Who are the standout players in the USL this season aged 20 years old and younger you should get more familiar with?
You’ve probably seen some of their highlights already, but in the 2018 USL 20 Under 20 we rank the best U20 players in the league this season. From current U.S. and Canadian youth internationals to players whose names are already starting to get mentioned in conversations within MLS fanbases, join us as we count down the players that have made a name for themselves in the USL this season.
Date of Birth: 9/6/98 (20 Years Old)
Weight: 165 pounds
International: Canada U20
Career USL Appearances: 63
Career USL Minutes: 3,541
Now in his third season with Toronto FC II, Daniels has made a career-high 24 appearances in 2018 and has come to the fore within the young side, even taking the captain’s armband at times. A versatile midfielder, Daniels has played both centrally and out wide in 2018 and has shown a willingness to try and take on opponents sitting narrowly behind speedster Malik Johnson for the team-high with 76 attempted dribbles.
What has set Daniels apart this season for the Reds has been his calmness and ability to move the ball quickly in the middle of the park. The 20-year-old leads the side with an 80.3 percent passing accuracy rate and has also completed long passes at a rate of 58.9 percent this season. His accuracy rate doesn’t drop far in the opposition’s half, either, sitting at 72.3 percent, while he sits third on the team with 20 chances created.
Selected to Canada’s squad for this summer’s Toulon Tournament, Daniels’ chances created number would likely be higher had he not missed time with the Reds for the prestigious international event, but his selection in that squad shows how well-regarded Daniels is within Canada’s national team set-up.
On Daniels’ progression so far within the club
Aidan’s an interesting story for me in that I wish I could remember the year, but my very first year at TFC he was with a group that went to South Africa, to be able to play with the Academy team there and performed at a very high level, and you can kind of see through the Academy up to his time with us to his introduction to the first team he’s always been ready for each step of the way. He’s a very intense player in the sense that he’s very focused, very critical of his performance. When he’s not playing well he knows he’s not playing well, but when he’s confident he really plays well. I think he’s a really good example of how TFC as an organization can bring a talent along to the point that he’ll be successful.
On what it will take to find the next level in his playing career
Consistency, and to be able to deal with the rough patches, to just know that this is part of the game, these are things that occur. To the extent that he knows who he is, his strengths and weaknesses, and that he knows how to dig himself out of situations, but then also when things are going really well to understand why things are going really well. I think a lot of times with younger players they just think they’re playing well because they’re playing well or they’re playing poorly because they’re playing poorly, they don’t really have an idea of how it all fits in the grand scheme of a career, so I think for him, his knowledge and wisdom are coming along every day and that awareness piece is going to be a strong part for him to become a good pro in the future.
Date of Birth: 3/2/98 (20 Years Old)
Weight: 159 pounds
Career USL Appearances: 37
Career USL Minutes: 3,017
One of Seattle Sounders FC 2’s overseas recruits, Ele underwent a transitional season in his first year at the club in 2017 but this season has come into his own as one of the bright points in the club’s back line. The Cameroonian has raised his numbers across the board and sits in either first or second place in most of the team’s defensive categories.
Ele has won a team-high 43 aerials at a 66.2 percent success rate, the most substantial rise in his metrics this season, but his adaptation to his new surroundings may be reflected best in his passing numbers which have risen in a very positive manner this season. Ele leads S2 with 1,015 passes attempted this season at an 85.1 percent accuracy rate, almost a five percent increase on a season ago. He has shown good vision on his ability to pick out a pass upfield as well, attempting to split midfield lines with 90 passes into the attacking third that has seen him complete 61.6 of his long passes this season and 71.1 percent of passes in the attacking half.
One downside to Ele’s season has been his disciplinary record which has twice see him sent off while also receiving six cautions this season, which can be an occupational hazard for a young center back. The upside that he possesses is certainly worth those growing pains, however, as this season’s growth has demonstrated.
How happy are you with the progression you’ve seen from Year 1 to Year 2 with Rodrigue?
When he’s first come in he hasn’t spoke any English, and it’s tough for the boys to settle in sometimes. New country, new environment, new team, when he first came into the team last year it was a little bit rough for him, and he settled in and made good strides late in the season. It’s just improvements he’s made as a defender. We’re really happy with the way he’s going one-v-one, in the air and defending crosses, the improvement he needs to make is with his feet a little bit, but everything takes time and we’re trying to develop a young man into a really good footballer, and he’s getting there. You can see the growth he’s made, every game he seems more comfortable on the ball and around his teammates and he’s had a good season, which we’re really happy for him.
What’s the pathway to the next level for him?
Yeah, it just about tidying up the stuff he needs to improve on. We try to look at the strengths they need to have to be a center back at the next levels and that’s what we’re working on with Ele at the moment, but his main work he needs is with the ball at his feet and choosing the right option sometimes. He’s great at carrying the ball forward, he gets in good positions carrying the ball forward, but his decision-making sometimes lets him down, but he’s not the only one. We have that with a lot of young players where the critical decision-making that they make can turn to be the wrong one and in the USL if you make the wrong decision, good players, good teams, you’re going to get punished.
Date of Birth: 7/10/99 (19 Years Old)
Weight: 161 pounds
International: United States U20
Career USL Appearances: 38
Career USL Minutes: 3,227
Since making his debut for Steel FC two seasons ago as a USL Academy signing, Real has become the potential next in line to join fellow Philadelphia Union Homegrown signings Auston Trusty and Mark McKenzie to take a place on the MLS side’s back line in years to come. A U.S. U20 international, Real is on course to set new highs for appearances and minutes played in his second full season with Steel FC while earlier this season made his first three starts for the Union in what could be a full-time transition to MLS in the near-future.
