The youth hype train finally rolled into the station on Thursday as Major League Soccer unveiled the 2014 edition of "24 Under 24" - an annual list highlighting the best young players in the league according to a panel of experts. From the MLSSoccer.com article:
The rankings this year, as in past years, are determined by a panel of soccer media members across the US and Canada who regularly cover MLS, including from ESPN, TSN, RDS, Sports Illustrated, FoxSports.com, Goal.com, and ... the editorial staff at MLSsoccer.com. [The panel] rated the 50 players based on the following criteria:
- Technical (skills, dribbling, shooting, first touch, heading, etc.)
- Soccer IQ (positioning, reading game, situational understanding, tactical awareness, etc.)
- Physical Attributes (speed, endurance, strength, vertical leap, etc.)
- Personality (attitude, marketability, media savviness, charisma, intangibles, etc.)
- Potential (improvability, ceiling, national team potential, potential future transfer value, etc.)
The final ranking is culled from a 50-player shortlist, on which two more 'Caps featured: Erik Hurtado and Omar Salgado. Speaking for myself, I have no problems with either of those players failing to make the final list considering their problems on (and in Omar's case, off) the field. As for the Vancouver players that did make it, they're four usual suspects when we think of young Whitecaps talent:
- #12 - Kekuta Manneh (2013 rank: N/A)
- #15 - Matías Laba (2013 rank: #21)
- #22 - Gershon Koffie (2013 rank: #17)
- #24 - Russell Teibert (2013 rank: #10)
Congratulations to Kekuta, Matías, Gershon and Russell for having made such a positive mark on the minds of league media. Right, with that out of the way, time to turn the hyper-criticism dial up to "11" and start dissecting these rankings as they pertain to the Whitecaps. If you want to see the list entry for each player, click on their names below.
#12 - Kekuta Manneh
Seriously? Manneh gets ranked above Kelyn Rowe and Deshorn Brown on potential alone? I'm familiar with reputation calls when it comes to fouls and/or penalties - I'm less familiar with reputation hype. What else could explain Manneh getting a mid-list rank despite only producing three goals and one assist in 24 matches? Look, if Manneh shows up next year and blitzes Domenic Mobilio's goal record, I'll be the first to eat crow and say I was harsh on the youngster. As it stands right now, though, I'm seriously considering if the assembled media are seeing something crucial that I'm not. The alternative is that I'm seeing a naked emperor when they see a fully clothed man, which is an ugly prospect in more ways than one.
#15 - Matías Laba
Ah, now we're talking. I'm sure we'd love to see Laba pushed higher up the rankings thanks to his beast-mode dominance of non-Portland midfields but in all honesty, 15th is a good spot. The fact he moved up six spots from last year bodes well for Laba, coinciding with his continued growth as a holding midfielder. Proponents of d-mids getting more love may not like Laba being below the halfway line; considering the talent ahead of him, I'd say it's a fair spot.
#22 - Gershon Koffie
Apparently, this is the crazy world where Manneh ranks ten places higher than Koffie. Proponents of d-mids getting more love, you may join me in decrying this travesty on multiple fronts. Gersh dropped(?!) five places from 2013, which I have to assume is because of injuries limiting his visibility. There are few other explanations as to how such a core piece (when healthy) of the Whitecaps midfield is nearly bumped off the 24-player list. If I had the power to do so, I'd move Manneh down to 22nd and put Koffie up in 12th. An interesting quote from the MLSSoccer.com article cites a lack of tenacity this year. I'm not sure I agree with that.
#24 - Russell Teibert
Barely squeaking onto the list is Teibert, which on the one hand is fair enough since Teibert's versatility comes with the trade-off of being a spectacular specialist. Look at the higher-ranked players on the list: DeAndre Yedlin, Erick Torres and Fabian Castillo have a single, primary job when they step on the pitch. Would anybody deny that Yedlin, Cubo or Castillo aren't phenomenal at their roles? I sure wouldn't. On the other hand, how does being a versatile player warrant a 14-place drop over 2013? Is this ranking based solely on goals, assists and/or transfer value? Teibert's write-up would suggest that's the case, even citing a lack of production as a point of concern.
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