Major League Soccer’s rising young talents: how did they get here?

The 2021 Major League Soccer season was a standout for young players. 

Players like Ricardo Pepi and David Ochoa gained international attention for their precision on the ball, while NYCFC’s James Sands’ silent but deadly tactics inspired his side to success. But how did these talents get to where they are now?

Here’s a look into the journey of Major League Soccer’s rising young talents… 

Moses NyemanMoses Nyeman

D.C. United player Moses Nyeman joined the club at the Under 12 level / Brad Smith/ISI Photos/GettyImages

Club: D.C United
Age: 18

Nyeman rose through the D.C. United academy ranks to the coveted senior team roster. He first joined the club in 2015 with the Under 12 level, recording 83 appearances and 10 goals in the U.S. Soccer Development academy. Nyeman’s precision on the ball and determination inspired him to quickly reach D.C. United USL Championship affiliate Loudoun United. 

As one of the academy’s most prominent stars, the 16-year old made his USL debut as a substitute in a 3-2 victory over the Swope Park Rangers on June 6. After just one season, Nyeman signed on with D.C. United as the 13th Homegrown player in club history. 

He made 19 appearances for the Washington D.C. team in 2021, inspiring two assists. 

DC United player, Kevin Paredes and Philadelphia's Aval...DC United player, Kevin Paredes and Philadelphia's Aval...

DC United player Kevin Paredes worked himself up from the Academy’s U13 level \ / SOPA Images/GettyImages

Club: D.C United
Age: 18

Paredes has long been a part of the Black and Red family, serving as a member of the Academy since the Under 13 level. He recorded 39 goals in 85 U.S. Soccer Development Academy appearances over a span of three years. 

The 16-year-old impressed with his ability to score from his midfield position, attracting the attention of the club’s senior members. He worked himself to D.C. United’s  USL Championship affiliate Loudoun United, debuting in 2019. 

But his disciplined forms on the defense propelled Paredes to a quick promotion and signed with the MLS side in 2020.

Cristian Casseres JrCristian Casseres Jr

New York Red Bulls player Cristian Casseres Jr joined from Venezuela / Ira L. Black – Corbis/GettyImages

Club: New York Red Bulls
Age: 21

Cristian Casseres Jr. first completed his transfer to the Red Bulls in 2018, joining the team from Venezuelan First Division Deportivo La Guaira. He made his debut for the team at 16 years old, and went on to record 15 appearances for La Guaira before joining Major League Soccer. 

Casseres Jr. kicked off his rise to stardom in 2019, managing three goals and four assists in 22 appearances. He’s quickly become an integral part of the team and its Eastern Conference success.

George BelloGeorge Bello

Atlanta United’s homegrown talent George Bello continues to shine with the senior team / Carmen Mandato/GettyImages

Club: Atlanta United
Age: 19

George Bello is a product of Atlanta United’s Academy. He joined the group with the Under 15 side, featuring in 26 matches before moving up the ranks. He was named the 2016-17 East Conference U15/16 Player of the Year.

He went through the Under 16 and 18 groups, outplaying others to finally reach the MLS side’s senior roster in 2017. He signed as a Homegrown player, and went on to make his Major League Soccer debut against D.C. United. 

The player has been unstoppable ever since.

FC Dallas v Vancouver Whitecaps FCFC Dallas v Vancouver Whitecaps FC

FC Dallas Homegrown player Justin Che first joined the academy in 2009 / Christopher Morris – Corbis/GettyImages

Club: FC Dallas
Age: 18

Justin Che is another great product of the FC Dallas Academy. 

The homegrown player first joined the United States Soccer Development Academy in 2009, and went to make 18 goals in 84 appearances throughout his seven years present. 

He worked himself through the ranks to become the seventh youngest player to sign with FC Dallas’ senior team at 16 years and 319 days old. He has since worked tirelessly to make an impact on the Texas team.  

Leon FlachLeon Flach

Philadelphia Union player Leon Flach joined from a second tier Bundesliga team / Mitchell Leff/GettyImages

Club: Philadelphia Union
Age: 20

The Philadelphia Union player had a unique introduction to Major League Soccer. 

Flach is a result of German team’s F.C. St Pauli youth system, where he played in the under 17 and under 19 sides before signing to their senior roster in 2020. He made his professional debut for the club in September 2020 and would go on to make nine appearances before transferring to the Philadelphia Union in 2021.

Efrain AlvarezEfrain Alvarez

Los Angeles Galaxy player Efrain Alvarez thrived with the academy / Shaun Clark/GettyImages

Club: LA Galaxy
Age: 19

The Mexican international player has long been destined to success since leading the LA Galaxy academy’s Under 17 side to the USSDA Championship. Alvarez made himself known, scoring in the team’s quarter final, semi final and championship matches.

He immediately signed with the senior team after lifting the trophy, joining the American league as the seventh-youngest player ever to sign a contract at just 16 years old. 

He’s played along the MLS greats, with Zlatan Ibrahimovic categorizing him as “the biggest talent from everybody in MLS”.

David OchoaDavid Ochoa

Real Salt Lake goalkeeper David Ochoa was a product of the Academy / David Berding/GettyImages

Club: Real Salt Lake
Age: 20

David Ochoa has an unusual arrival to Major League Soccer. He kicked off his career with the Real Monarchs SLC in 2018, and stands as the second-youngest goalkeeper to debut at the USL level to date.

He was originally a product of the team’s academy, standing out from 2016-2018 before going on to feature for the USL side. 

He went on to join the MLS team in 2020, but wasn’t until the 2021 season that Ochoa made a name for himself with Real Salt lake. Ochoa led the Western Conference team to a Cinderella season, becoming the underdogs of the 2021 playoffs. He saves penalties and offensive attacks from some of the league’s greatest to reach the conference finals.

Daryl DikeDaryl Dike

Daryl Dike joined Orlando City SC during the MLS Superdraft / Douglas P. DeFelice/GettyImages

Club: Orlando City SC
Age: 21

Daryl Dike kicked off his career after being picked up by Orlando City during the MLS SuperDraft in 2020. 

The University of Virginia product was selected as the Number 5 overall by the Lions, and later went on to sign a Generation Adidas contract on January 7. Since then, Dike has proved his worth for the team, recording 10 goals and three assists this year alone.

Ricardo PepiRicardo Pepi

Ricardo Pepi is a result of FC Dallas’ Academy / Shaun Clark/GettyImages

Club: FC Dallas
Age: 18

Ricardo Pepi is the definition of a homegrown success story. 

He defied the odds, becoming the breakout star of 2021 after thriving for FC Dallas and finding himself a vital part of Gregg Berhalter’s USMNT squad. 

Pepi first joined the MLS club’ Academy level in 2016 at the age of 13, coming from the club’s youth affiliate in El Paso. He recorded 18 goals in 15 games during his first season, quickly outgrowing the skill level of his age group. He rose through the ranks, moving up to the Under 18 group just two years after first signing on. 

In 2019, Pepi finally sealed the deal as a Homegrown player for FC Dallas before going on to make history within his first two seasons. He now stands as Major League Soccer’s Young Player of the Year.

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