One of the most intriguing moves of the NWSL off-season was that which saw the Houston Dash complete the loan signing of Paulina Gramaglia, one of the most promising young stars coming through in Argentina.
Previously the captain of her country’s Under-17s, Gramaglia is a hard-working forward with plenty of positivity and confidence in her play.
The 19-year-old scored nine goals in seven games in the top-flight for UAI Urquiza in 2021, and made her senior international debut in November, too.
A star at home in Uganda for her exploits with the youth and senior national teams, Juliet Nalukenge has long had dreams of playing professionally. Last summer, she achieved that big move, joining Apollon in Cyprus on a two-year deal.
The 18-year-old then joined AMOK Chrysomolia on loan in a move that should help her settle into life in Europe – and she is making an impact there, scoring her first professional hat-trick in December.
A young player who is already so important for her country, her experience abroad will only make her a more valuable asset for the Crested Cranes.
A quick, technically gifted forward with a fantastic first touch, Maya Hijikata is one of Japan’s most exciting young stars.
Part of Nippon TV Beleza’s Under-18s side that defeated two WE League sides in the Empress’s Cup, scoring six times in five games, Hijikata has also been a fixture throughout the youth national teams in Japan.
A creative goal-scoring talent, the 17-year-old has everything it takes to be at the very forefront of Japan’s next generation of stars.
Another top talent coming through Nippon TV Beleza, Aemu Oyama is the youngest goal-scorer in the short history of the WE League.
She is still only 17 years old, but is generating a lot of excitement in her home country about what her future could hold.
A talented midfielder who has a wonderful balance of power and technique, she was part of the Japan team that won the AFC Under-16 Women’s Championship in 2019, and has been thriving for her club in Tokyo, both with the U18s and in the WE League.
As Malabo Kings made their way to the semi-finals of the CAF Women’s Champions League in late 2021, only six players played every minute. One of them was Avelina Abang.
For an 18-year-old to be trusted with such a key role in the continent’s biggest competition speaks volumes of her maturity, which was no doubt aided by her inclusion in Equatorial Guinea’s team for the Africa Cup of Nations in 2018, a couple of weeks before her 15th birthday.
The full-back already has so much valuable experience under her belt and is one of Africa’s most promising talents.
That Jana Gutierrez made her 100th appearance in Liga MX Femenil earlier this year is telling of her reliability and maturity as a player already, despite being only 18 when she reached that milestone.
Able to play as a defender or a midfielder, Gutierrez began her career with Club America, but last summer made her way to Tigres, the most successful team in the league’s short history and one of the most recognisable clubs on the planet.
A youth international with Mexico, she is already making a huge impact at her new club as a regular stand-out performer.
A towering, composed defender, Tarciane made her breakthrough with Fluminense, coming through an academy that is beginning to have an impact on the women’s side just as it has on the men’s.
A free-kick specialist, her potential quickly caught the eye of Corinthians, the three-time Brazilian champions and three-time South American champions, which is certainly an indication of the level she possesses.
The 18-year-old has now settled brilliantly into a title-winning side of the highest quality, making a name for herself as one of Brazil’s most exciting young talents.
Linda Caicedo was only 14 years old when she exploded into the limelight, after top-scoring in the Colombian top-flight and firing America de Cali to its first ever title.
Two years later, in 2021, she finally played in the Copa Libertadores for the first time, the rules forcing her to wait until she was 16 for that debut. She made up for lost time though, finishing as the top-scorer in South America’s premier competition.
The Deportivo Cali forward has previously been linked with Barcelona and if she continues in this manner, she will certainly be heading somewhere special.
It has been a pretty good 2021-22 season so far for Esmee Brugts.
She started it by scoring her first goals in the Women's Champions League - describing her strike against Arsenal as "a dream of mine".
After breaking into PSV’s first team last season, she has maintained her place this year and is starting to translate her goal-scoring form from youth international level into the Eredivisie.
All of that culminated in the biggest achievement yet in February: a senior international debut against Brazil. At 18 years old, this exposure to the highest level will do her wonders.
Described by a former coach as "the most important young player in Swedish football today", Rosa Kafaji has big talent.
The young striker took her first steps in the second tier, firing AIK to the top-flight in 2020. There, she impressed so much that BK Hacken made her the most expensive signing in Sweden this winter.
Things could not have started worse for the 18-year-old, who broke her leg in pre-season in January, but there is fire in Kafaji’s eyes. “A winner always comes back,” she said. That’s an attitude that will take you to the top.
"Probably the future of the team." That is how Pia Sundhage, Brazil's head coach, describes Gio. Coming from a two-time Olympic gold medal-winning coach, that is a big compliment.
Gio was on the fringes of the first team at European champions Barcelona, the club which paid a fee to acquire her from Madrid CFF in 2020, but a loan move to Levante is giving her the game time she needs to score goals and improve.
A regular Brazil international who featured at the Olympics last summer, these big experiences will be huge in her continued development.
Camilla Kuver broke into the Eintracht Frankfurt team as a regular starter at the end of last season, doing so just in time to start a German Cup final at the age of 17.
A naturally right-footed full-back who is versatile enough to play on either side, she looked set to build on that in 2021-22, until she was hit with a serious knee injury in November.
Such a setback is unlikely to defeat a hard-working young player like Kuver though, who will be determined to make up for lost time when she gets back on the pitch.
Since making her senior debut for Real Betis at the age of 15, Andrea Medina has gone from strength to strength.
She started 23 league games last season as a 16-year-old and is considered one of the most exciting young full-backs around.
