Eight U15 & U17 Players to Watch in MLS Next

Article Written by Chris Dailey

The MLS NEXT Flex Tournament will take place from May 10-14 at Maryland SoccerPlex in Boyds, Maryland. The brightest talents of tomorrow will be on display battling it out in fierce rivalry. 

Several of these players may be missing the MLS Next Flex due to international duty or call ups to the first/second teams of their respective clubs. Nevertheless, take a look at ten U15 and U17 players that have thoroughly impressed us in 2024.


Elijah Roche – Toronto FC



Elijiah Roche’s path has been one of sheer persistence, which just so happens to describe himself as a player. Growing up in Canada, Roche worked his way up through local youth clubs before eventually signing with the mammoth that Toronto FC is. Since then, the 16 year old has not looked back. Roche, a center back who also moves into the midfield at times, is strong, fast, and technical. Roche wins 50/50s with conviction whilst also being able to glide through oppositions with ease. Although he may not get the same hype as other players in this age group, it’s not long before everyone appreciates the player that Elijiah Roche is. 



Garbiel Arnold – LA Galaxy 



Gabriel Arnold is a 17 year old standout for LA Galaxy Academy. The midfielder represents El Salvador on the international scene. Arnold has an aura about him that should carry him nicely into the future and has scored some incredible goals in previous MLS Next tournaments. Arnold is calm on the ball, yet he has a relentless mindset about him to win it back when lost. Gabriel is a player that can make a goal scoring opportunity out of nothing. 


Stefan Chirilia – FC Cincinnati 



Stefan Chirila is no stranger to the spotlight. Stefan is one of the most clinical strikers in the U17 age group. A spark in the attacking third, Chirila is an elite-level goal scorer in MLS NEXT, with superb finishing ability and a knack to find the goal from anywhere in-and-around the penalty box. It’s only a matter of time before Chirilia starts to squeak into the first team for FC Cincinnati, but for now, he’s set on continually ripping it up on the youth scene. 



Ian James – Sporting KC



At 15 years old, Ian James is a player Sporting KC are investing heavily in. The youngster just signed his first deal with SKC II this past March. Solid defensively, Ian is still able to play in both directions on the pitch and can still cause havoc on the ball. James’ physicality is elite for his age. Mixed in with the fact he has been training with professionals for several months now, James is sure to impress at MLS NEXT Flex.



Jamir Johnson – Philadelphia Union



15 year old USYNT member, Jamir Johnson, is a ball of energy. Johnson scored a brace against Vancouver in the GA Cup lifted the Union’s U17 squad to the knockout round and demonstrated his elite-level dribbling and finishing ability. Beyond that game against Vancouver, Johnson was lively the entire GA Cup and MLS Next season. Johnson likes to run at defenders, deliver dangerous balls, and most notably, finish them off. In a world where the Union’s academy is so often labeled as the home of Cavan Sullivan, it’s easy to forget the other gems that are being sharpened in Philadelphia. Jamir Johnson is one of those gems. 



Vitaliy Hlyut – Chicago Fire



Vitaliy Hlyut is one of several players who enormously benefited from Major League Soccer’s decision to send the majority of their reserve teams into the US Open Cup rather than the first squad. This decision gave Hlyut a chance to make his name known to the world, scoring a cheeky goal against Chicago City. Hlyut has appeared in MLS Next Pro three times in his young career. The 2008 born forward is strong, has a true knack for his surroundings, and confidence. Given he carries his recent form into MLS NEXT Flex, it’s hard to argue a scenario where But isn’t one of the stars of the tournament.

Neil Pierre – Philadelphia Union




Neil Pierre is another Union prospect that has somewhat lived in the shadow of the star that Cavan Sullivan has become, however, it has not held back his great development. Pierre is signed to an MLS Next Pro contract and stands at 6’5’. The 2007-born defendertowers over the competition and will be one the most feared defenders at MLS NEXT Flex. His height and physicality is a clear strength in his play, allowing him to be a force on both attacking and defending set pieces, but his ability to play with the ball on the ground should neither be ignored. 




