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What Has MLS Ever Done For U.S.? Look At The Incredible Depth Of The Latest U-20 Roster

We're under two months away from the all-important Concacaf U-20 Championship in Honduras, which serves as qualifying for both the 2023 U-20 World Cup in Indonesia and the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris. 

It's going to be a wild tournament with 20 teams competing — the U.S. is in Group E alongside Canada, Cuba and Saint Kitts and Nevis — but only the semifinalists qualify for the World Cup while the Olympic spots are reserved for the two finalists. 

Defeat to Mexico in Guanajuato during last November's Revelations Cup spelled out the difficult path ahead, but the U.S. responded nicely in March during a trip to Argentina that saw the team earn a 2-2 draw with Argentina's U-20 squad before beating River Plate's 5-3.

On Wednesday, head coach Mikey Varas announced a 20-player squad for a training camp in Carson, California, that will run from April 22-May 1. Since the camp falls outside an international window, Varas is looking at young talent to expand the pool (including 11 players that've never been in a U-20 camp and three players born in 2005). 

There's no Justin Che (Hoffenheim) or Malick Sanogo (Union Berlin), but European-based players on the roster include Dante Sealy (PSV U-21), Luca Koleosho (Espanyol U-19), Damion Downs (FC Köln U-19) and Devan Tanton (Fulham U-18), and there's also a spot for Kristian Fletcher, whose club status is "unattached" while attracting interest from Borussia Dortmund and Manchester United.

However, what's truly incredible is the amount of MLS experience that's already developed at this level. Even without proven players like Quinn Sullivan, Paxten Aaronson (both Philadelphia), Caden Clark (NY Red Bulls) and Cade Cowell (San Jose), there are still seven players on this roster with playing time in MLS. 

To get an idea of how far U.S. Soccer has come, you only have to go as far back as the 2009 U-20 World Cup in Egypt to see a U.S. team in which nearly half the squad was playing their soccer at the collegiate level. 

At that point in time, all the guys listed below would be getting an incredible amount of hype as the future of the USMNT. Now it's just part of the process. 

Current U.S. U-20 Squad Members With MLS Experience 

Niko Tsakiris

Age: 16 | Club: San Jose Earthquakes

Tsakiris made his debut as a substitute at center mid against Philadelphia on March 13. He played 28 minutes against Austin on April 3, and then he started and scored against Bay Cities in the U.S. Open Cup on April 19. He's the second-youngest player on this U.S. roster. 

Tsakiris was born in Saratoga, California, and joined the Quakes Academy in 2017. He signed a Homegrown contract through 2025 with an option for 2026 in January.

Jaziel Orozco 

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Age: 17 | Club: Real Salt Lake

Orozco made his debut as a substitute against Kansas City on March 27, and he's since started three straight matches at center back. He was signed from Real Monarchs and the RSL Academy back in January on a two-year deal. 

He was born in Ciudad Juárez, but his hometown is El Paso, so he's a dual citizen of the United States and Mexico. Prior to the Gold Cup, he spent a month training with the USMNT to help the side prepare for the tournament. 

Thomas Williams

Thomas Williams

Age: 17 | Club: Orlando City

Williams made his debut as a late substitute at center back against Columbus on April 17. A native of Titusville, Florida, Williams joined the Orlando City Academy in 2015. He signed a contract through 2024 with an option for 2025 last June, becoming Orlando's youngest-ever first-team signing.   

Juan Castilla

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Age: 17 | Club: Houston Dynamo

Castilla made his debut last season as a late substitute in center mid against Colorado and appeared again against Montréal at the end of the campaign. He came off the bench against RGV Toros in the Dynamo's 2-1 U.S. Open Cup win on April 19.

Castilla was born in Cali, Colombia, but Houston is his hometown. He joined the Dynamo Academy as an 11-year-old and became the club's youngest Homegrown signing in 2021 at the age of 15. 

Javier Casas

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Age: 18 | Club: Chicago Fire

Casas made his debut last season as a substitute against D.C. United and played in the club's final match. Casas has appeared in two league games this year, totaling 12 minutes, and he played all 120 minutes of Chicago's U.S. Open Cup loss to Union Omaha on April 19.  

Casas was born in Addison, Illinois, and joined Chicago's academy in 2015. He signed a professional contract on March 10, 2020.  

Daniel Leyva

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Age: 18 | Club: Seattle Sounders

Leyva made his Seattle debut back in 2019 at defensive mid and totaled six league appearances (412 minutes) and one U.S. Open Cup start. A fractured foot derailed his 2020 campaign, but Leyva made 24 appearances, including eight starts, in 2021.

He's been a part of Seattle's current run to the CCL final, appearing in both quarterfinal games against León, and Leyva started against Inter Miami in MLS play on April 17.

Leyva was born in Las Vegas, Nevada, and played for the Barcelona USA Academy there before joining Seattle's setup at the age of 13. He became the club's youngest signing back in 2019.

Kayden Pierre

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Age: 19 | Club: Sporting Kansas City

Pierre made his first-team debut last season in the Leagues Cup against León, and he made his MLS debut on March 13 with a seven-minute substitute appearance at right back against Colorado. Born in Rochester Hills, Michigan, Pierre joined the SKC Academy in 2018. He signed a four-year contract through 2024 with an option for 2025 last May.

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