The Future Stars of American Soccer (Football, Footy?)
Yes, American soccer does have a future. In 2008 the US Under-20 team made it to the quarterfinals of the U-20 World Cup in Canada. They had to beat powerhouses like Brazil and Uruguay to get there. The same year, the U-17 team made it to the round of 16 where they lost to eventually 3rd place Germany.
The future is bright. At the youth level and somewhat at the senior level, American players are excelling on the global stage. Though we have a very long way to go before our youth teams and programs can compare to the skill level of those in Brazil or England, there is a beacon of light at the end of the tunnel.
Most avid American soccer fans (and some casual fans) know of foreign wonderkids that excel nationally and in domestic leagues like 19 year of Alex Pato of AC Milan and Brazil, or 20 year old Theo Walcott of Arsenal and England, or even the 21 year old Lionel Messi of Barcelona and Argentina.
However here, I will countdown to you the top 10 players 22 years of age and younger that will lead the United States to a new Era of Soccer. Players that one day will hopefully be able to compare to the "Walcotts" and "Patos" of the world.
#10 Chris Agorsor
"He could be one of the best players to ever come out of our country"
This was said by 5-9" Chris Agorsor's high school coach Steve Nichols in an interview with The Examiner in 2007. Chris Agorsor was a junior in high school. Before and during his junior year, Chris Agorsor received offers to play professionally. No, not from DC United but from Newcastle United, Tottenham Hotspur, Sevilla, and Juventus too name a few.
In his final high school season in which he played only 15 games, he scored 24 goals and had eight assists. Agorsor graduated early in order to attend the University of Virginia where he scored four goals in his first six games.
With these credentials, how can Chris only be #10?
In September 2008, during a game against Central Connecticut State, Agorsor collided with a defender and landed awkwardly. He tore his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and severely strained his posterior cruciate ligament (PCL). He was ruled out for the rest of the season. Typically, the recovery time for an injury like this is 6-12 months. Chris is currently recovering.
Though a serious injury, it is not necessarily career ending. We wish him a speedy and perfect recovery. He has a bright future.
#9 Fuad Ibrahim
Fuad Ibrahim was born in Ethophia but raised in Minnesota. During high school he was picked up for the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, which is a prestigious academy for U-17 National Team players. The Academy has breed talents such as Freddy Adu and Landon Donovan.
In 2007, Ibrahim became the second youngest player in MLS history to be drafted into the MLS. He was drafted by FC Dallas and was traded to FC Toronto.
In his first game with FC Toronto during the 2008 season, Ibrahim scored his first goal. He ended up scoring 2 goals that season. So far during the 2009 season, he has one assist in 3 appearances. He is still the youngest player in the MLS.
Ibrahim was also part of the U-17 national team that lost to Germany in the Round of 16 at the 2007 FIFA U-17 World Cup in South Korea. He appeared in all four matches during the tournament. Ibrahim has since been called up by Thomas Rongen to participate in matches and training camps with the U-20 national team.
Though he doesn't have many offers from overseas yet, it seems to only be a matter of time. He is so quick and strong at 6 feet. He plays with such maturity that when I watch him I forget that he is only 17 years old. It couldn't be clearer that this kid has a bright future in soccer.
#8 Brek Shea
U-20 US defender Brek Shea attended the same youth academy, the Dallas Texans, as esteemed American striker Clint Dempsey. Instead of attending college, 19 year old Shea elected to enter the MLS Draft right out of high school. He was the #2 overall pick.
Brek Shea is a 6'3" central defender that has a rare and enticing combination of strength, speed, and vision. Though his talents are very raw, he has caught the attention of scouts all over. There were even rumors that he had caught the eye of Manchester United top scout, Jim Lawlor.
He has represented United States soccer at the U-17 and U-20 levels. Unfortunately, on Sept. 19, 2008 he had surgery on a torn medial meniscus. The bright side is that he is expected to play in this summer's U-20 World Cup in South Korea.
Make sure you keep an eye out for this kid.
