The USL’s rising level of competition on the field has brought new levels of national and international interest to the league, but in addition it has allowed the league to become a proving ground for some of the best young talent in the United States and Canada as they begin their professional careers.
That fact was laid out clearly over the past summer, when 10 players with USL experience were named in the United States’ squad for the 2017 FIFA U20 World Cup, and an additional six in the squad for the 2017 FIFA U17 World Cup. The experiences of competing at a high level professional saw both teams reach the tournament quarterfinals, and brought some even further into the national consciousness.
Leading the way among those was Tyler Adams. The first signing in New York Red Bulls II history, and a 2016 USL Cup-winner before his breakthrough first full season in MLS this year, the 18-year-old played a pivotal role for the USMNT U20s as it first claimed the CONCACAF U20 Championship for the first time, and then to the quarterfinals at the World Cup before being eliminated in extra time by eventual finalist Venezuela.
Others like the Bethlehem Steel FC duo of Derrick Jones and Auston Trusty also made an impact, while Erik Palmer-Brown used time on loan with the Swope Park Rangers from Sporting Kansas City to build toward the tournament, where he served as captain and played every minute of action for the side. Attacking talent like Jeremy Ebobisse (Portland Timbers 2), and Sebastian Saucedo, who played a role in Real Monarchs SLC’s 2017 USL Regular Season Championship, also shone in the Korean Republic.
The same was true in India at the FIFA U17 World Cup, where Richmond Kickers loanee Chris Durkin burnished his previously established reputation as the No. 10 selection in the 2017 USL 20 Under 20 list as he played every minute of the tournament for the U.S. to help the side reach the tournament’s quarterfinals before falling to eventual champion England. Durkin’s composed passing shone in the USL regular season for the Kickers, too, as he posted a completion rate of 81.7 percent on a passing rate of 52.7 passes per 90 minutes.
The likes of Andrew Carleton and Chris Goslin, both of whom brought experience from the Charleston Battery after loan spells from Atlanta United, and Toronto FC II forward Ayo Akinola had outstanding moments to boost the United States’ attack. Defensively, the New York Red Bulls II’s Chris Gloster and Swope Park Rangers’ Jaylin Lindsay were mainstays on the back line throughout the tournament.
With more and more top young talent entering the league each year, 2017 saw the USL’s position as the pathway to international opportunities for the cream of the professional academy system become firmly entrenched.