WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
MY 22 UNDER 22 PRESENTED BY BODYARMOR CAN BEAT UP YOUR 22 UNDER 22 PRESENTED BY BODYARMOR
I'm (barely) old enough to remember when the 22 Under 22 presented by BODYARMOR was the 24 Under 24. Deflation these days, man. The good folks at The Mothership shifted to the 22 Under 22 back in 2018 and have been showcasing 22 of the brightest and youngest players MLS has to offer ever since. The strength of those lists has shifted year to year and I think I agree with Matt Doyle's assessment that this year's group isn't as top-heavy, but is deeper. It got me thinking though, which 22 Under 22 group would win in a fight? We obviously have way more data on the 2018 group compared to this year's, but I think we can give it a shot anyway. I feel comfortable with it if you're comfortable with ignoring the flaws of picking best XIs from anything MLS and pretending that we can reasonably predict the outcome of a game between them. I promise it'll feel better reading this if you're comfortable with that. Like slipping on a hoodie for the first time this fall. Just relax. And remember, we're dealing entirely with hypotheticals here. We're going to pit each group's Best XI against each other in a hypothetical tournament where each game is decided by whatever I say it's decided by. We'll go ahead and give this year's group a first-round bye as well. Just because they're young and we're trying to not expose them to too much too quickly. First though, let's look at the teams. I did my best here, I promise.THE TEAMS2018: 4-3-3 FW: Alphonso Davies (Then: Vancouver Whitecaps → Now: Bayern Munich), Diego Rossi (LAFC → Fenerbahçe), Jefferson Savarino (Real Salt Lake)MID: Latif Blessing (LAFC), Eduard Atuesta (LAFC → Palmeiras), Tyler Adams (RBNY → Leeds United) DEF: Reggie Cannon (FC Dallas → Boavista) Auston Trusty (Philadelphia Union → Birmingham City on loan from Arsenal), Mark McKenzie (Philadelphia Union → KRC Genk), Brooks Lennon (RSL → Atlanta United) Well, this is a heckuva start. Alphonso Davies up top along with that midfield is enough to make the 2018 group a favorite from the jump. We don't have a true no. 9 among this group, but I'm ok with Diego Rossi operating in the middle of the field. He did it plenty while in LA. You might be wondering why I forced right-footed Reggie Cannon to play left back. The answer is that in my Best XI, we give Alphonso Davies as many opportunities to hilariously overwhelm opposing defenses as possible. Even if that means a few clunky fits here and there.2019: 4-3-3FW: Brian Rodriguez (LAFC → Club América), Taty Castellanos (NYCFC → Girona), Diego Rossi (LAFC → Fenerbahçe) MID: Brenden Aaronson (Philadelphia Union → Leeds United), Djordje Mihailovic (CF Montréal → AZ Alkmaar on Jan 1. 2023), Cristian Casseres Jr. (RBNY) DEF: Sam Vines (Colorado Rapids → Royal Antwerp), James Sands (NYCFC → Rangers), Mark McKenzie (Philadelphia Union → KRC Genk), Reggie Cannon (FC Dallas → Boavista) So, yeah, that midfield isn't necessarily what I would call "balanced." But I couldn't just leave Mihailovic or Aarons off the team. To be honest, I'm not stoked about Brian Rodriguez starting up top, but the other option I guess was Ezequiel Barco or moving Jesus Ferreira out wide. I didn't want any part of that. And, as good as Ferreira is, he's not going ahead of Taty. We're at least deep at striker in 2019 rather than literally not having a striker like in 2018. That's a solid "Get first place in the conference and lose after an extended rest period thanks to the rust that accumulated during the bye week" defense. But it is a defense where everyone is pretty much at their correct position.2020: Some kind of mutant 4-4-2 diamond thingFW: Jesus Ferreira (FC Dallas), Daryl Dike (Orlando City → West Bromwich Albion MID: Brenden Aaronson (Philadelphia Union → Leeds United), Paxton Pomykal (FC Dallas), Cristian Casseres Jr. (RBNY), James Sands (NYCFC → Rangers) DEF: Sam Vines (Colorado Rapids → Royal Antwerp), Luis Binks (CF Montréal → Como on loan from Bologna), Mark McKenzie (Philadelphia Union → KRC Genk) Julian Araujo (LA Galaxy) You've got your classic tiny guy paired with a tall guy up top because I just want to see it and then from there we kind of sort of devolve into madness. Would