Year In review: U.S. Players To Watch

The USA will attempt to qualify for the 2009 Under-20 World Cup at Concacaf qualifying next spring in Trinidad. Here's a look at some of the top U-20 prospects - none of whom advanced through the traditional development stage from U-17 residency to the U-20 team.

CHRIS AGORSOR (University of Virginia)
. It was a year of ups and downs for Agorsor, who chose to combine his junior and senior years at Maryland's McDonogh School so he could finish high school a year early. Agorsor started for the U-20s in their 2-1 win over Manchester United's reserves in early May and was named the MVP of the 2008 U.S. Soccer Development Academy's under-17/18 age group with the national champion Casa Mia Bays. He had already attracted the attention of scouts from pro clubs in England, Italy, Spain and the Netherlands but chose to enroll at the University of Virginia. His freshman year ended abruptly, though, when he suffered a severe knee injury in the Cavs' sixth game of the season.

TRISTAN BOWEN (Los Angeles Galaxy). Bowen became the first player from an MLS youth academy to sign a pro contract with its parent team when he signed a multi-year Generation adidas contract in late fall. The 17-year-old forward made several appearances on the Galaxy's reserve team in 2008 and was picked to travel with the U-20s on their trip to Madrid in November.

JORGE FLORES (Chivas USA). Flores is living a dream - literally. He won MLS Sueno, the Univision reality show at which young players competed for a chance to try out with Chivas USA. By the end of the 2007 season, he made his MLS debut for the Chivas first team. He stood out with the U-20s on a trip to England in the spring and scored three goals for Chivas in 11 appearances in 2008.

FELIX GARCIA (Laredo Heat). Garcia hasn't yet graduated from high school in Laredo, Texas, but he already has two seasons of play with the PDL's Laredo Heat under his belt. In his first season, he converted the penalty kick that gave the Heat the PDL championship. In 2008, he scored 11 goals in 12 games for the runner-up Heat. The 6-foot-2 Garcia impressed with three goals for the U.S. U-20s at the 2008 Copa Chivas in Mexico.

JOSH HERNANDEZ (FC Dallas Juniors). The 5-foot-9 midfielder has already graduated from Seagoville High School in Dallas but is playing for FCD's U-17/18 team in the Development Academy's new Texas Division. He has trained with the Dallas first team in offseason workouts and also was called up to the U-20 national team for its trip to Madrid in November.

BRANDON MANZONELLI (New England Revolution). Manzonelli (top right) was 16 when he left St. Louis, where he played for Scott Gallagher, to join Spanish club Villarreal's youth program. After two years in Spain, Manzonelli returned home and was signed by the Revolution this spring to a developmental contract. He made his first-team debut in July, shortly before joining the U-20s.

IKE OPARA (Wake Forest University).
As a freshman on Wake's national championship team, Opara established himself as one of the top young defenders in the country. A product of North Carolina's Triangle FC, Opara earned a starting job on the U-20s during offseason trips. He combines size (6-foot-2) with great leaping ability to dominate in the air. He was named the 2008 ACC Defensive Player of the Year as a sophomore but was hampered late in the season by a groin injury.

(This article originally appeared in the December 2008 issue of Soccer America magazine.)

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