As is with the case for every professional sports team, roster turnover is to be expected as some players arrive, and others depart. Another key aspect is player development, with some progressing and others regressing due to age, injury, etc.
While we wait for the first acquisition domino to fall, it’s never too soon to look at young players that could be trending upwards. Today’s influential stars like Jackson Yueill and JT Marcinkowski were once role players with potential, and their rapid rise has helped the team exponentially.
General manager Jesse Fioranelli has certainly not shied away from signing young talent. And while those players don’t often make immediate contributions, having patience and a strong development pathway could result in significant upside that’s worth waiting for.
Here are five players that could make a jump for the team in 2021:
The 17-year-old forward has followed a logical and promising progression to date. He signed as a 15-year-old in 2019, trained with the first team but did not make any MLS appearances during his rookie season, and then became the team’s second most used substitute in 2020.
Now in his third pro season with 17 MLS appearances under his belt, Cowell is primed to be even more influential to the Quakes’ success in 2021. He possesses a rare combination of unreal athleticism and high work ethic and will most certainly benefit from Chris Wondolowski’s tutelage for one more season.
Akanyirige is one of San Jose’s least discussed players, in large part due to minimal playing time and his incredibly quiet demeanor. Regardless of his reserved personality, Akanyirige’s athleticism and potential can’t be denied. He was even recently called the 13th best American prospect born in 2001, and the No. 2 center back in that class.
Heading into his fourth season for the Quakes, the now 19-year-old is continuing to progress at a position that often favors more experienced players. Akanyirige made one start last season, the first of his career, excelling over 69 minutes in a 1-1 draw against the Portland Timbers.
The Quakes’ first-round selection in the 2020 MLS SuperDraft, Beason made nine starts during his rookie season with the team winning four of his last five. The left-footed Stanford grad may be called into action again in 2021 as left back Marcos Lopez will likely be away with Peru at various points throughout the season.
With the incumbent starters at center back, Oswaldo Alanis and Florian Jungwirth, both turning 32 this year, expect Beason and the aforementioned Akanyirige to try and fight their way up the depth chart.
Haji, 21, is another high-potential player that we haven’t seen much of on match day. The second-overall pick in the 2019 MLS SuperDraft made four appearances in 2019 and another four in 2020, all of which were as second-half substitutions.
Haji is blessed with a high degree of soccer intelligence and is one of the niftiest dribblers on the squad. A winger by trade, Haji could see an increase in playing time due to the recent departure of Vako.
Fuentes, signed as a Homegrown Player at 15 years old in 2018, has long been considered a top prospect. The Tracy native hasn’t broken through just yet, making one substitute appearance in each of his first three years. However, time is still on his side as he’ll be turning just 19 in February.
As an academy player, the diminutive attacking midfielder looked like a man among boys, even while playing up an age level. And while his youth success hasn’t yet translated into MLS playing time, Fuentes still carries many valued traits well beyond his years. He was recently ranked as a top-20 prospect for the American 2002 class.