When MLS unveiled this year’s shortlist for its annual 24-under-24 ranking, there were three New York Red Bulls named among the 50 selected: Anatole Abang, Sean Davis, and Alex Muyl.
Abang arguably has the greatest upside of the three: an emerging international for Cameroon, he provided a glimpse of his potential last season, when he scored six goals in 569 minutes in all competitions for RBNY. But he has been frozen out of the first team this year after he did not make the most of the limited chances he got, and is now on loan in Denmark until 2017.
It will be a surprise to see Abang on the this year’s list of emerging MLS stars mostly because the league doesn’t have a lot to gain by claiming one of its best young players is currently finding his way in the second tier of Danish soccer.
But Davis and Muyl have enjoyed regular starts for RBNY this season, and both should be heralded as among this year’s best of the next generation of MLS players.
Indeed, Davis already has: he is #22 on the 2016 MLS 24-under-24 list.
In 2015, his rookie year in MLS, the RBNY Homegrown midfielder made the 75-man shortlist for 24-under-24, but missed the cut for the final selection. He had limited minutes last season, but an injury to Dax McCarty and the pressure of a crowded schedule (the Red Bulls added CONCACAF Champions League to their commitments this year) have combined to provide Davis with regular starts.
He has 25 appearances in all competitions for RBNY so far in 2016, of which 16 have been starts. And he has contributed two goals and three assists. His versatility is such that he can deputize in the defensive midfield and fill in for RBNY’s primary set-piece taker, Sacha Kljestan. Most importantly, he has been performing well, allowing Red Bulls head coach Jesse Marsch to bring club captain McCarty back from injury relatively gently.
RBNY has some issues it needs to address: there is an apparently-worsening tendency to succumb to late-game pressure and give up the sort of leads one would expect a team to successfully defend on most occasion. But Davis is no more responsible for that than any other player in the squad. And he has been an important and consistent presence for much of the team’s current 12-game unbeaten streak in MLS.
Regular appearances mean regular opportunities to be seen, and the unnamed observers cited in the official MLS announcement of Davis’ selection to the 24-under-24 speak to the fact that he has changed opinions with his play this year:
I watched him a lot in college – thought he was a good player, didn't think that would translate as well as it has so far.
He played a little bit against us last year and he looked like a young kid. Now, the growth in the last year has been remarkable.
Davis won’t be under-24 next year, so this is will be his only selection to the list. Incidentally, another RBNY Homegrown player, Juan Agudelo - now with New England Revolution - is #17 on this year’s selection.
Congrats, Sean. See you at the next accolade.
The first nine selections of this year’s 24-under-24 list have been revealed (that is numbers 24 through 16). Selections 15 through 11 will be announced on September 20; 10 through six on September 21; the top five is revealed on September 22.