BEST U17 PROSPECTS MLS NEXT
Article Written by Chris Dailey
The MLS Next Cup Showcase will take place from June 17 to 25 and the best academy players in North America in the U15, U16, U17 and U19 age groups will be on display. Each age group contains countless high-caliber players and thousands of eyes will be on them. One of the most highly competitive ages, the U17 division, bolsters a list of players with potential to play at the highest level. This list is a detailed report of the best U17 players in the nation that will (most likely) be playing at the showcase. A number of these players may miss the tournament for selection with their respective senior teams or MLS Next Pro sides.
#1: Stuart Hawkins – Defender, Seattle Sounders
Hawkins is simply a different caliber type of player. A USYNT U17 player, Hawkins signed his first professional contract with the Tacoma Defiance in June of 2022. The 16-year-old from Fox Island, Washington who was signed through the Sounders Discovery Program has since been awarded the MVP of the 2022 U17 Generation Adidas Cup in which the Sounders won over Tigres UNAL. Hawkins was crucial to the USYNT’s success at the U17 Concacaf Championship earlier this year, starting in five matches as they fell to Mexico in the final, earning a silver medal. The potential is clearly there, he is 6’1” and possesses technical prowess and defensive sturdiness. He has a future not just in the MLS, but within the USMNT system as he grows older and gains more experience playing professionally. Already with 9 professional appearances, Hawkins is one of the players on this list that may skip participation in the event to continue gaining minutes at the professional level.
#2: Davi Alexandre- Defender, New York Red Bulls
There is a reason why Davi Alexandre has already signed a professional contract with New York Red Bulls and is regarded as one of the United States’ most supreme youth prospects: because he is a tank. Alexandre is a leader and possesses a strong soccer IQ, helping him cut out passes comfortably and assert his physical dominance over players his own age. Alexandre is not afraid to get physical and he has great aerial ability. Alexandre is currently signed with New York Red Bulls II already making 3 appearances this season. He was included into the Red Bulls’ matchday roster in MLS earlier this season and has been a staple in the backline for the USYNT U16s. Alexandre is another player on this list that may very likely miss out on the tournament as he looks for professional minutes, however, if he does play in the U17 division it will be a huge get for the Red Bulls and he will be sure to put on a strong showing.
#3: Jonathan Shore – Midfielder, NYCFC
Johnathan (Jonny) Shore is an incredible talent that has come up from the NYCFC Academy since the age of 10. Technically he’s sublime and he pairs that with a high soccer IQ and relentless work rate. He has already signed a MLS Homegrown contract with NYCFC and has featured in two matches for NYCFC II this season. The 16-year-old recently received his first callup to the USYNT, representing the U16s in three matches against Japan, Netherlands, and Nigeria. It will be interesting to see how NYCFC continues his development at the youth level and transitions him into the professional game. His dynamic play in midfield and on the wing would give the NYCFC Academy a huge advantage over competitors at this tournament.
#4: Zackory Campagnolo – Goalkeeper, Orlando City SC
Zackory Campagnolo is a goalkeeper for Orlando City SC and is perhaps one of the best goalkeeper prospects in MLS Next. Another player that featured for the USYNT U16s recently, Campagnolo made appearances against both Nigeria and Japan in recent weeks. Campagnolo stands at 6’4” tall, can play effectively with both feet and has had training stints in Europe with both Sporting Libson and Shalke 04. Described as a ‘modern-style goalkeeper’, Campagnolo possesses strong shot-blocking ability, superb leadership skills, and is an aggressive goalkeeper. His contributions to the community extend further than what he does on the pitch, as Campagnolo participates in a program for kids with Autism-Spectrum-Disorder. A top-caliber player and person, Campagnolo is regarded as one of the best goalkeepers at the showcase and one to keep an eye out for.
#5: Santiago Morales – Midfielder, Inter Miami CF
Santiago “Santi” Morales is in the form of his life for the USYNT u16s right now, scoring in two of their games against Japan and Nigeria this past month. A crafty midfielder for Inter Miami, Morales is one of the most highly regarded academy players currently in the program. His father, Javier, is currently the interim Head Coach for Inter Miami CF after the sacking of Phillip Neville. Javier played 478 professional games in his career, mainly in Argentina and MLS, scoring 71 goals. Santiago has inherited his fathers’ goal-scoring ability and his stock is only rising with the blazing hot form he is currently in. After winning the MVP of the MLS Next Cup last year as his U15 side won the entire tournament, Morales will be looking for a repeat this year. All he does is score, both inside and outside of the box, and he is another phenomenal talent to keep an eye out for at the MLS Next Cup Showcase.
#6: Kyrome Lumsden – Midfielder, LAFC
Kyrome is a creative, athletic midfielder for LAFC. Lumsden has an incredibly high ceiling and has the ability to create goals for teammates. In April of 2022, Lumsden scored and provided 2 assists while captaining the USYNT U15s to a comeback 3-2 win over Belgium. Earlier this year, Kyrome produced strong performances with LAFC’s U17s at the GA Cup and will be keen to continue those performances heading into the MLS Next Cup. Lumsden has a great first touch and is widely regarded as one of the top talents coming out of the LAFC Academy.
#7: Aaron Heard – LW, St. Louis City SC
Aaron Heard is a longtime USYNT prospect, having originally played for Bethesda Academy and the Philadelphia Union Academy before moving to St. Louis City SC. A well-traveled player, these experiences in several high-level clubs have made Aaron Heard learn many different ways to play and it shows. Playing at left wing and in midfield, Heard loves to take defenders on with pace while also having tendencies to cut in and thread the needle with inch-perfect through balls. Heard also has a lovely first touch and while has professional experience with St. Louis City II and it’s uncertain whether he stays to play with the professional side in MLS Next Pro or travels to the MLS Next Cup Showcase, it is indeed certain that if he comes to the Showcase he will be one of the most electric, fun-to-watch talents there.
#8: Ruben Ramos Jr. – Forward, LA Galaxy
Ruben Ramos Jr. is yet another player with USYNT U16, as well as Mexico’s Youth National Teams, who is already earning minutes in MLS Next Pro, having just scored his first professional goal last month. Ramos could be one of the most exciting strikers at the MLS Next Cup Showcase and his brilliant positioning and eye for the net will be on full display. A true goalscorer, Ramos Jr. combines his soccer IQ with speed that makes for a deadly forward that defenders are scared to go against. Ramos Jr. is a top talent and has established himself as one of the best young forwards in North America.
#9: Drew Baiera – Defender, NYCFC
Perhaps too low on the list, Drew Baiera has been outstanding at right back for the USYNT U16s in matches against Japan, Netherlands and Nigeria. Baiera. Along with Jonathan Shore, Baiera is another player on this list from the NYCFC Academy that played a large role with the USYNT U16s this past month. An athletic, technical fullback, he has shown his leadership over the past few years captaining several NYCFC youth sides. A top player on the USYNT U16s recent tour, Baiera will be a player that is looking to push his name in this tournament amongst some of the very best in MLS Next.
#10: Gavin Turner – Forward, DC United
Gavin Turner has been in the DC United academy for several years now and has experience with Loundon United in the USL Championship last year, making 8 appearances with DC United’s affiliate club. A playmaker with a very high soccer IQ, the midfielder has represented the USYNT at the U16 level. An ankle injury had sidelined him for the majority of 2023, but he’s recently returned to training and this event could be pivotal for Turner to jump back on the scene as one of the top talents in MLS Next.
With only ten players on our list, there are numerous other players that will shine at the tournament and put themselves on track to playing at the professional level.