Earlier today MLS released its rankings for the Top 24 players under 24 years-old. Among the players were Real Salt Lake's Joao Plata, Luis Gil, and Olmes Garcia.
The rankings are determined by regular media contributors to MLS. They rank players based on technical ability (dribbling, shooting, etc.), soccer IQ (positioning, reading game, etc.), physical attributes (speed, endurance, strength, etc.), personality (attitude, marketability, charisma, etc.), and potential (national team potential, potential future transfer value, etc.).
For RSL, this year's rankings are a good sign. Of the four RSL candidates in the 50-person shortlist, three got into the rankings — the three are all on the fairly regular first team contributors while the other, Carlos Salcedo, just recently made the jump from academy to first team and sits behind strong veterans in Nat Borchers and Chris Schuler. The RSL players ranked are Joao Plata, Luis Gil, and Olmes Garcia.
For the ranking itself, Real Salt Lake is tied for the second largest number of players in the rankings along with Dallas, New England, and Colorado — the only team to have more players in the rankings was the Vancouver Whitecaps.
The amount of RSL players in the ranking is promising because these rankings are supposed to indicate young players with great potential. When aligned with a strong, veteran core, RSL has been able to develop talent into players that can contribute at the highest levels in the league and national team — Gil, Plata, and Salcedo have been called into national team duties this past year.
So what makes future stars? According to the league, future star potential is reliant on three things: 1) baseline talent, 2) experienced teammates, and 3) a coach willing to take a risk. So all of RSL's young players have that baseline talent, otherwise we wouldn't see them in such a strong team in the dominant Western Conference. These players are also surrounded by a core of veterans and lead by a mint coach willing to let them contribute at the highest level. So let's apply this to RSL young players.
Plata was a young player that was not even ranked last year and jumped into the rankings at number seven. For Plata the talent is obvious with 13 goals — 0.59 per match, a best among players in the rankings — and five assists this season from a player that was thought could contribute but has had a breakout season this year. Joao has been a constant contributor to the team which RSL's 7-1-4 record when he scores demonstrates.
Joao has been able to learn from veterans like Alvaro Saborio and take his place, somewhat, after his inquiry. This diminutive Ecuadorian is a monster forward. His quickness and willing to assist his team members has proven perfect for RSL's style and overall motto. While Plata is technically not a goal-scorer — as many in the MLS brass would suggest — he is a player to watch with his ability to become the focal point for RSL's attack.
Gil's talent is also evident. Gil is a constant contributor this Tab Ramos's US U-20 team where he has stepped up and been the cog needed in vital situations for the team. Last year ranked number two, Gil has fallen in the rankings but not out of the top ten. His persistent appearance in the top ten should underscore his potential. Gil has had sort of a rough season, losing his starting spot to Luke Mulholland, but this seems to be more of a question to his best position in the systems at both RSL and the U-20 team.
When Gil has been given an opportunity to come up big this year, he has controlled his own destiny. When given the reins at the point of the diamond for inquired RSL maestro Javier Morales, he has proven he can take the responsibility — I am referring to the second meeting between RSL and the Seattle Sounders last August. Overall, Gil is a technically gifted, soccer-smart player, and a face for the future of RSL.
Olmes Garcia is another bright, young talent for the shimmering RSL. The 21 year-old has great potential and that is why RSL retains his services. He might have dipped slightly in the rankings from last year — 21 down from 19 — but he still remains among the best young talents in the league. Garcia has had trouble producing this season despite increased minutes, but has put some doubts to rest with recent appearances.
He is a tall, athletic striker the definitely adds a unique flair to RSL. The young Colombian is an investment for the future — something we should all remember. Despite having veteran talent up front, the young forward has already registered eight goals during his time at RSL. Having Jeff Cassar, a coach willing to take a risk on such young talent, and veterans like Alvaro Sabario and Robbie Findley to guide him, the sky is the limit for Olmes Garcia. While some suggest that Olmes' production has stagnated this year, I put it down for just being his sophomore slump and expect to see great things out of him in the future.
MLS released these rankings to help fans and media outlets aware of young players to keep an eye on. With that in mind, better and more refined talent is entering the first team from academy systems across the league and will make the rankings more competitive every year. RSL is one of those teams to watch.
Strong academy players are emerging for RSL like Sebastian Saucedo, Jordan Allen, and Justin Glad That will vying for first team minutes. I expect many more players from RSL and its academy in Arizona to appear on future rankings. What do you think? Will RSL continue to produce players that will appear on MLS Top 24 under 24?