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2018 MLS Homegrown Game Squad: Where are they now?
A lot can change in five years, especially in a league this young.
Back to back Where Are They Now writings. It’s a fun format for me, especially when it’s in a league as rapid-changing as MLS. (Granted, I have a more ambitious couple of projects for this space in the works, but wanted to get something out this week despite some illness.)
The Homegrown Game was a staple of All-Star Week in the latter part of the 2010s, a showcase game featuring some of MLS’s brightest young talents. After not taking place in 2021, it seems to have been phased out as the “young talent showcase game” in favor of the MLS Next All-Star Game, which announced its rosters this week.
So I decided to turn back the clock to July 31, 2018, the date of that year’s Homegrown game. Let’s see how some of these kids have developed. Some have found their way to the USMNT and Europe…others, not so much.
I’d like to note before we begin that there were two Homegrowns on that year’s MLS All-Star team, and it was only ever one or the other. Those Homegrowns were Tyler Adams and Alphonso Davies, who both turned out okay I guess.
JT Marcinkowski - San Jose Earthquakes
San Jose’s third-ever homegrown signing after Tommy Thompson and Nick Lima, the former Georgetown Hoya was in his first professional season, spending most of it on loan at San Jose’s USL affiliate, Reno 1868. That being said, he did play a handful of first-team games that season, the final five matches of a hopeless Quakes season that ended in a Wooden Spoon and a pathetic 21 points.
He wouldn’t play in MLS again until 2020, when head coach Matías Almeyda benched a truly horrendous Daniel Vega. Marcinkowski stabilized a defense that was leaking goals (at one point, the Quakes gave up 19 goals in 5 games…and that was with a clean sheet in the middle of the run) just enough to sneak into the playoffs, and he’s been San Jose’s #1 ever since.
Being first choice for this era of Quakes football is a special kind of challenge. Marcinkowski, though not quite elite, has certainly proven he’s a capable MLS #1.
Sean Melvin - Atlético Ottawa
Goalkeeper was always a bit of a weird position in the Homegrown Game. Matt Lampson played in it in 2014 and 2015, when he was aged 24-25. Melvin also falls into this category, playing in the game as a 24-year-old Whitecaps third-string keeper.
He never got a game in two seasons with the Whitecaps first team after signing in the winter of 2018; at age 28, he’s only played around 50 professional games. All of those came in USL Championship with Whitecaps 2, and, after leaving Vancouver after the 2019 season, Colorado Springs. He left the Switchbacks this past winter, returning to Canada with Atlético Ottawa. He’s Ottleti’s second-choice keeper, with manager Carlos González preferring CPL vet Nathan Ingham.
Marco Farfan - Dallas
The first Timbers homegrown to ever play for the first team, left back Farfan is the first player on this list with a USMNT senior cap. That cap came in a 6-0 demolition of El Salvador in December 2020, a friendly so meaningless that two players who played for the US have since switched allegiances - including one of the goal scorers.
2018 saw his first real minutes at the MLS level, as the Portland native got into eleven games for a team that reached the MLS Cup final. He’d truly break through in 2020 following the departure of first-choice left back Jorge Villafaña, but that would also be his last season in Cascadia. He was flipped to LAFC for $300,000 in allocation money, and despite getting into 29 games in 2021, he wasn’t long for SoCal either, as the Black and Gold flipped him to Dallas for Ryan Hollingshead.
He’s once again the first-choice left-back for the Hoops. Defensively sound but with his struggles offensively, he’s a solid piece for an MLS squad.
Auston Trusty - Birmingham City
The first player on the list who was getting significant MLS minutes in 2018.
Signed in 2016, the Union let him marinate in the reserve team (then known as Bethlehem Steel) for two seasons before earning a starting spot in 2018. He played in the heart of defense every game in league play for the Union that year. He would reprise his starting gig in 2019, but eventually would lose the starting job to another guy we’ll get to.
Philadelphia flipped him to Colorado before the 2020 season, and he’d spend two and a half years in the Rockies before Stan Kroenke shifted him over to his other soccer team, Arsenal. He has since been punted out on loan to Birmingham City in the Championship, and we’ll see how he adapts to the English game.
James Sands - Rangers
Another first-ever homegrown player, this time for New York City, Sands’s rise has been pretty quick over the past few seasons. Capped 42 times for the U17 national team, Sands was signed in 2017 and made a few cameo appearances here and there for the Pigeons in his first two seasons. But in 2019, he broke through for good, and his versatility and ability to play both center back and defensive mid made him a must-start for NYC.
