At outsideoftheboot.com we strive to keep you abreast of the superstars of tomorrow and as such, Griffin O’Neill has compiled a list of the Top 5 Young Players in MLS in 2016.
5. Jordan Morris // 22 // Forward // Seattle Sounders
Coming in at number five is American international Jordan Morris. After bursting onto the scene when he scored against Mexico in 2015, Morris has gone on to win the college national championship with Stanford, the MLS Cup with Seattle, and the MLS Rookie of the Year award. Morris is so impressive that Bundesliga outfit Werder Bremen offered him a contract before he had ever played a professional game. While this may seem premature, Bremen knew what they saw and were right.
Last season, Morris led Seattle with 14 goals and set an MLS rookie record by scoring five winners. He also led the line for almost the entire year because of an injury to talismanic striker Clint Dempsey. This injury appears to have signaled the changing of the guard in more teams than one. Dempsey is also on his way out of the USMNT setup, and Morris is one of only a few options who is a viable replacement for Dempsey.
While there are some areas of Morris’ game that need refining (mainly his weak foot), he has an incredibly bright future ahead of him, and if he can keep up the same composure and effectiveness that made him a hit last year, he could be on his way to a top European club in no time at all.
4. Cristiain Roldan // 21 // Midfielder // Seattle Sounders
After being signed on a homegrown contract by the Sounders in 2015, Roldan was thrust into the first team because of the retirement of Michael Pineda. Roldan was asked to play an unfamiliar holding midfield role next to veteran Ozzie Alonso, and first impressions weren’t the best. The midfielder looked out of place and tended to disappear in games, but once he settled in, Roldan could not be stopped.
Roldan was one of Seattle’s most important players in their title run last season. His ability to help both in defense and attack was crucial for a Sounders team that desperately needed balance in midfield. His 2.4 tackles per game to go along with 2.5 long balls showcase his ability to both protect his back line and start attacks from deep.
New USA coach Bruce Arena has also said that Roldan is in the picture for the National team in the coming months, and this call up is long overdue considering the accolades that the 21-year-old has gained and the performances that he has put in. Roldan’s versatility is also a major factor contributing to his National team future. He is accomplished at playing an attacking, defensive, and box-to-box midfield role. This is crucial because of the current age of the American midfield. Crucial members such as Sacha Kljestan, Jermain Jones, and Graham Zusi are all on the wrong side of thirty, and with no immediate replacements, Roldan is in the pole position to take control of the USMNT’s midfield.
3. Justen Glad // 19 // Center Back // Real Salt Lake
Born in California in 1997, Justen Glad has gone on to become one of the breakout stars of the 2016 season. Before last season, everyone knew he was a good young player who would probably end up making a few substitute appearances, but nobody expected him to play as much, or as well, as he did.
Glad went on to start all but seven of Real’s games last season and impressed in nearly every one of them. The thing that was most impressive about the youngster last year was his knowledge of the game. He intercepted 3.3 passes per game, which is more than Sergio Ramos and David Luiz combined. Glad is also adept on the ball; his 36.8 passes per game are excellent for a player of his age, and this is a quality that can take him a long way as well.
While Glad’s physical properties could use some work, his composure on the ball and his ability to turn defense into attack make Glad one of the United States’ best young defenders.
2. Cyle Larin // 21 // Striker // Orlando City
After winning Rookie of the Year in 2015, many critics suggested that Canadian striker Larin would have a sophomore slump. They were proven wrong in the extreme. His 14 goals were best for Orlando and on the level of many of the MLS’ top strikers. While Larin does need to work on his physicality, his finishing ability makes up for his weak hold-up play tenfold.
Another factor working in Larin’s favor is the supply that he is receiving. He has Ballon D’Or winner Kaka behind him, and with the Brazilian’s experience and skill tutoring Larin, he should have no problems with maturity or consistency in the future.
Larin’s strike rate over two full seasons showcases his consistency, which is a huge quality for a young striker to have. This makes him one of the most in-demand strikers in MLS, and he is destined for great things in the future. His ability is also showcased on the international stage, with Larin already situated as Canada’s best player at the age of 21.
1. Jack Harrison // 20 // Winger // NYCFC
After making the bold move of exiting the Manchester United academy, Jack Harrison has become a superstar in the MLS. When he was drafted first overall in the MLS draft last year, there were obviously high expectations, and NYC fans were initially disappointed because of a serious thigh injury that kept Harrison out of the first part of the season. However, when he returned from injury, the only people complaining were opposing defenders.
Last year Harrison became the creative spark for a NYCFC attack that tended to be a one man show with David Villa doing everything. While Villa did do more in terms of stats than Harrison last year, this was because of Harrison’s movement off the ball and his ability to create space for other attackers by working himself. He scored four goals to go along with seven assists in only 21 appearances, and he also completed 1.5 key passes per game. This stat in particular made him one of the most effective playmakers in the MLS last year.
Harrison’s playmaking ability and consistency give him a very good chance to make the breakthrough to a big European team, and he already has the European pedigree that many clubs in Europe look for in foreign signings. Altogether, Harrison’s dynamism and creative ability make him the most European ready and exciting prospect in the MLS.
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