World Cup Qualification is always a tense time for players. With the chance of playing in a World Cup within their grasp, any qualification match is a huge opportunity to earn their spot. Especially for younger players, whose opportunities are few and fleeting each qualification match is like a mini-World Cup.
In CONCACAF, this World Cup Qualification cycle has produced an array of young players who have stepped up for their country. Soccer 360 Magazine’s Sean Maslin has a look at some of the top young players making their names ahead of Qatar 2022.
Tajon Buchanan (Forward/Canada)- Buchanan has made the most of opponent’s focusing too much on Alphonso Davies and Jonathan David, tearing apart defenses with some superb passes and ball movement. He has also become an excellent second attacking option up top opposite Cyle Larin, scoring two goals during Qualification. With his move to Club Brugge from the New England Revolution sealed, 2022 could be a breakout year for the kid from Brampton.
Walker Zimmerman (Defender/United States)- One of the big questions entering this qualification window for the United States was center-back. While one spot is still up for grabs Walker Zimmerman has very clearly earned his spot in the U.S. starting XI going forward. The two-time MLS Defender of the Year has provided some much-needed stability along the back four. His positioning and patience (at 28 he is one of the senior members of the side) with the ball has helped a young U.S. side in some nervy moments during qualification. He has also shown a willingness to use his height on set pieces, something that the U.S. have lacked for decades.
Orbelin Pineda (Midfielder/Mexico)- Mexico hasn’t really used many young players during this Qualification cycle. Of those that have received time in the eighteen Pineda has perhaps made the biggest impression. The 25-year-old from Cruz Azul has served as Tata Martino’s playmaker in the attack, using his expert passing and field vision to find Raul Jimenez and Hector Moreno in open space. His goal against Costa Rica in The Purple Monster proved to be the difference and helped El Tri earn three huge points on the road.
Michael Amir Murillo (Right-Back/Panama)- On a veteran-heavy side, Murillo is perhaps the most important player for Panama. The former New York Red Bull-now-Anderlecht midfielder has used his experience and his speed to keep The Canal Men in some tight matches during qualification. His work on the counter-attack helped seal their big 1-0 win over the USMNT in Panama. If he can find his scoring stroke then Panama may move into the top three.
Michail Antonio (Forward/Jamaica)- Antonio is an interesting case because while most players on this list are in their 20s, he is 31 years old. But he has made up for missed time with Jamaica by scoring two huge goals to keep their World Cup dreams alive. For years, The Reggae Boyz have lacked a true scoring forward who can change the game in a moment. Theodore Whitmore’s side now appear to have two with Antonio forming a deadly partnership with Leon Bailey up top. With five home games on tap, the West Ham striker may be on the cusp of a huge second half of qualification.
Tim Weah (Forward/USA)-With Weah, USMNT supporters have been wondering for years when he would break out. The answer is apparently this World Cup cycle for the Lille striker. Many will point to his assist against Costa Rica that helped reignite during qualification. But it was his work against Mexico, where for 90 minutes he dictated the tempo of the match against a veteran-heavy side that really has made him stand out.
Cyle Larin (Forward/Canada)- Larin has had an incredible run throughout all stages of qualification, scoring 11 goals. His brace against Mexico in Edmonton not only gave his home country a historic win over a bitter rival, but also cemented his spot as one of the top strikers in the region. If he can continue to make the most of his chances for both club and country (he plays for Besiktas) he could be on the move to a bigger European side.
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