Grading the prospects…

Instead of dwelling on the abysmal performance of the USMNT U-20 squad, I figured I’d take this write-up in a different direction and focus on the players as prospects. If this were a match ratings piece, it would be too ugly and depressing.

Prospect scale:

  • A – Fantastic, can’t miss prospect. Probably should have a good, long career in Europe.
  • B – Good prospect with desirable tools, though is not a “can’t miss” prospect. Could make it in Europe, though likely in the mid-level leagues.
  • C – Reasonable prospect that should have a good MLS career or career in the lower levels of Europe. Not likely to be a USMNT regular in the future.
  • D – Probably a fringe MLS player in the future and not likely to ever be a USMNT call-up.
  • F – Good college player, but not likely to ever see much success beyond that.

Forwards

  • Tony TaylorB+ – Fantastic speed and some skill to go with it. He needs to latch onto side quickly and begin to develop an understanding for the striker position. He has the tools to be successful, but he is in dire need of quality instruction and practice. Provided he gets to Europe quickly after the end of the World Cup, he should have a steady career as a striker overseas. It’s hard to imagine him ever being a consistent call-up to the full Nats, however, only because he’s got a long list of strikers – Altidore, Davies, Cooper, Adu, etc. – at or around his age to contend with.
    The negatives to Taylor are less clear, though his awareness of both his own position and the game around him are clearly lacking. At this point, those deficiencies can be chalked up to the competition he’s faced so far in his career as a junior and at Jacksonville. A step-up in consistent competition, both in games and practice, will do him a world of good. He’s got the skills, he just needs the training.
  • Brek Shea – B- – Shea is clearly a talent. He possesses deft touch on both feet, a good strike from his left, and solid vision and passing for a forward\wing. He’s not the most athletic player, but he possesses good straight-forward speed and an adequate amount of quickness in tight spaces, not to mention all of this is bundled in a great 6’3 frame.
    The problems, though, are abundant. He’s a lazy player with the ball, relying heavily on his skill to make up for his lack of assertiveness on the ball. A languid mover, much like Manchester United’s Dimitar Berbatov, Shea can appear a bit aloof from the run of play. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have near the skill level of a Berbatov, nor the same presence on the field. Shea also has a tendency to completely disappear on the left-hand side, limiting his effectiveness as a wing or midfielder. Much like national team counterpart Clint Dempsey, Shea is a future wing\midfielder who is probably better-suited to being a striker. Lastly, I’m concerned that he may struggle to develop anything from his right side, as he seems utterly averse to turning any way but left.
    The clear issue for Shea down the road is making the most of his skill and giving consistent effort from match to match. I don’t think it’s too early at all to question whether he has the motor or mental fortitude to be an eventual USMNT starter or career wing\forward in Europe. The skills are there, but there is concern that the rest of the attributes may never show up.
  • Danny CruzC+ – Plenty of speed and an adequate amount of skill, Cruz definitely has the makings of a strong MLS starter. He is comfortable on the right, but showed plenty of willingness to cut inside to his left foot, meaning he could be an effective wing on either side of the field. He strikes the ball well with his right and appears to be reasonably adept at crossing from that side as well.
    The downside to Cruz is that appears to struggle when faced with a defender that forces him to make a move or a decision. Cruz is great when played in over the top and given space to run into, but he looked scared and hesitant when forced to use his feet on the ball to beat a defender.
    Cruz is a decent prospect who could end up developing late in his career arch, but for now he’s not a future USMNT starter\reserve.
  • Brian OwnbyD+ – He’s reasonably fast, but not fast enough to cover up his deficiencies like Cruz is. He lacks a lot in the awareness department, looking useless unless he’s played into space. He does strike the ball adequately, as evidenced by his one goal, but he there doesn’t seem to be enough skill in him to ever make him a viable USMNT prospect.
    Great college player, and likely a reasonable MLS player. Hard to imagine him evolving much beyond that though.

