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Seven Young USMNT Soccer Stars Set to Shine in 2021

| December 5, 2020 3:57 am PDT
7 Young USMNT Stars Set to Shine in 2021

With a friendly against El Salvador just around the corner, USMNT manager Greg Berhalter has named a new-look roster for the upcoming match.

Berhalter’s side played two friendly games in November, securing a goalless draw with Wales and a 6-2 thrashing of Panama. However, the previous squad was made up almost entirely of players based in Europe.

This time around, Berhalter’s camp is packed with players belonging to Major League Soccer clubs. But perhaps most notably, the manager has picked a host of up-and-coming MLS youngsters, many of whom are yet to play for the United States’ senior team.

With the recent squad announcement in mind, now feels like the perfect time to take a look at some of the potential future stars of the USMNT. It is worth mentioning that all the players I discuss in this post have been included in Berhalter’s latest roster.

Here are seven young American soccer players to watch in 2021.

Daryl Dike

  • Age: 20
  • Club: Orlando City
  • Position: Center-Forward

Daryl Dike is coming off a hugely impressive breakthrough season in MLS. The powerful forward helped Orlando reach the final of the MLS is Back Tournament, with the Lions also qualifying for the playoffs for the very first time.

The 20-year-old struggled to get going at the beginning of the year, but after scoring three goals in his first two regular-season appearances, Dike became a mainstay in Oscar Pareja’s side for the duration of the 2020 campaign.

He finished the season with eight goals and three assists in 17 appearances, earning himself a USMNT call-up.

Dike will provide the national team with another dimension in attack. Indeed, his strength and direct approach will allow Berhalter to experiment with a different style of play.

With Jozy Altidore coming towards the end of his career, Dike is viewed by many as the ideal replacement for the veteran striker.

Julian Araujo

  • Age: 19
  • Club: LA Galaxy
  • Position: Right-Back

It is no secret that the Galaxy endured a dreadful 2020 campaign. Guillermo Barros Schelotto’s men failed to qualify for the playoffs, finishing third-bottom in the Western Conference.

However, Julian Araujo has been a bright spot in an otherwise gloomy year for the Los Angeles club.

The young right-back featured in all but four of the Galaxy’s regular-season matches in 2020, enhancing his glowing reputation along the way. He notched up two assists in a victory over LAFC before scoring his first MLS goal against the Timbers.

Araujo’s versatility makes him the ideal candidate for the national side. He has generally operated as a right-back so far in his short career, but his ability to drift into midfield – and even play on the wing – has clearly caught Barhalter’s eye.

Having represented the US from U16 to U23 level, I believe Araujo is now ready to make the step up to the USMNT.

Mark McKenzie

  • Age: 21
  • Club: Philadelphia Union
  • Position: Center-Back

Philly clinched their first-ever Supporters’ Shield in 2020, and it’s fair to say that Mark McKenzie played a key role in helping the Union to secure the silverware.

The center-back only missed one game all season, establishing himself as one of the best young defenders in the country. Philadelphia conceded just 20 goals in 23 regular-season matches, with McKenzie pivotal to the team’s solid defensive record.

It is no real surprise that McKenzie has been linked with a big-money move away from MLS. Scottish champion Celtic is rumored to be interested in the youngster, although I’m sure he will be on the radar of many other top European clubs.

The New Yorker already has one senior international cap after coming on as a second-half substitute against Costa Rica back in February. Needless to say, he is bound to rack up many more USMNT appearances in the coming years.

Cole Bassett

  • Age: 19
  • Club: Colorado Rapids
  • Position: Central Midfield

Colorado seems to be producing a host of exciting homegrown youngsters right now, with Cole Bassett arguably the crown jewel of the group.

At just 19, the midfielder is already closing in on a half-century of appearances for the Rapids. He made a handful of MLS outings in 2018 before featuring heavily in 2019. But during the 2020 season, Bassett became a true star for Colorado.

The Rapids’ campaign was hit hard by the pandemic, yet Bassett still managed to contribute an admirable five goals and four assists in just 12 appearances.