A fearless player who can whip in a deadly cross with her wicked left-foot, she has already taken huge steps forward – and with regular exposure to a league as good as Spain’s, she is only going to get better.
A name that has been buzzing around for several years now, Katherine Kuhl has been lighting up the league in Denmark for the past three years, making her debut for Nordsjaelland shortly after she celebrated her 16th birthday.
A skilful, positive player who has the ability to use both feet, she made her breakthrough with the senior national team in 2021 and should get the opportunity to showcase her talent on the world stage this summer at the European Championship.
It is not easy for a senior player to settle into Lyon’s team, let alone a youngster. The level is so high within the seven-time European champions, it can be as daunting as it is difficult.
But when Alice Sombath has been granted opportunities at centre-back this season, the 18-year-old has looked at home.
With her composure and intelligence on the ball, it is clear that the teenager, who was offered a contract at Paris Saint-Germain but chose to leave for Lyon, has what it takes to make it at the top level.
Excitement has been brewing around Lisanne Grawe for a number of years.
The midfielder starred for Germany at the Under-17 Euros in 2019, named to UEFA’s official team of the tournament alongside the likes of Barcelona’s Jana Fernandez, Wolfsburg-bound Jule Brand and Nikita Tromp, who finished second in on NXGN 2021.
Grawe, a year younger than all three of those rising stars, switched to Wolfsburg shortly after the tournament, but mainly played with the second team, making only one substitute appearance with the first team before she departed this past summer.
That decision to leave such a huge club, the dominant force in Germany for many years, showed that Grawe believed she was ready for top-flight football – and, with Bayer Leverkusen, she is proving it.
A reliable performer with fantastic understanding of the game and wonderful technical ability, it is no surprise that the 19-year-old has established herself a key player since her summer move. She is set for big things.
We are in an era where it is no longer uncommon for young U.S. stars to leave college early for professional opportunities – be it Catarina Macario, Mia Fishel or Trinity Rodman, the latter never even playing at university.
Alexis Missimo is another promising star on that production line who has already had contact with some of the world’s biggest clubs, in Manchester City and Arsenal.
She may not choose to follow that professional path until she has exhausted her full college eligibility – but if she chooses otherwise, you would not bet against her being ready.
In her first year at the University of Texas, Missimo started all 22 games for the Longhorns - scoring nine times and providing 14 assists. She led her team in the latter, with only Trinity Byars - her close friend and another American talent to keep an eye on - netting more goals.
Fans outside of the U.S. might not be so familiar with the creative midfielder, but with a first World Cup at youth level to come this summer, with the Under-20s, her profile is only going to grow.
The rapid rise to prominence of Haley Bugeja was one of the best breakthrough stories in football last year.
Few outside of Malta knew anything about the teenage sensation when she moved to Italy. But once she had made her debut for Sassuolo, everybody knew her name, the then-16-year-old going viral for a spectacular solo goal against Napoli.
It was a dream season. Bugeja was smashing records for her country – with five goals in her first 10 appearances for the senior team – and scored 12 goals in her first season in Serie A, almost helping to fire Sassuolo into the Women’s Champions League. Unsurprisingly, she would scoop up tons of awards in Malta, Italy and beyond for her efforts.
Injury scuppered her chances of hitting the ground running in the same vein this campaign, but the forward is getting back to her best level now and already has more assists than she managed in 2021-22.
Sassuolo has proven it is a brilliant club for young footballers, with many shining in their distinctive green and black stripes. Couple that environment with Bugeja’s potential, and the two are perfectly paired.
When Mary Fowler moved to France in early 2020, it was a move that showed the confidence and desire to improve that this young talent has.
While many of her Australia international team-mates, much more senior than her, were making moves to Europe themselves for the first time, here was a 16-year-old ready to step well out of her comfort zone in order to grow.
In the time since, Fowler has developed into a game-changing player at international level. She has been to two major tournaments and scored at both - including an extra-time goal at the Olympics that helped the Matildas qualify for the semi-finals.
The biggest compliment paid to her was by her national team head coach, Tony Gustavsson, last year. “She can help get more out of Sam Kerr," he told The Herald.
If a teenage prodigy has the ability to aid the performances of one of the deadliest strikers on the planet, then she truly is special.
Melchie Dumornay’s potential has been there for all to see when she has pulled on the colours of her country, Haiti, over the last few years.
She has been a stand-out player in youth and senior tournaments in Concacaf, as well as the Under-20 Women's World Cup she played in four years ago, at the age of 14.
Those glimpses of her talent made her move into professional club football in 2021 all the more anticipated, the midfielder signing with French top-flight side Reims. If anyone questioned whether she could apply herself to that environment, Dumornay proved them wrong instantly.
She came off the bench at half time against Issy for her debut, with the scores level at 1-1. At full-time, it was 3-1 to Reims. Dumornay assisted both second half goals. On her first start in Reims’ next game, she scored twice and assisted another in a 5-2 win over Bordeaux, who finished third behind only Paris Saint-Germain and Lyon last season.
There is no question about it anymore – Dumornay is the real deal. At just 18, and still only a few months into her professional career, the sky is her limit.
The women’s winner of NXGN 2022: Melchie Dumornay.
NXGND. DumornayM. FowlerH. BugejaA. MissimoL. GräweA. SombathK. Møller KühlC. KüverGiovana QueirozR. KafajiE. BrugtsP. GramagliaStade de ReimsMontpellierSassuoloBayer LeverkusenOlympique LyonnaisReal BetisEintracht FrankfurtBarcelonaLevantePSVDeportivo CaliCorinthiansTigres UANLMalabo KingsTokyo Verdy BelezaApollon LimassolHouston DashFeatures & Opinions