Some young players are already on top of the world, like Erling Haaland, Vinicius Junior, Jude Bellingham, Bukayo Saka, Pedri and more, this column was designed to shine a light on the players inches away from breaking into the front stage of world soccer.

It would be easy to pick from the numerous Brazilians close to making big moves. Vitor Roque, Marcos Leonardo and Luan Cândido all come to mind. It also wouldn’t be hard to pick from the Golden Boy shortlist. Jamal Musiala, Gavi, Xavi Simons, Florian Wirtz and more may be one of the best wonderkids currently playing. The players on the list not only are under the radar but are also from all corners of the globe.

These players are all already involved with their national team’s setup. That could be the senior team or at the youth levels. Most importantly, they’re names that we will hear a lot more of come the next few seasons. All these players are close to a breakout season, whether it’s with a different club or a new role in a new-look team. Whittling down the list to just six players, especially with all of the youth tournaments that took place this year. However, these six players have an overwhelming chance to have a good, long career in soccer.

Joe Scally (Monchengladbach, RB)

The Stars and Stripes’ very own Joe Scally has shown a lot of exciting talent. A New York City FC academy product, he made the move across the Atlantic, directly joining Gladbach for just $2 million. Since then, he’s played in 30 games and scored one goal. The right-back has even won four caps, recently starting the CONCACAF Nations League Final against Canada and putting in an impressive shift.

What’s so impressive about Scally is his defensive work rate and solid tackling. He’s aggressive and will never shy away from a 1v1. On the offensive end, he is a decent passer, both playing the ball out of the back, fighting off the press, or sending in crosses. Chances are, Scally plays second fiddle to Sergiño Dest for a long time. Yet, there’s a solid chance Gregg Berhalter will give him more playing time thanks to his 2022/23 breakout season.

Fran García (Real Madrid, LB)

Fran Garcia is one of the world’s most exciting wing-backs thanks to his startling speed and athleticism that helps him strike fear in the eyes of opposing defenders. Despite his solid season at Rayo, we haven’t seen the full extent of Garcia’s skill and athleticism. His breakout season came this year after he moved from Real Madrid last July, where he got little to no first-team experience, to Rayo Vallecano for the price of $2.1 million. He played well throughout the season, starting 40 total games while scoring two goals and assisting three. His splendid performances throughout the season turned the eye of Real, who triggered his buy-back clause for $5.5 million. 

Garcia is a very agile, speedy wing-back. He not only uses his acceleration to sneakily steal the ball and hawk down attackers on the wing but he’s proved a valuable asset on offense, kickstarting counter-attacks and providing valuable overlaps for his team. He can dribble and carry the ball forward, and despite his 5’5 frame, he reads the game very well, which means he can win a lot of tackles and interceptions.

Cesare Casadei (Chelsea U21, CM)

Casadei earned his reputation as a free-moving, goal-scoring midfielder with Italy U20s in the U20 World Cup, where he led Gli Azzurini to a spot in the finals. Casadei won both the Golden Boot and the Golden Ball to cap off an impressive 2022-23 season. After moving through Inter’s youth levels, he moved across the Channel to Chelsea for a whopping $16.3 million. Since then, he’s played with both Chelsea’s U21 squad and Reading. This season, he scored six goals and added an assist in 28 total games. But the U20 World Cup turned eyes, so much so that senior scouts for Chelsea recommend he stay in the Blues’ senior team.

Casadei has been described as a mezzala (half-winger in Italian), a hybrid between a central midfielder and a winger. He drifts deep and sets up his attackers with incisive through-balls and exciting through-balls. He joins the attack often, which explains the number of goals he gets. He’s dominant in the air, capable of dribbling with both feet and a great passer with absurd vision. He’s also a solid defender; his physicality helps him win a lot of tackles and he’s aggressive with his challenges. These qualities help him play as a #6, a #8, and even a #10.

Adama Bojang (Steve Biko FC, ST)

Adama Bojang started rising to the top of European club’s shortlists during his phenomenal African Cup of Nations U20 performance, where he scored four goals in six games for the Gambia en route to an appearance in the final and a spot in the Africa Cup of Nations U20’s team of the tournament. He headlined the Gambia’s U20 World Cup squad, scoring two goals in four total games. Despite playing in a relatively unknown Gambian team in Steve Biko FC, he’s attracted attention from Al Ahly, Tottenham, Nottingham Forest, and the most likely option, Strasbourg.

His ability to burst past defenders on the dribble hold up the ball for sprinting teammates, and his finishing touch makes him a solid striker who has a chance to play first-team football in the top 5 leagues in the next three seasons. He’s super athletic and agile but still has a lot of strength and size, which has allowed him to torment a lot of defenders. He isn’t just size though. He has the intelligence to make some beautiful runs, and he sees the game clearly.

Naoki Kumata (FC Tokyo, CF)

Naoki Kumata has burst onto the scene after finishing as the top scorer in the AFC U-20 Asian Cup. He was relatively unknown before the youth tournament. After scoring five goals in five matches, he was promoted from FC Tokyo’s U18 squad to the senior team. He’s since attracted interest from Liverpool and Real Madrid for a transfer this summer or the next.

Kumata stands at 5’11 and weighs in at 174 pounds, meaning his build resembles a very physical, strong target forward. He’s strong in the air, can hold the ball up, and can fight off bigger defenders. Despite that, he’s also very comfortable with the ball; he can dribble the ball in transition and make some very cutting, line-breaking passes. He’s like Erling Haaland with a little less athleticism and explosiveness, and a little more technique and ball control. 

Endrick (Palmeiras, CF)

Endrick will move to Real Madrid in July 2024 in a blockbuster $41 million deal, and it’s not for nothing. He’s starred for Palmeiras across multiple big youth competitions. He’s also won multiple awards and titles for his goalscoring record and his flashy technique. Before he’d played six games for the Palmeiras senior team, he’d already agreed to sign with Real Madrid when he turned 18. In the meantime, he’s earned call-ups to numerous Brazilian national youth teams. He’s starred in Palmeiras’ Brasileiro-contending squad while earning comparisons to Cristiano Ronaldo, Romario, and Pele.

Endrick has such good ball control that it looks like his foot is stuck to the ball sometimes. In addition to his electric style of play and athleticism, he has a lot of technique and a finishing touch. It helps he can move around and play different positions; he can play as a center forward, right winger, or left winger. And, despite his stocky build, he is still pretty strong.

PHOTO: IMAGO / Sports Press Photo