The busy midfielder is best known for his relentless work-rate, seemingly covering every blade of grass on the pitch whenever he plays. But along with his obvious energy, Bassett has started to add goals and assists to his game.

Berhalter is clearly impressed with Bassett’s recent development, and I believe the Coloradan is fully deserving of his first senior national team call-up.

Brenden Aaronson

  • Age: 20
  • Club: Red Bull Salzburg
  • Position: Attacking Midfield

Alongside McKenzie, Brenden Aaronson shone in Philadelphia’s Supporters’ Shield-winning season. The midfielder started every single game for Jim Curtin’s side in 2020, contributing four goals and three assists in the process.

Unfortunately for the Union fans, they won’t be seeing Aaronson in the navy-blue jersey in 2021. The 20-year-old’s outstanding performances have earned him a $5m January move to Austrian club Red Bull Salzburg.

Managed by American Jesse Marsch, the Red Bulls are renowned for producing rising stars. Players like Erling Haaland (Borussia Dortmund) and Takumi Minamino (Liverpool) have come through the ranks in Salzburg, so Aaronson is certainly in good hands.

Still, Philly fans can expect to see Aaronson featuring prominently for the national team in the years ahead. He is destined for a long and successful career on the international scene.

Sam Vines

  • Age: 21
  • Club: Colorado Rapids
  • Position: Left-Back

Sam Vines is another prodigy making serious waves in Colorado. It could be argued that 2019 was his breakthrough year, but he further cemented his status as a future USMNT hero throughout the 2020 season.

Not only is Vines a defensively-sound full-back, but he is also a genuine threat in attack. His willingness to get forward saw him notch up three assists in 15 MLS appearances last term, and he even scored his first senior goal against Real Salt Lake.

Vines was recognized for his efforts in 2019 with an international call-up earlier in the year, making his debut in the same match as McKenzie. In fact, the left-back was named in the starting XI against Costa Rica, so Berhalter obviously trusts him.

With Barcelona star Sergino Dest nailing down the right-back berth on the opposite side of the defense, Berhalter’s backline is packed with talent.

Ayo Akinola

  • Age: 20
  • Club: Toronto FC
  • Position: Center-Forward

If you follow American soccer and you haven’t heard of Ayo Akinola, where have you been?

The 20-year-old burst onto the scene at the MLS is Back Tournament, netting five goals in the opening two games. A double against DC United was swiftly followed by a hat-trick against the Montreal Impact, although Toronto fell in the Round of 16 to New York City.

Injuries kept Akinola on the sidelines for spells of the 2020 campaign, but whenever he was available, he made people stand up and take notice. He added a further four goals to his tally during the regular season, giving Berhalter little choice but to hand him his maiden call-up.

If his record a youth level is anything to go by, Akinola is destined to shine for the senior side. The striker scored an outrageous 24 goals in 32 matches for the U17s before bagging nine goals in 12 appearances for the U20s.

The Toronto frontman is full of pace, while his off-ball movement makes it very difficult for opposition defenders to mark him. I’m excited to see him forge an attacking partnership with fellow newcomer Dike.

Closing Thoughts

It is definitely an exciting time to be a USMNT supporter.

After the disappointment of failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, Gregg Berhalter has put his faith in the nation’s youth, with many of the country’s leading lights under the age of 21.

We all know that players like Christian Pulisic (Chelsea) and Giovanni Reyna (Borussia Dortmund) are going to be at the heart of everything good about American soccer in the coming years, but there are also plenty of MLS-based youngsters ready to fight for a place in the senior side.

Can in-form forwards Dike and Akinola carry their MLS form onto the international stage? Will Bassett fulfill his true potential? Is McKenzie a budding national team captain?

Of course, all of those questions remain to be answered. But right now, the future looks bright for the USMNT.

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Ben Morris
Ben Morris

Ben is a sportswriter and tipster who specializes in soccer. Currently based in the UK, he has traveled all around the world watching – and betting on – his beloved sport.

Alongside his regular soccer content, Ben publishes blogs and picks for cricket, Formula 1, Aussie rules, darts, and various other sports.

Ben is a diehard fan of Nottingham Forest and England, so he hasn’t had much to cheer about in recent years!

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