By Mike Rice.
Homegrown and academy players are a vital part of an MLS team’s roster. Developing young players to compete, and to sign on requires minutes and opportunities when they show qualities that could benefit the senior team.
Going into 2023 there will be even more games than ever before for every team, and young players should receive opportunities to impress in 2023.
Below are five who look to be in a good position to break out and help push their teams towards playoffs in 2023.
Darren Yapi (18) – Colorado Rapids
2022 was a lost year for Colorado Rapids. After winning the Western Conference in 2021 they failed to reach the playoffs in 2022 and had injuries and departures to blame for a lot of it.
The Rapids have brought in some attacking reinforcements after losing Gyasi Zardes to Austin FC this off-season. Kevin Cabral and Calvin Harris have been signed from LA Galaxy and FC Cincinnati respectively, while Cole Bassett has been recalled from his loan stint in the Netherlands.
With Diego Rubio the other attacking threat in a central position, this leaves the side with slim options at centre forward.
Bassett is an attacking midfielder while Cabral has played wide, as has Harris, but we could see the Frenchman in a central role. Rubio, like Cabral, is not an out-and-out No.9 which leaves Yapi as the main option as a penalty box striker.
Yapi has featured heavily in pre-season as Robin Fraser looks to get his side firing and possibly back to a back three that worked so well in 2021. Yapi has carved out a role for himself which could give him more minutes and chances to shine this season.
Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty (18) – Toronto FC
A serious knee injury kept Marshall-Rutty out for a lot of 2022 but he did go on to feature in 29 games notching up 1,050 minutes along with an assist. He had half a season to ease his way into the first team and looks set to give his best in 2023.
Toronto threw in their kids for the first half of 2022 while waiting on the likes of Lorenzo Insigne to arrive in the summer. This was a hard task for young players that had a lot to learn about senior football in MLS.
Now, Sean Johnson in goal and Matt Hedges at centre-back have been signed to give the team some leadership. Richie Laryea is still on loan till the summer at the right-back spot, but we could see Marshall-Rutty get significant game time should Laryea not have his loan extended.
Chris Brady (18) – Chicago Fire
If there’s something we need to become accustomed to, it’s Chicago Fire having teenage goalkeepers. With Gaga Slonina capping his rapid rise with a move to Chelsea in the Premier League, it could be Christopher Bradley’s chance to shine in MLS this season.
Having spent 2022 on loan at Forward Madison in the USL League 1, he returns to the club with the opportunity to get serious game time in MLS.
He will compete with Jeff Gal, who returns to the United States after eight years in Sweden. Gal has not been a starter at any of his clubs and has only made 75 appearances across his entire senior career.
Brady will be thrown into a side that had difficulties last season but will get the chance, as Slonina did, to prove his quality as well as potential as an MLS player.
Niko Tsakiris (17) – San Jose Earthquakes
San Jose Earthquakes are starting a new era with Luchi González taking over after leaving his assistant role with the United States Men’s National Team. There have been limited signings for the new coach, with Johnathon Mensah (CB) from Columbus Crew and Carlos Gruezo (CM) from FC Augsburg, addressing areas of need.
Going forward Cade Cowell has been grabbing headlines for a while, but Niko Tsakiris found the field 10 times in MLS last season and really excited onlookers with his technique and skill going forward.
He has three goals in five USA U20 caps and also got his first goal for San Jose in the US Open Cup last season. If Gruezo is set to play alongside Jackson Yueill with one advanced midfielder, we could see Tsakiris get more opportunities and some MLS starts.
He may be used in an advanced No.8 role, as González will no doubt use Jeremy Ebobisse as a one CF with two wide wingers.
Isaiah Foster (19) – FC Cincinatti
FC Cincinnati gutted their roster making it look a little light for a while, but new signings with quality keep arriving.
The 19-year-old from Maryland has been signed from Colorado Springs Switchbacks to fit into the left wing-back position.
John Nelson was signed in the Expansion Draft by St Louis City FC and Ronald Matarrita left for SK Dnipro in Ukraine leaving a place up for grabs.
Álvaro Barreal filled in at left-wing back for a lot of last season and may retain the starting role under Pat Noonan again in 2023.
There are, though, plenty of games, with the Leagues Cup being added. Barreal may be keen to get a role further up the pitch but either way, we could see Foster given opportunities to impress.
Benjamín Cremaschi (17) – Inter Miami
Inter Miami have had their first off-season since joining MLS where they haven’t been in full rebuild mode. They have added Josef Martinez from Atlanta United and Nicolás Stefanelli from AIK in Sweden.
These additions look to be initiating a change in formation to get Martínez up front with Leonardo Pozuelo. This change looks set to mean three central midfielders needed and wing-backs being utilised.
Of the midfielders available, captain Gregore and fellow Brazilian Jean Mota have been the clear starters. After them Rodolfo Pizarro and Bryce Duke will be aiming for appearances, but so will Cremaschi.
The 17-year-old has had call-ups to the Argentina U20s and looks to be making a positive impression around the club.
He could be set to be eased into first-team minutes and will be interesting to see how much time he gets in the Leagues Cup and Open Cup specifically.