26 Jul Aaronson, Wynder among U.S. players with breakout potential before 2026 World Cup
Over the past few years, players like Brenden Aaronson — whose brother Paxten Aaronson has been impressing in Europe — Yunus Musah and Timothy Weah have developed and secured a position in the starting squad. Now, with three years before the World Cup kicks off in their home country, which players from the next generation of talent can make their mark and impress head coach Gregg Berhalter?
Here’s a look at six up-and-coming players who have yet to gain significant Major League Soccer or USMNT experience, but are poised as breakout talent.
Having shown promise when coming off the bench for Eintracht Frankfurt (whom he joined in January for €4m), the attacking midfielder could be in line for his proper breakout season in the Bundesliga.
The ex-Philadelphia Union teenager prospers in a roaming playmaker role in the final third. Agile, skilled at finding space between the lines (centrally or cutting in) and constantly eager to get on the ball, Aaronson’s quick turns, fine close control and dribbling skills make him hard to pick up and dispossess.
For such a technically gifted, creative player with the vision to provide precise through balls, he’s also atypically industrious and tenacious in his pressing game.
Keyrol Figueroa, 16, FW, Liverpool
Born into an elite sporting family — he’s the son of Maynor Figueroa, the most-capped Honduras international ever (181 appearances) and national team handball star Sandra Norales — Keyrol is one of the most exciting American teenage forwards around.
After joining the Liverpool academy, he announced himself in style at U13/U14 level where he scored 90 goals in one season. He is already a key member of the U18 side and scored a hat trick in less than half an hour against Wolves in April. Figueroa has also contributed heavily for the U.S. U17 side that reached the Concacaf final earlier in the year and was named in the Team of the Tournament XI.
Quick, strong on the ball and a fine finisher with a well-developed link-up game, Keyrol has apparently learnt from his centre-back father how best to frustrate defenders. Maynor’s powerful shot evidently runs in the family, too and it would come as no surprise if the 16-year-old — who also holds a British passport — sees Premier League playing time over the next year and a half.
Energetic, committed and with a great engine, Wiley is one of the top picks from an interesting generation of American full-backs. In addition to being a force of nature in attacking situations — he’s scored four goals and assisted two in MLS this season — the Atlanta left-back is an alert defender too.
Always positive in his approach (8+ progressive passes per 90 minutes), he takes up high positions on the pitch and is happy to push forward, while he can be used as an orthodox winger too. His ever-improving performances and contagious enthusiasm for both club and country have already established Wiley as a target for several European clubs.
The multipurpose central midfielder made a positive impression at the U20 World Cup in Argentina last month. On top of being a safe, quick passer — he tries not to take unnecessary touches — he navigates the central areas well, often dropping deep to pick up the ball.
Come for the @JackMcGlynn7 magic…
— Philadelphia Union (@PhilaUnion) September 4, 2022
While McGlynn instinctively looks for the line-breaking pass, he’s also able to feed teammates players with switch balls using his fine left foot (also useful for set pieces) and beat opponents in midfield while in possession. He is too conscientious to sacrifice his defensive duties, but does possess the physical prerequisites to eventually develop into a specialist No. 8.
A tactically astute midfielder who is safe in possession, Vargas is comfortable playing in a double midfield pivot, preferably alongside a more aggressive and active presser of the ball.
The Alaska-born teenager, who made his MLS debut as a 15-year-old, masters the basics well. While he tends to keep his passing game on the low-risk side, he scans the field meticulously prior to receiving the ball and shifts it around purposefully. But he’s also capable of picking out attacking runs from deep. Despite not being an extremely dynamic midfielder, he’s helped by fine spatial awareness that helps him receive the ball away from pressure.
Arguably the most promising American teenage centre-back around, Wynder built on his growing reputation at the U20 World Cup this summer. Though his only prior club experience was from the USL, Benfica were convinced enough of his potential to resolutely pounce to sign the Louisville City defender for an initial €1.12m transfer fee.
That Wynder has ended up in Portugal makes perfect sense: His advanced passing skills and calm style of defending should suit the possession-based style of the Portuguese champions well.
As with all 18-year-old defenders, Wynder still has improvements to make in his defensive attributes, but with a natural understanding of the game — often demonstrated through smart, early interceptions — and first-class athleticism, there’s every reason to believe he can soon knock on the doors of the Benfica and USMNT first teams.