Best young USA football players
Brief scouting reports on some of our favourite emerging US talents
The USA are an ever-improving football nation, now producing a number of high-level talents through their domestic development pathways and in Europe. Here are reports on some of their emerging generation. Each cover their backgrounds, styles, strengths and weaknesses.
More profiles can be found in the goalkeepers, defenders, midfielders, wingers and strikers sections. Below, you’ll find profiles covering backgrounds, styles, strengths and weaknesses, while providing links to where you can find out more about them.
For full in-depth analysis of some of the best young players from all over the planet, check out our profiles page. We have countlesss profiles on players there, focussing on a range of talents from across the world. There are also exclusive interviews too, and plenty more.
OUR LISTS OF THE BEST YOUNG TALENTS
Gianluca Busio broke into Sporting Kansas City’s starting XI as a 16-year-old in 2018, immediately announcing himself as one of the premier talents of the US’ emerging 2002 generation. A further two seasons of semi-consistent involvement preceded a milestone move to US-owned Venezia, newly-promoted to Serie A, for a fee that could top out at €10 million.
Busio is now a starter in Italy and a semi-regular with the USMNT. Venezia were relegated to Serie B in his first season in Italy.
Gianluca Busio's style of play
Only one Venezia player has racked up more Serie A minutes than Busio this season, which says a fair bit. Busio is a pretty typical hybrid midfielder – neither a six nor an eight, he sits somewhere in between the two. In tandem with Ethan Ampadu, Busio is one of Venezia’s more frequent passer and regular ball-winners.
He gets around the pitch pretty well, moving vertically down the left channel to cover spaces in defensive phases and support moves in attacking sequences. He has a good engine to keep covering space throughout games, but his mobility is a little one-paced.
In possession, he has solid fundamental skills. Busio’s is a comfortable receiver of the ball, even on the half-turn, and moves the ball with adequate speed and tempo. His range isn’t expansive, but he keeps links play through his channel instead. All of this must be assessed within the wider context of Venezia’s lowly standing within Serie A. All told, Busio doesn’t look out of place at this level.
Gianluca Busio is a mobile midfielder that covers plenty of ground to win the ball back effectively. He also has solid technical fundamental skills.
Despite being quite mobile, he lacks the dynamism to change up his movements with different speeds. He’s also quite simplistic in possession, lacking range.
Initially breaking through in the Bundesliga with FC Schalke 04, Weston McKennie made a headline move to then-Serie A champions Juventus in 2020. It came as a little bit of a surprise, with his skillset not immediately suited to the elite level, but Andrea Pirlo carved out a niche role which he performed pretty well.
Since the return of Massimiliano Allegri, though, McKennie has struggled to be as impactful in a more conventional midfield role.
Weston McKennie's style of play
McKennie is an energetic midfielder that adds a high intensity approach to every phase of the game. That was something Pirlo accentuated while coachig Juventus; he maximised his strengths and mitigated his weaknesses.
In possession phases, McKennie is at his best off the ball, seeking out spaces to burst into. He likes to break forward from deep, either running the channels or crashing the box. He has a good sense of timing when arriving into the penalty area, and it has been a semi-consistent source of goals throughout his career.
His weaknesses come to the fore then the American is on the ball. He can be very clunky in his movement and touches, lacking the required technical control to play quickly under pressure. He lacks range in his passing; his execution is erratic as well. His skillset doesn’t suit the typical match dynamic that top-level teams are faced with, unless he’s tasked with a very specific off-ball role. He also doesn’t like espresso and puts ranch dressing on pizza.
Weston McKennie is a good athlete that has proven to be effective at breaking into space, pressing from the front and crashing into the box.
Weston McKennie is a limited player in terms of technical talent, making him a passenger in build-up phases. His lack of technical quality means he struggles to play in tighter spaces too.
Despite representing England right up to under-18 level, Yunus Musah is one of the US’ most exciting young prospects. He made the switch of nationality not long after he made an important leap in his club career – leaving home, Arsenal’s academy, for Valencia in Spain.
Since moving to the Mediterranean coast, Musah has been a regular in Valencia’s first-team line-ups in La Liga. Gennaro Gattuso’s appointment in the summer of 2022 has seen his midfield role expand into a much more all-encompassing one.
Yunus Musah's style of play
A number eight in youth team football, Musah had found a role on the right-side of Valencia’s four-man midfield. In that outside role, he was tasked with providing a valuable pressure-release
He fulfilled that task by utilising his explosive athleticism and direct ball-carrying abilities. His balance and strength on the turn enables him to spin out of pressure, before driving into open spaces. His touch allows him to weave through bodies and link play into higher areas.
The next step in his developemt is becoming more accustomed to playing the final ball in attacking sequences. He’s much more of a link player in his current form; adding a final third threat will benefit everyone.
Defensively, Musah is hard-working and robust. That combined with his progressive abilities means he has a highly-valued skillset in modern football.
Gattuso has since expanded his midfield role, affording him much more responsibility in buiild-up to get on the ball and contribute. Musah’s taken to that role pretty well so far, but there’s still plenty of room to grow.
Yunus Musah is a compact and explosive athlete capable of covering every distance, small to long, with speed. He’s a very effective player when games are stretched, shuttling between both boxes.
He can sometimes struggle to get into games, but that can often be attributed to team and league style. That said, Musah still has plenty to learn in how to consistently impact games in midfield.
2021 was a whirlwind year for Ricardo Pepi, with the American striker first taking centre stage with some great form in MLS before being drafted into the United States men’s national team, where he has also impressed. Suitors flocked from everywhere, but it was eventually FC Augsburg – backed by a wealthy US investor – who secured a move for the American in a big money move from FC Dallas.
Having struggled to make a mark at Ausgburg, Pepi moved to FC Groningen in the Eredivisie in the summer of 2022. He’s hit the ground running in the Netherlands, finding good goalscoring form in Europe.
Ricardo Pepi's style of play
There is no doubt that the Pepi hype was aided by a hot finishing streak in 2021, but despite this, he did show signs of being both a decent goal scorer, as well as a useful player out of possession.
Above everything else, Pepi works incredibly hard. He is a great athlete – and he will continue to develop in this area – that can stretch defences with speed, but he also has the potential to develop into a really strong physical body as well. This will help him in aerial duels which are currently a weakness.
To become a top tier striker though, Pepi will need to add a little bit more to his game when in possession. He is currently a fairly low touch player that does not look to attack defences with the ball at his feet, despite ostensibly having the athleticism to drive past players. There is undoubtedly a lot to work with though, as the 2003-born striker continues to develop at the senior level.
Ricardo Pepi is a dynamic athlete, and he makes the most of that athleticism by pressing from the front. He’s also proven to be able to sniff out chances in the penalty area.
Pepi lacks some skill in other areas of his game, like link play and ball-carrying. He also struggles to make an impact in aerial challenges.
The USA have a solid core of young players that are already playing to high levels in European football – see Christian Pulisic, Giovanni Reyna, Tyler Adams, Brenden Aaronson and Yunus Musah.
FC Dallas have one of, if not the best youth development system in US football. Its produced a number of international-level players, including Chris Richards and Ricardo Pepi, and has a direct link with German giants, FC Bayern München.
OUR LISTS OF THE BEST YOUNG TALENTS