2021 was especially big for Sands. He made his USMNT debut at the Gold Cup, playing mostly in central defense for a national team that conceded zero open-play goals and won the Cup. He became an MLS All-Star, and later an MLS Cup champion. With his stock high, Rangers took a low-risk high-reward ticket on him, loaning him in from NYC for 18 months.
He only got into seven SPL games for Rangers, but did appear four times in the Europa League, including the final. We’ll see if he can fight his way into the club’s first-team in his first full season in Glasgow; he’ll need it ahead of the World Cup. He earned rave reviews in Rangers’ season opening win over Motherwell.
Jaylin Lindsey - Charlotte
I, still, do not understand why SKC traded Lindsey.
I get why Charlotte wanted him, he’s a solid young player from the area. But with an aging Graham Zusi and unproven-but-potentially-good Kayden Pierre as your alternatives…? He had some injury woes, sure, but he was quality when healthy and wasn’t overly expensive.
Anyway, enough rambling about personnel decisions I disagreed with. Lindsey, 18 at the time, would have to wait until 2020 to truly emerge after a serious knee injury cost him basically all of 2019 (including the U20 World Cup). He’d play 12 league games that season, and 14 a year later before suffering a season-ending injury in the Leagues Cup.
He got traded to expansion Charlotte this past offseason and has stayed healthy. If he can keep that good health consistently, he’ll be a strong fullback in this league for years to come.
Aaron Herrera - Real Salt Lake
Like Trusty, Herrera started getting real MLS minutes in 2018, his first year as a pro. Like Farfan, he’s a one-cap wonder fullback so far, with his appearance coming in January 2021 against Trinidad and Tobago.
He’s been RSL’s first-choice right back for most of his career, currently sitting on 113 appearances for the club.
Mark McKenzie - Genk
Remember when I said Auston Trusty lost his starting gig to someone else? This is that someone else. Granted, McKenzie lost the gig back to Trusty in 2019 after a series of injuries, most notably an appendectomy. He did get a healthy chunk of games in 2018, his first season with the big club.
With that being said, McKenzie blossomed in 2020 following Trusty’s departure, helping the Union secure the Supporters’ Shield and finishing runner-up for Defender of the Year. That earned him his first USMNT caps and a move to Belgian side Genk, where he’s been very up-and-down.
Matt Real - Philadelphia Union
Real in 2022 is in the same place he was in 2018 - Philadelphia’s backup left back. In 2018, it was to an out-of-position Ray Gaddis, and Real played three times in the league. That winter, Philadelphia signed Kai Wagner, and the German quickly became one of the best fullbacks in the league.
Real has made 32 appearances in four seasons with the first team, and at 23 the clock is ticking for him.
Andrew Carleton - San Diego Loyal
Oh dear. Oh, oh dear.
Andrew Carleton had everything going for him. Playing in his hometown, for a club that immediately built a culture of winning, with all the talent you could ask for. The sky was the limit for his potential.
But he won’t reach it. And Andrew Carleton only has Andrew Carleton to blame.
Contracted to the Five Stripes for four of their MLS seasons, his constant immaturity - breaking curfew and partying the night before MLS Cup 2018, missing a game at Toronto because he forgot his passport - led to the team giving up on him after a 2020 loan spell at Indy Eleven. The fact that he intended to be at January 6 made him virtually radioactive, and he ended up spending 2021 between NPSL’s Georgia Storm, UPSL’s Kalonji Pro-Profile, and 45 minutes for Jicaral Sercoba in the Costa Rican league.
This past winter, he signed with San Diego Loyal. We’ll see if he can change his mentality and turn his career around, because this has to be his last chance.
Anthony Fontana - Ascoli
From a guy whose main issue was maturity to a guy whose main issue was fit.
Fontana showed flashes of promise in his four seasons in Philly. Those flashes especially came in 2020, when he took over Ilsinho’s role as game-rescuing super-sub and bagged 6 goals.
When Brenden Aaronson was sold to Leeds, Fontana had a shot to take over the 10 role. But he struggled in the early going, then suffered a concussion that kept him out for a while. He came back to a team that had just signed Dániel Gazdag as the permanent 10, and Fontana saw the writing on the wall. He left for Serie B side Ascoli after his contract expired at season’s end, much to the delight of the New England Revolution.
Cameron Lindley - Colorado Springs Switchbacks
Lindley was actually a Chicago Fire academy kid, playing for their satellite club in Indiana. But when he turned pro in 2018 after two seasons at the University of North Carolina, it was Orlando who came calling and traded for his homegrown rights.
That…turned out to be a bit of a waste of time. Lindley started three of his first pro games, then never played for the Lions again. He’s become a USL journeyman, even dating back to when he was still under contract in Orlando. In his five years as a pro, the Switchbacks are his fifth USL team, having previously played for Saint Louis, Memphis, Indy Eleven, and San Antonio.