that midfield work in a Union-esque diamond? Is the back line actually good? Is the classic tiny guy with a tall guy up top a classic because it's totally outdated and ineffective? This is the most Wild Card group yet. And it's in large part due to my unwillingness to plug Ezequiel Barco in anywhere and my not wanting to put Brenden Aaronson on the wing.2021: 3-5-2FW: Jesus Ferreira (FC Dallas), Brenner (FC Cincinnati) MID: Kevin Paredes (D.C. United → VfL Wolfsburg), Leon Flach (Philadelphia Union), Cristian Casseres Jr. (RBNY), Cole Bassett (Colorado Rapids → Fortuna Sittard), Cade Cowell (San Jose Earthquakes) DEF: Justin Che (FC Dallas → 1899 Hoffenheim), James Sands (NYCFC → Rangers), Julian Araujo (LA Galaxy) GK: David Ochoa (RSL → D.C. United) Jesus Ferreira only came in at ninth on this list, but he's starting ahead of numbers one and two. Ricardo Pepi and Daryl Dike. Brenner came in at 14 and we just gotta ride the hot hand right now. This group gave me the excuse to go with Kevin Paredes and Cade Cowell at wingback just for fun. Even if it left me with a back line that's…unique. Important note here: This is our first goalkeeper for any of our teams. It may prove important later to be one of two teams to actually have a goalkeeper. We'll see though I guess.2022:FW: Talles Magno (NYCFC), Jesus Ferreira (FC Dallas), Mahala Opoku (LAFC) MID: Thiago Almada (Atlanta United), Ismaël Koné (CF Montréal), César Araújo (Orlando City) DEF: John Tolkin (RBNY), Aidan Morris (Columbus Crew), Julian Araujo (LA Galaxy), Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty (Toronto FC) GK: Gaga Slonina (Chicago Fire FC → Chelsea) Andrew Wiebe already did this the other day, but we're operating under different parameters here. We can only pull from the list we've been given. I started off really excited at how all the pieces were fitting together until I realized we were given exactly zero (0) center backs to work with. I just ended up tucking Julian Araujo in and dropping Aidan Morris back because, uhh, because well I didn't know what else to do. At least that midfield rules. And at least we get John Tolkin. And at least there's a ton of firepower up top. And at least this team has a goalkeeper.THE TOURNAMENTRound One2018 vs. 2021Winner: 2018 This isn't even a question, is it? There's more talent across the board in 2018. Especially in midfield. Even with them starting someone they pulled out of the crowd at keeper, the better team is clear. Alphonso Davies, Tyler Adams and company are cruising to a win.2019 vs. 2020Winner: 2019 We're a bit more evenly matched here aren't we? Defensively it's pretty much a wash with a slight edge to 2019. Up top, I've got to give the edge to 2019's trio of Taty Castellanos, Diego Rossi and Brian Rodriguez over 2020's Jesus Ferreira and Daryl Dike partnership. But midfield is super intriguing. Does the mutant diamond thing 2020 has going on overwhelm Brenden Aaronson, Djordje Mihailovic and Cristian Casseres Jr.? Maybe. But I don't think it's enough. 2019 gets the win.Losers round2020 vs. 2021Winner: 2020 2021 just doesn't have it in midfield. Or really anywhere else comparatively. 2020 wins easily.Semifinal2020 vs. 2022Winner: 2022 Even with whatever's going on exactly in the back line, 2022 is the more cohesive unit from top to bottom. It's close, but I think Thiago Almada, Cesar Araujo and Ismael Kone do enough to survive in midfield and facilitate the ball to an electric front three that sets up perfectly for Jesus Ferreira to do false nine things.2018 vs. 2019Winner: 2018 Whatever's going to happen in midfield here is totally fascinating. But I'll give the edge to the more defensive-minded group and the team with the better front three. Having Davies, Adams and Atuesta on the same team is almost unfair, huh?Final2022 vs. 2018Winner: 2018 The answer is yes, it's entirely unfair to have Davies, Adams and Atuesta. Davies alone is a brutal ask for the kids to deal with. He's the best player on the continent. And probably the single most impressive MLS product to date. 2022 would put up a valiant fight here, but the backline is in a whole lot of trouble here. Even with all that speed and an actual goalkeeper on the team. 2018 is just a tough act to follow.
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