Midfielders

  • Jared Jeffrey – B+ – Jeffrey has an immense skill level, rivaled only by Bryan Arguez on this squad. It’s pretty clear that Jeffrey has been in a professional setup for a fair amount of time as he displays good composure and vision on the ball. He has  great range and touch on his passes, even if his decision-making still leaves a bit to be desired.
    Obviously the tactical areas of the game – decisions, mental quickness, awareness on the field – are where Jeffrey needs the most work. Fortunately, he’s got a great base skill-set to build on and a good understanding of his position and the game as a whole. Because he’s not an exceptional athlete, he’ll need to continue to develop as a quick decision-maker. His quickness on the ball and how well it develops will go a long way in determining his, presumably bright, future.
    Jeffrey is one of the few players we can expect to be a future USMNT starter or oft-used bench player. His skill level is high and he’s only going to improve with experience at Club Brugge.
  • Bryan Arguez – A – The only player on this squad that gets an “A” level rating as a prospect. His skill level is well beyond anyone else in the squad. He shows great touch with both feet and is very calm (maybe a bit too calm at times) under pressure. His vision is top-notch and his passing range is almost unlimited. As a prospect, he may be one of the best players to come through the US setup.
    The problems he faces are those that most young prospects face – mental issues. He has to become a more assertive leader, both in his command of the team and his urgency on the pitch. He tends to over-dribble at times, but I can accept that in a young prospect who is playing on a team that he’s not overly familiar with (remember, Arguez hasn’t been called in for some time and was only a late addition to the squad after Sam Garza pulled out due to injury). He’s also got to become a more mature player in terms of recognizing when to be selfish and when to be unselfish. Too often he chose to make the extra move to beat a defender, rather than the simple pass.
    Arguez is the one player I’m truly excited about seeing develop over the next few years. His mental issues are well documented, but hopefully this showing at the World Cup will help jump start him back with his club, Hertha Berlin. If the mental side of his game  catches up to his skill set – watch out, because he’ll be a nasty midfielder.
  • Mikkel Diskerud – B+ – Mix appeared to be out of sorts with the Baby Nats, probably because this was his first involvement of note with the team. He struggled to make an impact, mostly because he didn’t have much chemistry with Jeffrey in their first game. As a prospect, though, Mix is a pretty good one. He’s got a good level of athleticism and a good frame, as well as a pretty high skill level. He passes and dribbles quite well, and appears comfortable in either an advanced role or a reserved\defensive one. The comparisons to Michael Bradley will be inevitable as the two are very similar in style and talent.
    Mix needs to become a bit more assertive on the defensive end, as well as more commanding of the ball. Too often he deferred to his teammates, though that could easily be due to his relative inexperience with his teammates. Like his counterparts, he needs to develop his decision-making and mental aspects to the game, though he does seem to be a natural midfielder with a very good feel for the game.
    Mix is an eventual starter for the full national team, and will likely be a strong contender for the 2014 WC squad.
  • Dilly Duka – B – I’m impressed with Duka. He’s assertive, appropriately selfish, and willing to work hard to get the ball. He’s comfortable in multiple sections of the field and shows a Feilhaber-like knack for controlling the flow of a game. Unfortunately for the US squad, he was used mostly as a second-striker, limiting his effectiveness in the middle third. He’s a good mover, both on and off the ball, and shows pretty impressive touch with both feet. He’s also the most creative player that the US had, showing a good ability to set his teammates up in favorable positions.
    The biggest problem Duka faces is his lack of top-notch speed. He’s similar in his game to Landon Donovan with the way he moves on the ball and uses  short, tight passes to control the game. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have Donovan’s world-class speed, meaning Duka will have to develop himself into more of a ball-control midfielder or second-striker in the future. Luckily for him, he has the requisite skill-set to do so and should be an eventual contender for the wing\attacking-mid spots in the US setup over the next few  world cup cycles. I like him quite a bit as a prospect.

