Photo courtesy U.S. Soccer

Chris Durkin, Defender/Midfielder – D.C. United
USL – Richmond Kickers, 2016-17

Chris Durkin is the lone member of the quintet to have seen action in the USL this season, making three starts on loan with the Kickers in his second stint with the squad. With the ability to play either center back or as a holding midfielder – the role he’s played for the Kickers – Durkin is a strong ball-winner and distributor in the center of the field, completing 76 percent of his passes, 62 percent of his long passes and recording 12 clearances and seven interceptions in 270 minutes for Richmond in 2017.

Versatility, thy name is Chris Durkin. In turns over this cycle Durkin, who's routinely worn the captain's armband, has filled in at center back in lieu of his regular role as the starting No. 6 for the U17s. The D.C. United Homegrown's put in quality work in the latter role, and he enters the U17 CONCACAF Championship as the U.S.'s most steady presence in the middle. He's good defensively, of course, but he's a modern holding midfielder in that he's just as good along the ground as he is in the tackle. This team has been exceptional in building attacks, and Durkin is the fire starter at the base.

Photo courtesy U.S. Soccer

Chris Gloster, Defender – New York Red Bulls
USL – New York Red Bulls II, 2016

Gloster spent most of last year in residency, but he shone in his outing for the Red Bulls II against Orlando City B last August, and could feature again later this year when he returns to Harrison after the announcement the U17 Residency Academy would dissolve after its current semester. The fullback played a major role in the U.S.’s Nike Friendlies success, and will be one to watch as he pushes up-field in addition to his defensive duties.

Over the course of the 2016 Nike Friendlies, the defender who probably upped his professional stock the most was the Red Bulls' Chris Gloster, who emerged as the team’s first-choice left back as a tornado down the touchline. Gloster is an ideal modern fullback, with all the attacking sensibilities you want combined with a real defensive lock-down mindset in his own third. The Red Bulls are no stranger to good fullbacks, developmentally, and Gloster is the next in line. He might be the single most enticing unsigned prospect in their entire setup.

Photo courtesy U.S. Soccer

Jaylin Lindsey, Defender – Sporting Kansas City
USL – Swope Park Rangers, 2016

Playing on the opposite side of Gloster for the U17s, Lindsey made a pair of appearances for the Swope Park Rangers a season ago in addition to featuring throughout the year for the national team. Lindsey’s play has turned enough heads that he was also called into the U.S. U20 National Team camp held in London earlier this month, a sign of how highly regarded he is within the organization’s youth setup.

Fun piece of trivia: The next time someone asks you who the first American born in the 21st century to play in a professional game was, you can confidently tell them it was Jaylin Lindsey. He got a brief run-out for the Swope Park Rangers in 2016 on an Academy contract, which telegraphed his promise. Lindsey spent most of his time on the club level as a center back, but he was shifted to fullback on the national team level and quickly acclimated, to the point that he became a regular starter. Lindsey has been the normal No. 1 right back for the U17 MNT.

Photo courtesy U.S. Soccer

Ayo Akinola, Forward – Toronto FC
USL – Toronto FC II, 2016

Of the five players named in the U.S. U17 Squad with USL experience, Ayo Akinola brings the most after making 10 appearances and notching two goals for TFC II a season ago. Born in Detroit before his family moved to Brampton, Ontario at a young age, Akinola teamed with Carleton and St. Louis Scott Gallagher standout Josh Sargent to form a formidable front three at the Nike Friendlies. His four goals at the tournament showed his high level of ability, and he’ll be a threat to opposing defenses in Panama.

Toronto FC's prized Ayo Akinola might not have the cachet of a player like Carleton on the national stage because he hasn't yet signed a pro deal, but he's every bit as good. Akinola tends to play on the opposite flank of Carleton, and he's a similar player without some of the razzle-dazzle. Akinola is more of a wide creator, and while he enjoys taking on players in 1-v-1 situations, he's just as comfortable sliding inside to find teammates and hit one-twos. Akinola has uncommon technical ability for his age, and the fact that he's an out-and-out winger will only increase his profile going forward.

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