#7 Stefan Jerome
6'0", Stefan Jerome is of Haitian decent is not your average 16-year-old. He has gone through some hardships that few could even imagine. Jerome's dad, Joseph, died of a heart attack eight years ago, during one of his soccer games. He was only 49. During that fateful November day, Jerome's life changed. His mother went into a depression for three years.
Jerome vowed that day to not only be good at soccer, but to excel. He has done just that. Stefan Jerome has already received offers from European clubs like Newcastle United and Bayern Munich. However, he has turned them all down. Jerome's goal is to make a big name for himself during this
year's U-17 World Cup in Nigeria.
"My plan is to hold off until after the World Cup," says Jerome, "I want to see if I can get better offers. Right now, I'm just going to see what happens."
We all will see what happens. With his size and break neck speed, we will most likely see great things. Now and in the future.
#6 Charlie Davies
After a stellar high school career, where he led his team to a 15-0 record and a New England championship, Massachusetts native Charlie Davies decided to play his college soccer at Boston College.
After a rough start, Davies had a breakout junior season where he scored 15 goals in 16 games. After that season he decided to forgo his final year of eligibility and decided to sign a professional contract. Most college soccer stars decide to enter the MLS Draft. In 2007, Davies decided to sign a pro contract with Swedish team Hammarby IF.
Davies, though initially a started, struggled to adapt to the Swedish game. But he didn't stay down for long. During the 2008 season, Davies scored 15 goals in only 30 games.
At 22, Davies has represented the US at the U-20, U-23 and Senior levels. His first call-up to the senior team was in 2007. Since then he has been called up five times and scored one goal.
#5 Charles Renken
Charles Renken is a dark horse on this list. He is also the youngest.
At 14, it may be strange to try a start a buzz about this kid. However, I'm going to prove to you that this isn't just hype. This Renken is the real deal.
Type in his name on google and you will get 44,000 matches of soccer fanatics raving about his skills, maturity, and humility. You will also hear the comparison to another young American protege...Freddy Adu.
"It's a great compliment, but I think we are different players," Renken says. "I can only be myself on the field. I just stay focused on soccer, and I try to stay humble and work hard every day. I love to play, so I prove things to myself on the field. Not to anyone else."
Does that sound like a typical 14-year-old to you?
Renken (born Charles Bimbe) was born in Kalingalinga, Zambia which is just outside the capital. In case you know nothing about the country, all you need to know is that it is not a very easy situation to emerge from. 70 percent of its citizens live below the poverty line.
Renken was able to come to American through his brother's traveling choir. However, the choir kept all the money they made and essentially held them captive. The choir was busted by the Immigration and Naturalization Service and Renken was fortunate to be adopted by an American family.
He was placed on a local U-9 soccer team. The team was undefeated. The rest is history.
He has been on the radar of academy programs all over the world and has had trials at Arsenal, Reading FC, and 1860 Munich. He is expected to sign a pro contract within the next couple months.
This is especially good for American soccer because he can develop in a better youth academy. Not to knock the programs that have harbored talents like Freddy Adu and Landon Donovan, but being brought up in a country where soccer is king would really help him develop into a super-talent. Arsenal has what is considered by many to be the best youth academy in the world. If Renken to land himself there, the sky is the limit.
#4 Vincenzo Bernardo
Like Italian International Guiseppi Rossi, 18-year-old Vincenzo Bernardo was born in New Jersey to an all-Italian family with aspirations to play proffesional soccer.
Bernardo's path to soccer greatness has been fast and furious. At age 12, Bernardo joined the best travel team in his area the Morris United Fireballs. After quickly becoming the best player on his team and leading them to several local, state, and national titles he was asked to join New Jersey's Olympic Depelopment Program (ODP) Team. He was 14.
I told you he rose fast.
He joined the US U-15 team while attending junior high. In his 7th and 8th grade years he scored 80 goals in 30 games. He attended high school at the prestigious St. Benedicts Prep where as a freshman he lead the team to a 22-0 season. He had 22 goals and 22 assists that season. The next year he led his team to the national title while playing for the U-15 National team and the Morris United Fireballs.
At 15, he left the Fireballs in order to join the first professional academy team the U-17 Metrostars (now the Red Bull). At 16, he started to play for U-19 team.