Defenders

  • Sheanon WilliamsB – Despite a rough showing against Korea, I still like Williams as a defensive prospect. He’s got plenty of athleticism (and size) for the outside back position, and has some good instincts in both attack and defense. Interestingly, one of his best attributes is the ability to launch the ball well into the box from throw-ins, something that is always an advantage.
    Williams’ biggest issue is his understanding of defending the wing, as he looks to have never been taught how to effectively defend a flank. He has all of the tools to be a quality defender, it’s just a matter of him being taught how to defend. Hopefully he’ll catch on with a profession squad soon, as he’s got too much potential to fall through the cracks.
    I’m not sure if he’ll develop the understanding of defense to ever be a full-time starter at right back for the USMNT, especially with the talented Eric Lichaj well ahead of him on the development curve, but he’s certainly someone that could make future WC squads for his versatility (he could easily be a quality right-wing) and athleticism.
  • Jorge FloresC- – Not someone I’m impressed with, Flores looks to me to be Jonathan Bornstein, version 2.0. He’s tiny and lacks quite a bit of skill and athleticism to make him an effective wing defender. He does have some aggressiveness and a reasonable amount of skill going forward, but the defensive ability was almost non-existant. I understand that he may have been playing out of position, though, as he’s supposedly used more often as a left-sided midfielder than as a defender.
    Frankly, I’m not sure he’s a USMNT defender or wing in the future.
  • Gale AgbossoumondeB+ – At only 17, Agbossoumonde is a future stud in my book. However, I’m not convinced he’s a center-back down the road, as his athleticism, strength, and speed could be useful on either side of the defense. He’s a bit undersized (5’10 or 5’11) for a true center-half, hence my hesitancy to think of him as a center-half prospect.
    While he does possess a high level of athleticism and even a pretty advanced understanding of defense, Agbossoumonde needs to get into a professional system and begin developing his skill level. For him to be a viable USMNT option (and European pro) down the road, he has to develop the ability to play calmly from the back, whether in the middle or on the flank. He also doesn’t have the greatest tactical sense at the back, often being covered by Ike Opara on his mistakes.
    All that being said, there’s not much to dislike about this kid as a prospect.
  • Ike OparaB – Standing a full 6’4, Opara is an intimidating presence on the junior level. He’s got plenty of athletic ability, as well as some tenacity to his game. He already has a good understanding of team defense, as well as a generally good feel for the flow of the game.
    While Opara’s skill level isn’t terribly high, he doesn’t look out of place when attempting to play from the back. My biggest concern with Opara is that he looks to be a bit encumbered by his own size at times, often struggling with plays that happened in tight spaces. He’s got long legs and doesn’t appear to have really grown into them just yet, showing some issues controlling his own body at times.
    As a prospect, it’s hard not to like Opara because of his size and straight-line speed. This tournament likely raised his European profile enough to get him a good contract overseas, so hopefully he takes advantage of it and gets into a good system. His future as a player depends heavily on his physical development (i.e. how well he adapts to being 6’4, as well as his strength and agility development) and his technical development. If he continues to raise his skill-level, he’s a potential successor to Onyewu in the US backline.

Goalkeeper

  • Brian Perk – C – I’m pretty down on Perk as a keeper prospect, though it’s really early in his development arch. The single biggest issue (and it’s a glaring one) is his ineptitude at defending crosses of any sort. Not only could he not defend them, but he looked entirely unwilling to try. That fear coupled with his lack of size for the position really hindered the US ability to defend set pieces, corners, and crosses from the wings. If he is to have any shot at playing keeper for the USMNT in the future (or even MLS for that matter), he has to develop some ability to handle crossed balls.

(Note: Kyle Davies, Peri Marosevic, Dillon Powers, and Gerson Mayen were left off due to lack of playing time.)


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5 Responses

  1. I agree with most of what you said. I am not sure what exactly it is that Flores does well. The comparisons to Bornstein were on the money.

  2. I disagree on Perk. He is tiny and gutless.

    ‘F’

    /still emotional

  3. I was not at all impressed with them as a team but saw some potential in Taylor, Williams and Arquez.

    Maybe with time Duka and Jefferies.

    Defenders looked out of place and their inexperience at that level shown brightly.

    For as good as they looked vs Camaroon they stunk it up vs Germany and Korea.

  4. there is absolutely nothing to worry about. US palyers get better with experience. Duka,Okpara,Jeffries and Williams are exciting prospects. Please stoping hating on Perk. He has the most important feature of a goalkeeper and thats cconfidence. i compare him to claudia reina of liverpool who is of similar height. this is soccer not the nfl don’t be obssessed with size

  5. […] as well as depressing. Prospect scale: A – Fantastic, can’t skip prospect. Probab … Blog Source GRADING THE […]

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