SCCL Review: Five of the Best … Young Players

Not only is Pachuca's Hirving Lozano (pictured) one of CONCACAF's best young players, he's also a candidate for the confederation's player of the year award. (Photo: Jimena Muñoz/Straffon Images) 

MIAMI – In an attempt to identify players 23-year-old and younger, who’ve been influential for the eight 2016/17 Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinalists, the list was impressively long after a thorough combing of the rosters.

That fact alone bodes well, not only the level of play in the knockout rounds, but also for the confederation’s competitive future.

Narrowing down the roll to the most impactful five, however, proved to be a difficult undertaking. As a result, to simplify the process, added another criteria point: the selected players will have to be 23 at the end of the tournament. That amendment alone eliminated many from consideration.

Here’s our look at five of the best young players still competing in the 2016/17 SCCL (alphabetical order): 

Kellyn Acosta, FC Dallas
Birthdate: July 24, 1995
Position: Midfielder
Nationality: USA 

While Acosta played in three 2016/17 SCCL group-stage games during FC Dallas’ run to the quarterfinals, he was particularly outstanding in 2016 MLS play, appearing in 32 games and scoring two goals. Despite being only 21-years-old, Acosta has already competed in a combined 87 MLS regular- and post-season matches. For the USA, in addition to earning four senior-level caps, Acosta has participated in two FIFA U-20 World Cups (2013, 2015) and a FIFA U-17 World Cup (2011). 

Edgar Yoel Barcenas, Arabe Unido
Birthdate: October 23, 1993
Position: Midfielder
Nationality: Panama

Barcenas played in all four of Arabe Unido’s 2016/17 SCCL group stage matches as it went a perfect 4W-0D-0L. He scored two goals and accumulated three assists, playing a key role in the Expreso Azul advancing to the quarterfinals for the third time. Barcenas has earned nine caps for the senior national team, including four during CONCACAF qualifying for the 2018 FIFA World Cup. The 23-year-old helped Arabe Unido to the 2016 Panamanian Apertura crown, starting in the 2-0 win over Plaza Amador in the final. 

Jesus Gallardo, Pumas
Birthdate: August 15, 1994
Position: Defender/Left Wing
Nationality: Mexico

Gallardo played in three of Pumas’ 2016/17 games, scoring two goals and registering four assists. The 22-year-old is one of Mexico’s brightest young stars, netting twice in 16 games during the 2016 Liga MX Apertura regular season as UNAM finished in sixth place. Gallardo, who has played in 29 career Liga MX matches, made his first two appearances for the Tricolor in 2016 -- competing in friendly wins over New Zealand and Panama. 

Erick Gutierrez, Pachuca
Birthdate: June 15, 1995
Position: Midfielder
Nationality: Mexico

Although he’s only 21-year-old, it seems as if Gutierrez is a grizzled veteran. There’s a good for reason for that impression, he has already played in 68 Liga MX regular-season games, netting nine goals. Gutierrez is competing in his second Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League and has struck for a remarkable five goals in nine career outings in the competition. In the current edition, he has two goals and two assists. Gutierrez, who scored four goals for Mexico against Fiji in August’s Olympic Games, made his Tricolor debut in a 1-0 win over Panama in an international friendly on October 11, 2016. 

Hirving Lozano, Pachuca
Birthdate: July 30, 1995
Position: Forward
Nationality: Mexico

Part of the reason why Lozano is a candidate for the 2016 CONCACAF Player of Year award was his play in the 2016/17 SCCL group stage. The 21-year-old is the competition’s joint-top scorer with five goals, while also contributing two assists. Lozano was joint-top scorer at 2015 CONCACAF Under-20 Championship & Golden Ball winner at the 2015 CONCACAF Men’s Olympic Qualifying Championship. He made his Mexico debut in a 2-0 win over Senegal in an international friendly on February 10, 2016, and currently has 12 caps (1 goal, at Canada in a World Cup qualifier on March 25, 2016). 

Honorable Mention
Alphonso Davies, Vancouver Whitecaps (Midfielder; November 2, 2000; Canada)
Carlos Gruezo, FC Dallas (Midfielder; April 19, 1995; Ecuador)
Alex Muyl, New York Red Bulls (Forward; September 30, 1995; USA)
Walker Zimmerman, FC Dallas (Defender; May 19, 1993; USA)