Under 20: Exciting Young Soccer Prospects

At some point, Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Neymar, and the other megastars of today will age and be a thing of the past. So why not find some new blood with the inherent ability to become stars? You might be familiar with players like Christian Pulisic, Ousmane Dembele, and even Marcus Rashford, but let’s take a look at some players who are a bit younger with oodles of talent.

Justin Kluivert, Winger, Netherlands, Ajax

Kluivert, the player in this article’s photograph, is simply hard to ignore when you watch his games as he is a very charismatic player. He is a Dutch player that has starred at Ajax since 2016 with 13 goals in 44 appearances for the club known for producing young talent. Kluivert is only 19 and made the first team for Ajax at the age of 17. His name holds weight as he is the son of former Dutch star Patrick Kluivert who also played for Ajax.

Kluivert is similar to Neymar in physical appearance as well as playing style. He can score from distance as his physical makeup belies how strong he really is. His dribbling skills are elite as he freezes defenders before breezing by them. The Netherlands youngster plays with pace as each move is calculated and swift. He has a flair for creativity as he blasts shot attempts in a sudden manner. Another good characteristic of his is his ability to play with good synchronization with teammates as they know where to find him in the box and vice versa. His only noticeable flaw is his lack of strength, but that is to be expected as he is 5’7.

Kluivert has been rumored to have interest from top Euro clubs like Manchester United and Barcelona. Jose Mourinho (Man U manager) has been keen on bringing the 19-year old attacker to the Premier League for a year now. Mourinho has ties to the Kluivert family as he was a coach in Barcelona in the 1990s when Justin’s father was playing.

Gianluigi Donnarumma, Goalkeeper, Italy, AC Milan

The 19-year-old Italian goalkeeper might lack the experience, but he makes up for it in height and superstar potential. He is probably the most talented player on this list. Donnarumma has been highly regarded since he was 12. At 6’5, he has a long reach, plays with good teamwork as he communicates with his defenders, and has the reflexes of a cat. The only true flaw he has is in his ability to make crisp passes.

Gigi anticipates penalty kicks well as he moves with no hesitation. He always maintains the illusion of being relaxed in his stance as he never panics on charges made toward him. The Italian keeper plays with a wide base that makes him larger than life and his reflexes extend beyond the first attempt. What that means is he bounces up to block second and third attempts. Good goalies stop the first shot, but elite goalies discourage the secondary shots.

The AC Milan star signed a four-year deal a year ago. However, in soccer those deals do not matter as any club can come knocking for a player of their choice. He has been linked to Real Madrid and Paris-Saint Germain (PSG) as potential landing spots. He has been playing with rumors swirling his professional career for a year now.

“I am ready to listen to any club, as long as it’s not another Italian one – I can’t do that after my history with Milan,” said Donnarumma a year ago. It is hard to believe that those comments do not hold salience especially after Milan fans told him to leave back in December.

Dan-Axel Zagadou, Center Back, France, Borussia Dortmund

At 6’5, Zagadou has struggled to make the field for Borussia Dortmund at center back, but he is only 18. That is not an excuse it is just hard for him to get on the field for a team with experienced veterans in a league where they have to win to stay competitive with Bayern Munich. Dortmund snagged him from PSG’s secondary squad as there is a lot to like about him. He can stand to play with more of a sense of urgency and on the attack he should look to do more crosses as he naturally takes the wide side of the field. His passing is picturesque for a defender.

With his towering presence, Zagadou still likes to get vertical with headers to clear the ball away from the backline. The French defender never seems to get rattled even when forwards make drives toward the net. The reason he stays so poised is because he trusts his anticipatory skills as he remains disciplined in his pursuit. Zagadou has excellent throw ins which help when the opposition is on its’ heels. Finally, his height and desire to get vertical come into play on corner attempts. He only has one goal, but as his career progresses he should become a threat on set plays.

Dayot Upamecano, Center Back, France, RB Leipzig

 

Another French center back like Zagadou except that is where the comparisons end between the two. Upamecano is only 6’1, 19 years old, and plays like his hair is on fire. He makes his presence felt with bone-chilling tackles. It does not help the opposition’s case when he is closing in on them with speed like a heat-seeking missile. The Frenchman is surprisingly vertical and his compact frame at the center spot helps him in his dribbling and passing ability. He plays for RB Leipzig and was the club’s youngest player ever.

It is tough to project where Upamecano could play in a tougher, more competitive league like La Liga or even the Premier League. He is a center back, but a club might view him as more of a wing defender. It would be nice to see him push the tempo more and initiate offensive attacks as he is a blur with the ball and his passing ability is nothing to ignore. Upamecano has been linked to big clubs like Barcelona and Man U, but he is in no hurry to make that big of a jump.

Juan Camilo Hernandez, Winger/Foward, Colombia, Watford (on loan at Huesca)

Hernandez or “Cucho” is a Colombian forward that plays for Watford. Due to his inability to crack the starting lineup, he was sent on loan to Huesca where the 19-year old has been dominant in 31 games. He has scored 16 goals and should be someone Watford brings back sooner than later. Cucho is only 5’9 and a lot of the flaws in his game have to do with his age. He has a tendency to rush shots, struggles dealing with physicality, and gets caught with his head down too often. These are all mild weaknesses that can turn into strengths with good coaching and trust in his peers.

On the flip side, there is a lot to gush over about Hernandez. He is a wizard in the box as he can score by contorting his body in awkward ways. His dribbling skills are used artfully as he either lulls defenders asleep to set up a shot for himself or teammates. The Colombian forward can finish with power and class too. He is always a threat to score on set plays or crossing attempts with headers. Look for Hernandez to continue his ascension once he returns from loan to Watford.

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