Over the last 20 years players from the Caribbean and Central America have broken through for some of the top clubs in the world. Whether it is Leon Bailey, Bryan Ruiz, Keylor Navas, or Joel Campbell, players from some of the smallest countries in CONCACAF have shown that there is real talent outside of Canada, Mexico, and the United States. With the next round of World Cup qualification slated to begin this fall and with the tournament slated to expand in the coming years, there will be more opportunities for players from the region to show what they can do.
Our own Sean Maslin has the top Caribbean and Central American players under the age of 22 who are slated to make a big impact in CONCACAF and beyond.
Jurich Carolina (Stomil Olsyztn/Curacao) – Defender
Carolina is an NAC Breda product and has been tearing it up in the Eredivise over the last three seasons. During the winter transfer window he made the move to Stomil Olsyztn of the Polish first division which should hopefully give him more minutes. Curacao has a solid back four, as evidenced by their strong run during the 2019 Gold Cup. But if Carolina can get some more match time with his club side he may finally break through.
Jose Luis Rodriguez (Alaves B/Panama) – Midfielder
Although he is just 22 years old Rodridguez has already played in a World Cup, starting as a defensive midfielder for Panama at Russia. He faced a trial by fire in the form of the Belgian defense but was critical in holding the likes of Romelu Lukaku scoreless through the first half. With Alaves’ B side he has shown a bit more attacking promise, scoring five in 27 appearances. With him taking over the reigns of the Panamanian midfield now is the time for a bigger move outside of the Spanish third division.
Randall Leal (Nashville SC/Costa Rica) – Midfielder
Prior to the COVID shutdown Leal made the move from Saprissa to the new MLS side Nashville SC with the aim of getting more minutes and an attack-minded coach in Gary Smith. In his first two matches his speed and pace were on full display giving the side a spark on the attack. The Ticas are going through a bit of a generational shift and Leal has already made 11 appearances with the side, cementing his status as part of the new class. If he can find his scoring touch for club and country he may play a prominent role in the World Cup Qualification run.
Carlos Pineda (Olimpia/Honduras) – Midfielder
Pineda scored the tying goal for Olimpia in their 2020 CONCACAF Champions League second leg against the Seattle Sounders, forcing overtime and eventually the win. Although his goal certainly made his stock grow he is actually better known for his defensive work, making 30 appearances for The Lions as a defensive midfielder. He hasn’t quite made a dent in the starting eleven for Honduras but if he continues to excel for Olimpia more call-ups may be coming.
Denil Maldonado (Motagua/Honduras) – Defender
Much like Panama, Honduras’ vaunted defense is in a bit of a reboot with new, younger players looking to earn their spot on the backline. Maldonaldo is considered to be one of the top prospects, having just gone on loan to Pachuca of LigaMX. At 5’10” he isn’t the tallest right-back in world football but he is fast and he has shown an expert ability in boxing out attackers on counter-attacks. If he can earn a spot with a club like Pachuca then it will certainly show that he is ready to start for Los Catrachos.
Luis Diaz (Columbus Crew/Costa Rica) – Midfielder
Diaz made the move to Columbus midway through their 2019 season signing a Young Designated Player deal with the Crew. Diaz paid immediate dividends for Columbus, using his pace to help push the midfield into attacking positions and create scoring chances. In just twelve matches he scored two goals and tallied four assists, a solid sample size of what he could do with a full season for the side. He has made just two appearances for the Ticas but if he can continue to produce for Columbus then more call-ups are a lock.
Danilo Acosta (Orlando City SC/Honduras) – Defender
Acosta’s situation is an interesting one as he has played for the United States at the youth levels but has shown interest in playing for Honduras. In 2019, he was on Honduras’ Gold Cup roster and he filed the one-time switch to move over to Los Catrachos. However, he never featured for Honduras and in turn never signed his letter of intent from FIFA leaving him still as a bit of a free agent. That isn’t an unusual spot for him as he was also a free agent this summer in club football, having had his club option declined by Real Salt Lake. He did make the move to the Los Angeles Galaxy which is a big opportunity for him with a side that has MLS Cup aspirations. Much like with Maldonado if he can find the right spot and the right side he could give his career a jump start.
Leon Bailey (Bayer Leverkusen/Jamaica) – Forward
Bailey is considered to be one of the rising stars of the Bundesliga having featured prominently for Bayer prominently over the last three seasons. His pace and first touch as a winger has given German defenses fits for the last three seasons, which is quite the statement considering that he is just 22 years old. The big question though is when will he start scoring at a consistent rate. His battles with the Jamaican Football Association seem to have affected his work on the pitch. But in recent months it seems like both groups have resolved their issues which is great news for Bailey who is coming into the prime of his career.