An aggressive left back, Real hasn’t recorded an assist yet this season but has already surpassed his chances created total from a season ago with 14 while also seeing his shot total rise as well. Teaming regularly with Steel FC standout Santi Moar down the left side of the field, the duo has helped Bethlehem back into playoff contention for a second consecutive season. Real has also upped his defensive performance this season, sitting in the top five on Steel FC in both interceptions and clearances while producing a seven percent rise in duels won to move him to a plus-player in that category at 54.7 percent.
With the Union’s willingness to give opportunities to its young standouts, this upcoming offseason is a big chance for Real to take the next step forward in his burgeoning career.
On Real’s growth over the last year
I think Matt certainly training with the first team on a regular basis and the experience of playing in MLS games has helped. Matt has matured quite a bit in terms of his study of the game over the last two years and that’s helping him in each of his performances. He is a little more cognizant of what his opponents are good at and what they might not be. I’ve been impressed with his preparation both physical and mental and that’s why he has shown so well in games.
If there was a moment when he saw Real take the next step this season
Early in the season when he got from preseason with the first team, there was a new confidence and after he got through that spell of playing in a few MLS games and spot starting, it took him a few weeks to settle back in with us and accept that role of needing one more year of growth with us. Once he embraced that, he’s been really excellent for us.
On the road ahead for Real’s progression
Hopefully the U-20 World Cup, which is a major event and I know that Matt is one of the top left backs in the pool so I hope that in the end, they choose him, he deserves it in my opinion. He also needs at least an option to be a starter with the Union over the next 12-24 months. The good thing with Matt is that we don’t have to be in a rush and he doesn’t have to be in a rush either. He’s shown signs of growth every couple weeks and every couple months and as long as that continues, I don’t think there is a limit to how much he can grow in this organization.
Date of Birth: 4/6/00 (18 Years Old)
Weight: 150 pounds
International: Congo U17
USL Appearances: 21
USL Minutes: 1,195
Ngalina has taken off quickly since turning professional with Steel FC this past April after arriving with the club from his native Democratic Republic of Congo. The midfielder has fit in positively with the young talent surrounding him on Bethlehem’s squad and has proven a weapon for Head Coach Brenden Burke whether in the starting lineup – where he’s made 15 of his 21 appearances for the side – or coming off the bench as an attacking option.
The speed Ngalina possesses is a major asset to a Steel FC side that looks to get onto the front foot when it wins possession, but there’s much more to his game than simply being a speed merchant. The skills Ngalina has shown in completing almost half of his attempted dribbles this season have made him a handful for opposing defenders to deal with one-on-one, and his five goals, two assists and 13 chances created have shown off an ability to make a positive impact once he’s created his space, either through intelligent off-ball movement or by beating his man and pulling a defense across to cover.
Ngalina won’t turn 19 until after the 2019 USL Championship season kicks off, which means there’s still plenty of room for growth, but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him pushing for a move to a higher level sooner rather than later.
On Michee being recognized despite arriving midway through the season
To adapt to his level at 18 is remarkable and to have five goals and a couple of assists. He certainly stretches teams with his pace but he’s also very intelligent and will come underneath. He has soft feet, can catch it in those pockets which shows a maturity and commitment to work on and off the ball that is rare at that age. He is a truly determined person and carries a lot on his shoulders, certainly off the field, and does it in a way that you can’t help but respect. Any recognition he gets is understated.
On what Michee needs to work on to take the next step
The tactical side of the defense but that will happen naturally. He is a very coachable guy and bought in when it comes to work rate so the defending from the field. As that improves, as his pressing improves, he’s only going to get more opportunities to get on the ball in dangerous spots. I think the sky is the limit for him, you can see him with the Union next year in some capacity and you could see him in a bigger league at some point. It’s a little scary to say that because he’s only 18 but he has the makings of a player that is really rare.
Date of Birth: 10/29/98 (19 Years Old)
Weight: 194 pounds
International: Cameroon U20
Career USL Appearances: 52
Career USL Minutes: 4,494
A USL 20 Under 20 selection for a second consecutive year, Ndam has continued to shine for the Red Bulls II this season in once again racking up more than 2,000 minutes of action while surpassing the 50-appearance mark for the club. Ndam has the physical presence at 6-foot-4 to match up to most forwards in the league and has helped him achieve a success rate in aerial duals (67.2 percent) that this season sits just below those of experienced veterans that have previously earned USL All-League honors.
Ndam’s success rate in aerials is far above that he achieved in the 2017 season, and he’s also shown a marked improvement in regular duels where he now clocks in at a 61 percent rate, up double-digits from a season ago. Ndam also leads the team in blocked shots with 16 and clearances with 93. He’s also shown more adventure and consistency in his passing with 10 chances created this season in comparison to only three a year ago and a passing accuracy rate of 74.4 percent.
Viewed among the club’s followers as likely the next big thing being groomed for the Red Bulls’ squad, Ndam’s 2018 season offers no hint that his progression has plateaued, and this offseason could be a big one for the big center back.
It’s been an interesting process with Hassan. Obviously, this is the second year having him, he’s made a lot of strides. It’s a hard position to play with us – center back – in our system, and he’s shown that he can handle it. He’s impressed us at the USL level, he continues to get better, he’s better on the ball than people think. He continues to improve on his defensive play and his awareness, another guy that got an MLS game and did really well with it. He was able to compete with guys like David Villa, so he has a lot of tools that give him a high ceiling, and we’ll continue to work with him to keep pushing him towards the next level.