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Seven of the Top Young NASL Players MLS Should be Looking At

2012 November 5

With the end of the NASL regular season, IMS takes a look at some of the top young, up-and-coming players who are 24 years of age or younger and who MLS should be inviting into training camps in the offseason.

In Alphabetical order:

Jeff Attinella  – Age 24  (Goalkeeper – Tampa Bay Rowdies)
Real Salt Lake drafted this young goalkeeper in 2011 but then released him without ever signing a contract. Perhaps that’s the best thing that could have ever happened to Attinella. While other keepers may be lingering in reserve league matches, Attinella now has over 4,970 significant minutes logged in as a number one goalkeeper at the age of 24 in the second tier of American soccer. That’s the equivalent of over 55 games where he has been tested and come up big — playing through a playoff run and winning a national championship. He accomplished this without the best defense in front of him. In the 2012 season, he turned away more shots than any other goalkeeper in the NASL with 142 saves. His performance in the second leg of the NASL Championship match was not the exception but the norm for this outstanding goalkeeper who made 3 penalty kick shootout saves. If not for the exceptional year San Antonio’s Pablo Campos had with 20 goals scored, the young Attinella would have won the league’s MVP award voted on by soccer journalists across the US and Canada. Attinella came in just a few votes short of Campos. Attinella was also chosen by the NASL Coaches as a Best XI member.

Mark (Sparky) Anderson – Age 23 (Forward – Fort Lauderdale Strikers)
Anderson signed with Ft. Lauderdale in mid-March after showing well in the NASL Combine. The Englishman from Durham played college at Division II Barry University between 2008 and 2010. In three seasons he scored a total of 38 goals and racked up 28 assists in 53 appearances. He was named 2011 Daktronics DII National Soccer Player of the Year and 2011 Capital One Academic All-America of the Year for DII men’s soccer. So perhaps we shouldn’t be so surprised that the 23-year-old who spent time in Sunderland’s youth system was third highest goal scorer in the NASL this season with 11 goals and 3 assists in 1,788 minutes played. Midway through the season Anderson was scoring a goal every 128 minutes but his goal prowess slowed when his team pulled him back to midfield after teammate Walter Restrepo went out with an ACL tear. Anderson hit a number of highlight reel-type goals this season and he became known as a deadly free kick taker. He was also deadly from distance and has the ability to create his own chances with little space from outside the 18-yard box. Anderson was also a member of the NASL’s Starting XI.

Matt Horth – Age 23 (Forward – Atlanta Silverbacks)
Considering Matt Horth played on an Atlanta Silverbacks team that finished 2011 dead last with a record of 4-20-4, the rookie pro did well to finish the year with 8 goals and 1 assist as a 22-year-old. The Silverbacks didn’t do much better in the first half of 2012 until they brought in coaches Eric Wynalda and Brian Haynes who turned things around and led the team to a 7th place finish with a 7-12-9 record. However, Horth was there the whole while pushing his team along. By season end the second-year pro had 10 goals to his name elevating him into the number 4 spot in the NASL for goals scored. The 6 ft. 3 in. Horth has the size and muscle to play up top as a target player but can also turn the ball and dribble at goal and finishes well under pressure.

Miguel Ibarra – Age 22 (Midfielder – Minnesota Stars FC)
Having successfully spent his final two years of college at UC Irvine, Ibarra was drafted by the Portland Timbers in the 2012 MLS Supplemental Draft, 27th overall. But the MLS side released him which was a gain for the Minnesota Stars where he scored 3 goals, had 4 assists and logged in 2,044 minutes in the 2012 regular season. He also asserted himself in the Stars’ postseason run through the finals, starting in all 5 matches and scoring 1 goal and collecting an assist. Although his numbers were not bad for a rookie, Ibarra’s statistics do not tell the whole story. The 5’7″, 150 lb, 22-year-old has been a driving force in Minnesota’s success this season. Ibarra started out in coach Manny Lagos’ offense from the opening game at outside midfielder because of his blazing speed with the ball at his feet. But as the season progressed they dropped the young midfielder into a position just behind the forwards. There, he generally caused havoc on opposing teams’ defense. Often when dribbling directly at goal he has been, in one way or another, involved with many of the Stars’ goals this season. His motor is always revved up and his work ethic, which goes from the first to the ninetieth minute, will make him a player to be looked at by MLS.

Luke Mulholland Age 24 (Midfielder/Forward – Tampa Bay Rowdies)
Another young member of the NASL’s Best XI, this Preston, England native has set himself apart as one of the more dynamic players in the league with his late season play for Minnesota in 2011 and his full season with the Rowdies in 2012. He came to Minnesota late in 2011 after wining the USL PRO’s Rookie of the Year with the Wilmington Hammerheads and was up for the league’s Most Valuable Player. After doing well for the USL PRO side, Mulholland helped the Stars through the last of their regular season in ’11 recording one assist and then scored 2 more goals on their run to the NASL Championship. This year he recorded five goals and five assists in the regular season and 1 goal and 1 assist in the Rowdies’ playoff run to win the NASL Championship, the only player to play on both of the leagues’ first two championship teams. Mulholland is comfortable with the ball at his feet and reads the game well, making excellent off the ball runs.

Wálter Restrepo – Age 24 (Midfielder – Fort Lauderdale Strikers)
In 2012 Restrepo entered into his second season for the NASL side, Fort Lauderdale Strikers. In 2011 he started emerging as a young playmaker for his team even though he was just 23 years of age. In 2012 coach Daryl Shore gave him a starting position and the attacking midfielder bloomed playing as the set up man, creating 8 assists and scoring 6 goals himself. But his season came to abrupt halt in mid-August when he tore his ACL in training. Restrepo’s vision is outstanding and he reads the game well for a young player. He was regarded so highly by the NASL coaches that they named him to their NASL Best XI, despite missing the final 2 months of the season.

