Following last week’s tome, I decided to take on a shorter topic that I’ve been thinking about as an aid for watching the team this season.
It’s not a secret. Players peak in their mid-to-late 20s, with wide/attacking players peaking closer to the beginning of that range and interior/defensive players closer to the end. While, for individual players, physical development is nonlinear and variable, kids get bigger, faster, and stronger at an unbelievable rate through adolescence into their early 20s. Further, playing time at highly competitive levels factors a ton into player development over that period, so younger players who have had less time at that level get more runway compared to older players to improve in that crucial window.
All that is a way too detailed way of saying that even a one-year difference in age can be an enormous boost to performance for this age group. If we want to compare such players, we should compare apples to apples. Consider the following to be my effort at a fruit market.
Let’s say first-team preseason camp player Nighte Pickering* ends up getting a bunch of minutes this year - the hope is we can come back to this and say “ok, he’s the same age as Pepi, Sealy, and Che were during their breakouts with NTSC, give or take six months. He’s roughly on their trajectory.” Similarly, let’s say Alejandro puts up huge numbers. Well, Ronaldo Damus was the top goalscorer in the league at the same age, so that might not be a golden ticket to the first team.
There are two records to keep an eye on this year concerning young players with NTSC, in my opinion.
Diego Hernandez’s record as the youngest player to appear for the team (at about 15 and a half) is in some jeopardy. If Anthony Ramirez plays before May 23, he’ll take that record. The same is true if Matthew Corcoran plays before July 19.
Jonathan Gomez (pour one out) carved out a role in the rotation at LB by early summer 2019, becoming the youngest player to get meaningful time with NTSC at about 15 and three-quarters years old. Should either Ramirez do so by October or Corcoran do so by the end of the year, they would take over that mantle.
*Welp, my “comprehensive” list of Academy players who might get into the NTSC squad failed on the first day of preseason. Pickering’s a big, productive, soft-footed striker with a knack for getting into the right place at the right time. His inclusion in training might have more to do with availability in the midst of a first-team striker shortage than his current ability, but it’s a reasonable indicator that the staff likes him, at the very least. For what it’s worth, versatile wide player Eduardo Ruiz was my last cut from that piece in January and it’s been bugging me that I didn’t mention him at the time.