BRADENTON, Fla. — If and when the U.S. national team plays at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar for the first time, there is a good chance that some of the players who take the field that day will have taken part in the unprecedented gathering of young American talent that converged on the Florida Gulf Coast over the past week.
More than 150 of the best young prospects in the U.S. Soccer youth setup got together for the unusual event. The brainchild of U.S. Under-20 coach and youth national team technical director Tab Ramos, the youth summit was put together not only to evaluate talent but also provide a memorable experience for the players, bringing them closer together as teammates.
"We wanted to create an environment like the national training facility we hope to have," Ramos told Goal. "At the beginning of the cycles was the only time we could get all these teams together and it's been great, and the players have responded."
U.S. Soccer logos could be seen splashed all over the hotel housing the five youth national teams, with the lobby showing an interesting mix of young athletes and the retirees that normally make up the hotel's clientele.
The teams were put through the paces of training sessions as well as scrimmages among the age groups and against outside competition. There were memorable matchups, including a 4-3 shootout between the U-20 and U-19 teams, and plenty of strong individual performances during the weeklong event.
Here is a look at some of the players who impressed at the U.S. youth summit:
MANNY PEREZ, U.S. U-20 Defender
The North Carolina State standout passed up a Generation Adidas contract, even though he could have easily been the top pick in the 2018 MLS Draft, and he showed why he is so highly regarded at the summit, flashing his ability to get forward and pose an attacking threat from the right back position. Given his quality, the question going forward is whether he will be the top pick in the 2019 MLS Draft or a target of European clubs eyeing him as a blue-chip right-back prospect.
"He’s really been great, and has surpassed my expectations," Ramos said of Perez. "He’s got an ability to cover ground and get up and down the line. He has endless energy. He’s constantly trying to get better every day. He’s got all the ingredients to become a good pro."
JONATHAN AMON, U.S. U-20 Midfielder
Once a member of the U.S. U-14 setup before heading to Denmark in pursuit of a pro career, Amon showed why he was able to break through with the FC Nordsjaelland first team, flashing serious quickness and a willingness to take on opposing defenders. A right-footed winger who can play on either flank, Amon is a player to remember, though if he keeps doing well with Nordsjaelland, he could wind up being a player who gets fast-tracked to the senior national team between now and the 2019 Under-20 World Cup.
CHRIS DURKIN, U.S. U-20 Midfielder
The D.C. United midfielder and U.S. Under-17 World Cup standout made a smooth transition to the U-20 level, showing the physical qualities to cope with being one of the younger players in the next U-20 group. Playing time with D.C. United will continue to be a tough task, and he could be forced to spend 2017 in USL with the Richmond Kickers in order to earn regular minutes.
"He’s very strong. When you bring the younger kids you want to bring them along slowly but he’s come right in and proven himself in that center midfield position," Ramos said of Durkin. "We have good competition there, but I think he’s doing great."
BRADY SCOTT, U.S. U-20 Goalkeeper
The lone holdover from the Under-20 World Cup squad at the summit, Scott showed the presence and maturity that has come from his time in Germany with FC Cologne, the club he joined last summer. There may be plenty of young goalkeeper talent in the U.S. pipeline, but we may want to make room for Scott, who has the tools to close ground on a stacked collection of young prospects.
PAXTON POMYKAL, U.S. U-20 Midfielder
The FC Dallas midfielder was steady, mobile and clean with the ball, showing the traits that have made him a highly regarded youth prospect for some time. It is an important year for him to get minutes after a quiet 2017 with FC Dallas, but there's no denying he should play a key role in the next U-20 cycle.
TAYLOR BOOTH, U.S. U-18 Midfielder
A member of the U.S. Under-17 World Cup team, Booth showed the range and sharpness that has Bayern Munich thinking about bringing him into its youth setup. The Real Salt Lake academy product has shown considerable progress since being a bench player at the Under-17 World Cup.
JULIAN ARAUJO, U.S. U-18 Defender
A right center back out of the Barcelona Academy setup in Arizona, Araujo impressed observers with his combination of toughness, speed and good defensive characteristics. A native of Santa Barbara, California, Araujo is already attracting attention from pro teams. He also just might be a player who puts pressure on older defenders in the Under-20 player pool in the coming years.
ULYSSES LLANEZ, U.S. U-18 Midfielder
The highly skilled midfielder narrowly missed out on the Under-17 World Cup, but showed at the summit why many saw him as the biggest snub on that U-17 team. The LA Galaxy academy product looked like a player determined to send a message, flashing the quality that has the Mexican Federation actively recruiting him to return to the El Tri fold after having previously participated in Mexican youth national team camps.
GIOVANNI REYNA, U.S. U-17 Midfielder
The skill Reyna showed didn't surprise anybody, but the growth spurt he clearly had in recent months surely did. Boasting a deft touch, high soccer IQ and now a taller frame, Reyna looks more than ready to take the next step and turn pro. The question now is whether that will be with New York City FC or in Europe with a top club like Borussia Dortmund.
GIANLUCA BUSIO, U.S. U-17 Forward
While some see Reyna as the top talent on the new U.S. U-17 group, others rave about Busio and his difference-making attacking qualities. His quickness and trickiness on the ball make him unique in the U.S. player pool, though the question now is whether he's ready for the physicality of the pro game as he looks to break in with Sporting Kansas City. With Busio, it look more like a question of when than if.