Shaun Saiko – Age 22 (Midfielder – FC Edmonton)
It’s hard to believe that Shaun Saiko is only 22 years of age. He conducts himself as a player much older, much wiser when playing the attacking midfielders position. This Canadian born player spent time in Middlesbrough’s youth system and has now logged in 49 appearances for the Eddies. In 2011 he was tied for 6th in the NSL for goals with 9 and added 5 assists. In 2012 he had 7 goals 6 assists despite lagging behind in minutes from the ’11 season after oddly being benched by coach Harry Sinkgraven and being played out of position most of the season. It’s telling that Sinkgraven was let go and Saiko was kept. Surely an MLS side must take a look at Saiko in the offseason.

11 Responses
  1. bullsear permalink
    November 6, 2012

    I really want these guys to get the chance to play regularly at whatever level they dream of playing, but part of me hopes these teams are able to hang on to them. These are some of the most exciting names in the league, and I love watching them every week.

  2. tclark permalink
    November 6, 2012

    I tried telling people Ibarra was good… glad someone gave him a shot somewhere. For me, it’s why a strong second/third tier of soccer is important to soccer here.

  3. Strikers Return permalink
    November 6, 2012

    @bullsear – I feel you man. The pairing of Restrepo and Anderson was huge for us this past year, and everyone saw what happened when Restrepo went down to injury and Anderson was forced to play out of position because Shore had no better option at attacking MF. Healthy and playing where they should be, they delighted Striker Likers, and got the respect of others around the league as well for their ability, and the faithful at Lockhart would love to see them around for a long, long time.

    But at the end of the day we’ve got to be realistic. I’m hopeful the NASL never turns into the MLS reserve league. I don’t think it will. But even if it doesn’t, we still want to be a place where MLS looks to find some talent. Being able to develop some young guys into talents worthy of a look from the next level, be it MLS or other Euro 1st and 2nd divisions, will only help to secure our long term success as a league.

    So I say it’s kind of bittersweet. If Anderson and/or Restrepo get loaned out or even bought by the next level, we’ll certainly miss them, but we’ll also be proud.

  4. Bart permalink
    November 6, 2012

    @Strikers Return

    I don’t think you will ever have to worry about NASL turning into the MLS reserve league. This is not the goal of the NASL brass, and historically, they have wanted to compete against, not be merged with, MLS. I do think, however, if NASL was the MLS reserve league that these boys noted on this write up would be looked at much harder than if they merely go to another MLS tryout. They would be looked at year round, and with a lot more objectivity.

    But, with Traffic wanting to maintain contracts on aspiring young soccer players, any merger would have a dire effect on this goal.

  5. Jim (aka MLSinSTL) permalink
    November 6, 2012

    Bart, I hadn’t really given thought to the Traffic point. It’s a very good one and I think that it is mostly true. If I am correct, the individual teams in the NASL hold player contracts so Traffic’s goal to own player contracts is really just an issue with 3 teams now – Carolina Railhawks, Atlanta Vote for the team Name, and the Ft. Lauderdale Strikers. I agree that this could be a major issue with MLS.

  6. Kartik permalink
    November 6, 2012

    24 is not young, drives me crazy and should drive you crazy too of you want better soccer players.

    Why focus on signing MLS fails instead of putting main emphasis on youth academies, so you can actually get closer in quality to MLS, which is what NASL wants to do?

  7. Jim Oliver permalink
    November 6, 2012

    I kind of want to see Ibarra go to Mexico. I think he’d light those leagues up–being a playmaker if not as a scoring threat–where in the MLS he’d just get battered and spend too much time injured. I wonder if that’s why Spencer probably cut him, because in that league I worry his game is too direct for his physical presence.

  8. November 6, 2012

    My take on him being cut was Portland already has a number of similar type players. Not saying that your wrong. But it’s another perspective.

  9. November 6, 2012

    I agree that these players are not exactly “young” in soccer terms. 24 and 23 in any other soccer league is not young. That is an established professional in the EPL or La Liga and even Argentina and Brazil. I would be more excited if these were 18 or 19 year old prospects,not MLS rejects who turn pro at 23.

  10. Demolition Man permalink
    November 6, 2012

    I’d love to see Jeff Attinella get a shot with my New England Revolution. Matt Reis is getting old and I’m not quite sold on Bobby Shuttleworth at this point.

  11. Strikers Return permalink
    November 7, 2012

    NASL is never going to compete with MLS. I think smoewhere in his very ambituous head Aaron Davidson has a fantasy about that happening someday. But half a second back in reality tells you it will never happen. NASL is growing, and its teams, for the most part, seem to be heading in the right direction. The league has the potential I think to grow into a stable D2 if growth of the game overall continues in North America, and especially in NASL markets. These need to be the focus and the goals. Second division in the top soccer nations in the world have plenty of players loaned out from top division teams to get competitive playing experience. I think that’s the kind of affiliation the NASL should try to grow and nurture with MLS. If some MLS teams with past NASL ties (Vancouver, Montreal) want to put reserve teams in the NASL as well, I say that’s fine too. As long as the majority of teams in the league remain independent clubs.

    I think the league and its teams still have some work to do establishing themselves before they can start spending the money to invest in acadamies of their own. Maybe someday they could become a pipeline for young talent to move up through the ranks, and then even beyond American D2. But that will be tough as MLS acadamies are always going to snatch up the best prospects of course. I’m not as confident about that. But I do believe as the game grows in our region that D2 can definitely serve a place on the pyramid and in developing players, while at the same time providing us fans with quality pro club soccer in markets where MLS isn’t playing.

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