During a trip to Italy with the ODP team, Bernardo was scouted by several top Italian teams. Later that year, he signed a pro contract with SCC Napoli. Just recently, he signed a contract extension that will keep him in Napoli until 2011. At 18, he is already on the reserve team.
I bet some of you thought I was lying when I said his rise was fast and furious. This kid has a knowledge of the game that America has not seen before. He also has an incredible nose for the goal. His talent will be on full display during the U-20 World Cup this year. Don't blink.
#3 Freddy Adu
I have to do it. I have to mention...him. I have to mention the hype, the commercials, the appearances on TRL and 60 minutes, I have to mention the relationship with teen pop star JoJo. I have to mention the outrageous talent complete with scintillating speed and awe-inspiring flick and tricks.
However, I also have to mention the disappointment.
At 14, Ghanaian born Freddy Adu had done something that nobody had ever done before. Freddy Adu made soccer relevant in the United States.
On Jan. 16, 2004 Freddy Adu became the youngest American athlete in over 100 years to sign a major league pro contract in any team sport. He was chosen by D.C. United as the 1st overall pick in the 2004 MLS Super Draft.
Freddy Adu's mother had rejected offers from mega-clubs like Manchester United, Inter Milan, and Arsenal prior to the draft.
They hype machine revved its engines. Freddy Adu's face and charismatic personality was in full display as he appeared on commercials and several of posters. His name was constantly mentioned on national sports shows like ESPN's SportsCenter and radio. I even recall Freddy being one of the topic's of discussion on my favorite hip-hop radio station!
After being spoiled by the success of sports proteges such as Alex Rodriguez, Tiger Woods, Kobe Bryant and Lebron James, expectations were high. However, there was no doubt that he would be able to exceed. With his talent how could he.
"His left foot is fantastic," Pele (yes, Pele) said of him during a commercial shoot they had together, "It's like Mozart. Mozart started when he was five years old. If you are good, you are good. God gave Freddy the gift to play soccer."
Even the greatest had Freddy Adu tipped for greatness.
So what happened?
Well, Freddy failed to live up to the unreasonable expectations placed on him. In his first 30 games at DC United, he struggle for playing time. He struggle with it so much that he complained to the media. He was suspended for a game. People started to lose interest because he wasn't scoring three goals a game. America is a highlight-obsessed society, and he just wasn't producing the highlights.
In 30 games, Freddy only managed to score five goals. Even though he was only 15 fans expected so much more. Some were already labeling him as a bust. Freddy did manage to become an All-star in two of his three years at DC United, but it wasn't enough.
Freddy had a brief two-week trial with Manchester United in November of 2006, but nothing ever materialized. The next month, Freddy Adu was traded to MLS team Real Salt Lake. His star had all but faded.
Then came the 2007 U-20 World Cup. Freddy went nuts.
During the U-20 World Cup, Freddy led the U.S. to the Quarter Finals, made possible by wins over Uruguay, Poland, and favorites Brazil. In only five games, Freddy had 3 goals and 2 assists. The star was shining again.
Later that summer, Freddy signed a deal with Portuguese super-club SL Benfica. Although he struggled to work his way up the ranks, Freddy did manage to get in a few games as a substitute and as a starter. He even made an appearance in the UEFA Champion's League. He scored a respectable five goals in 17 matches. He was only 18.
Unfortunately for Freddy, the manager that hired him was fired. He again struggled for playing time.
In July 2008, Freddy was loaned to French club AS Monaco. He has struggled at Monaco and has only appeared in nine matches. His lack of playing time at Monaco has affected his standing with the US National team as well. Though he scored his first goal International goal in a World Cup Qualifying match against Guatemala last year, he has been left on the bench for many International matches. In some cases, he wasn't even invited to matches.
Fortunately, he is set to return to SL Benfica this summer.
This is the soap opera of Freddy's life. Some may look at his life and only see the grim. Many have already written him off. I see that Freddy has the talent to succeed. All he needs to do is be put in the right situation and be given time to excel. He is only 19. He has been burdened with unrealistic expectations and now that some of the hype has faded, he may now be able to just enjoy the game. Freddy, like most athletes, excels when he is allowed to just enjoy the game. I guess for now that I want the world to forget about him
Just so he can captivate it again.