Liam Fraser - Deinze
A central midfielder who got his first-team deal in 2018, Fraser stagnated a bit in a deep crop of young Toronto midfielders. He spent four seasons contracted to the Reds, but never really broke through and in 2021 the club punted him to Columbus on loan. While he was solid for the Crew, their injury-riddled central midfield was no longer injury-riddled, and they had no need to make the move permanent.
Fraser elected to take his talents to Belgian second division side Deinze once his TFC deal expired.
Sebastián “Bofo” Saucedo - Toluca
Real Salt Lake is really, really frustrating when it comes to young talent. They’re good at identifying it, to be sure. But part of being a developmental club is actually getting something for the young talent, which they’ve failed to do with both Saucedo and now David Ochoa.
In the case of tricky winger Bofo Saucedo, it boiled down to playing time, particularly in his final 2019 season. He did play 83 MLS games for RSL, which isn’t nothing…until you realize he barely started a third of them (29 career starts). He openly vented about it in interviews, especially with the Olympic cycle coming up. Thankfully for him, his contract was up, and he would take the opportunity to move south of the border to Liga MX side Pumas.
After two seasons and 54 matches at the Estadio Olímpico Universitario, including a CCL final defeat against Seattle, he’s since moved on to Toluca.
Ben Mines - Colorado Springs Switchbacks (Loan)
A second current Switchback, but Mines is only there on loan. There was some genuine excitement in Harrison when Mines scored on his March 2018 debut, especially with RBNY’s track record of academy kids. His skill was evident, too, even if he lacked muscle.
Unfortunately, injuries absolutely ate him up over the next couple of seasons, and Metro chose not to retain him once his contract expired following the 2020 season. Cincinnati snagged him, but he’s currently had more loan spells (2, as he spent last season on loan at Orange County) than matches played for them (0).
Efraín Álvarez - LA Galaxy
The youngest player on the Homegrown team. I mentioned him in the LA Galaxy piece a few weeks ago, so I’m not going to go too in-depth here.
But man, is it frustrating to see a kid who is very clearly very skilled stagnate the way he has. He’s still 20, so to write him off is daft, but the trend has not been great.
Lagos Kunga - Unattached
Along with Melvin, Kunga is the only other member of this squad that never played in MLS.
A talented dribbler born in the Angolan capital of Luanda, Kunga spent all of 2018 and most of 2019 with Atlanta 2nited. The Five Stripes then elected to send him away from the org, with two separate USL loan spells seeing him play for Memphis 901 and Phoenix Rising. When his deal expired in 2020, Phoenix chose not to pick him up, and he spent a hot minute in the UPSL with Kalonji Pro-Profile and in Norway with Kristiansund. He last played for Kalonji earlier this year and scored in a UPSL playoff game.
Paxton Pomykal - Dallas
Pomykal has shown that he has the potential, the talent, and the work ethic to play at the top level. But he hasn’t had the health.
When fit, he’s class; he was a 2019 MLS All-Star and was starting to truly lift off. But a hip surgery cost him most of 2020, and even his appearance in this Homegrown Game came after he had knee surgery.
He’s finally getting close to 100% today, having appeared in almost every league match the Hoops have played the last two seasons. He mostly played out wide in 2021 to avoid further knocks, but has since moved back to his more natural central midfield slot. I wouldn’t be too surprised if he started getting more USMNT looks after Qatar.
Wan Kuzain - St. Louis City 2
No one will ever ask you this, but in the highly unlikely case that it does, Wan Kuzain bin Wan Kumal was the first goal scorer in the history of MLS Next Pro. A Malaysian-American winger from Carbondale, Ill., SKC’s academy signed him from the Scott Gallagher youth program that has also produced the likes of Tim Ream and Josh Sargent, then gave him a first team deal for 2018.
He never really broke through at SKC and left after the 2020 season when his contract expired. A season at RGV Toros followed, but when 2022 came around and St. Louis was looking for guys to fill out their 2 team roster, they scooped up Kuzain.
Will he be on the inaugural roster? Who knows.
Jesús Ferreira - Dallas
Back in 2018, the only thing I thought when I saw Jesús Ferreira (who hadn’t played much for the Hoops since turning pro) was “damn. I’m getting old.” After all, his dad had won MLS MVP during my time following the league. Today, he’s got a very real chance of being the USMNT’s starting #9 at the World Cup.
He always showed promise, from the time he started playing regularly back in 2019 to today. But 2022 has been his breakout year where he’s finally started to complete the package, adding more clinical goal scoring to the table.
Oh…and he’s still just 21, having been the second youngest player on this roster.
What a way to finish this list off, eh?
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