Zidane Yanez – New York City FC



Yanez is an NYCFC starlet that signed a homegrown deal with NYCFC in late 2023. His name will draw many similarities to the great Zinedine Zidane, and his playstyle is not too far off. Yanez has elite technical ability and is able to dictate the tempo of the game and interchange between midfield and attacking positions. Perhaps most notably, Yanez has a knack for the net that will prove vital for NYCFC. 





Kashan Hines – Sporting KC



Although Sporting KC doesn’t bolster the starpower some of the other clubs on this list have, Kashan Hines is an absolute diamond in the rough for them. Hines loves to take defenders on and run down the wing. Hines is fast, has good feet, and provides good service and is a threat to every backline he faces. Hines is developing into an elite winger. It will be interesting to continue observing his development, and if he continues to play in an advanced position on the wing or play deeper as a fullback. His talent will be on full display at NEXT Flex. 




Edgar Rodriguez – San Jose Earthquakes


Edgar Rodriguez is by all means an underrated talent currently shining in the San Jose Earthquakes system that is so often highlighted by strong attackers. Rodriguez has good soccer IQ and isn’t scared to put in a challenge. His ability to read the game and make smart decisions is second-to-none in this age group. Rodriguez provides strong versatility in the back being able to both play centrally and out wide. 




KK Spivey – San Jose Earthquakes



Contrary to Rodriguez, KK Spivey is an elite attacker that perfectly depicts what the Earthquakes are all about: causing disruption. Spivey has all of the physical attributes to dominate and combines that with elite technical work. Spivey plays freely and causes troubles for any defense he opposes. He can play in a variety of attacking positions, but may be most dangerous on the wing. Spivey had 3 goals and 2 assists at the GA Cup.





Will Ostrander – San Jose Earthquakes



The Earthquakes are absolutely loaded in the U15 age group, and Ostrander provides a solidary in the midfield that will be key for the connectivity of the team. Ostrander has eyes in the back of his head and is a very smart player and can pick a pass out from any area on the pitch. He’s able to progress the ball forward, slow the game down, and ultimately provide great impact. Ostrander has a knack for breaking defensive lines with crisp passes and on the dribble.



Omar Hassan – Seattle Sounders


for the U15s much longer. If he does, Hassan will be sure to bang in goals as he’s done so well over the past few years. Hassan is one of the brightest talents in the 2009 age group and brings a consistent energy to the pitch. Only 15, it’s a matter of time until Hassan makes his name known as one of the youngest professionals in MLS Next Pro. A recent USYNT callup, he’ll surely be one of the standouts amongst a very talented group of players. 





Renden Thomas – LAFC



Renden Thomas combines his technical prowess with a sense of confidence that makes him one of the most elite midfielders in the U15 age group. Renden steps up to the challenge no matter what the stakes are. Thomas is agile, quick, and deceptive with his dribbling, easily throwing off defenders to play forward. Thomas will be sure to be a huge piece to a very good LAFC side in MLS Next.




Paul Sokoloff – New York Red Bulls


Sokoloff was part of the Red Bulls team that won the 2023 MLS Next Cup. Sokoloff has the ability to score from anywhere as a dynamic forward for the Red Bulls offense. Sokoloff is likely to be the heartbeat of the Red Bulls’ dangerous attack. Although he likely will not participate in the Next Flex, he’s certainly one of the top players in this age group to keep an eye on.




Malik Jakupovic – Philadelphia Union


A member of the Union academy after having moved from Michigan, Jakupovic’s investment is paying off big time. Jakupovic scores with relative ease and is an absolute nightmare for goalkeepers. An attacking-minded player, Jakupovic brings size and technical ability as a threat for an underrated Philadelphia Union U15 side.