#2 Michael Bradley
Some may say that 21-year-old Michael Bradley had it easy. I mean his first professional team was MetroStars (now NY Red Bull), a team that was coached by his father.
After scoring only one goal in 30 games for the MetroStars, he managed to secure a deal with Dutch club team SC Heerenveen. He was the youngest American player to be sold from the MLS to Europe.
He found moderate success his first year, starting 4 games. The next year, however, was his coming out party. In the 2007-08 season he scored 16 goals in 20 total appearances. This beat Fulham FC star Brian McBride's record of goals by an American player in a top-flight European league.
In the summer of 2008, Michael Bradley transferred to the more competitive German league and signed a four year deal with Borussia Mönchengladbach. So far, he has scored five goals in 19 appearances.
Michael Bradley is a regular for the national team, which is coincidentally coached by his father. He has scored an impressive five goals with the team.
Though he does have his father to push him through the ranks of American soccer, Bradley does not have a free ride. He has earned his place among the elite. He is an absolute stud in the midfield and even though he is a potent scorer, he is very defensive minded as well.
His talents have earned him respect and praise. His work ethic has made him one of the few American stars in a European league.
Maybe he didn't have it so easy after all.
#1 Jozy Altidore
Jozy Altidore first hit the scene for many with the Adidas:Impossible is Nothing commercial. But believe me when I tell you that he was on the rise way before that.
Similar but not nearly to the extent of Freddy Adu, Jozy was a young phenom that was tipped to be a star. He had the skills, the personality, and even a charismatic smile.
However, he does have some things that separates him from Freddy. Jozy is 6'1" which is a great size for a striker. He knows how to use his height to win balls in the air. Several of his goals on the domestic and International level have been headers.
He is also very well built and is able to body weaker, smaller defenders. But don't let this fool you, he is very fast as well and has excellent footwork. Just when you think he is a slow and will just try to burrow through you, he will hit you with a lightning quick step over and shake you out of your boots.
Jozy also has cannons for legs. His shots are so powerful that when he was a child he was forced to play with older kids because parents of the kids in his age group were scared their children would get hurt by him.
However, his greatest asset is his brain. He has a maturity that is well beyond his years. Such maturity is evident in interviews and more importantly his play on the field. He knows where he is supposed to be and when. He knows exactly what to do and when.
The combination of his skills have shot him to stardom
Jozy was chosen as 17th overall pick in the 2006 MLS Super Draft as a 16 year old. He did not play that much his first year because he was earning his high school diploma.
However in his two years with the New York Red Bull (37 appearances) he scored 17 goals. All before his 18th birthday.
Altidore's name became known internationally when he was tied for the 3rd highest scorer at the 2007 U-20 World Cup in Canada. He scored 4 goals in 5 games.
Later that year, Altidore played in his first senior national team game. In his next game as a senior international on Feb. 6, 2008 he was a starter in a friendly match against Mexico and scored his first international goal. He is the youngest American ever to score in their first international start.
In the summer of 2008, Jozy Altidore signed a $10 million deal with Spanish giant Villareal. It was the largest transfer deal for an American player ever. In September of 2008 he made his first appearance in La Liga (the top tier Spanish soccer league), a month later, he became the first American international to score in La Liga. Later that month he got to start in a game.
In January 2009, in order to get better acclimated to Spanish culture and receive more starts, he was loaned to second division team Xerez.
On April 1, Altidore became the youngest American to score a hat-trick in an international game in a World Cup Qualifying match against Trinidad & Tobago.
On April 16, he had a minor surgery on two of his toes. He will be out for a month.
Altidore is to return to Villareal in the summer.
Jozy has been a beacon of light in soccer. Not only has he been great in the business world (with commercials, endorsements, etc.), he has had great success on the soccer field. He has all the tools to be one of the all-time greats. The sky is the limit.
"When good players get chances, they put them away...and he is a great player."
-David Beckham said this of Altidore after he scored to goals against his LA Galaxy team.