Borussia Dortmund and USA star Christian Pulisic (pictured) was the only player born in 1998 to be voted a member of the 2017 CONCACAF Best XI. (Photo: Mexsport)
As 2018 quickly approaches, CONCACAF.com is taking a look back at the most interesting items from throughout the Confederation over the previous 12 months. Today, we examine five of the best players born in 1998, who participated in at least one official CONCACAF or FIFA competition in 2017. Although the list is not intended to encompass of all the top players, these five competitors were outstanding.
CONCACAF 2017: FIVE OF THE BEST PLAYERS BORN IN 1998
#1: Christian Pulisic, Midfielder (Borussia Dortmund/Germany & USA); September 18, 1998
At only 19-years-old, Christian Pulisic emerged as one of CONCACAF’s brightest young stars in 2017. He appeared in nine total games for the United States, scoring a team-best six goals and assisting on four others. Included in those totals are five goals in eight CONCACAF qualifiers (played only in 2017) for the 2018 FIFA World Cup. Pulisic has scored one goal in 15 career UEFA Champions League games for Borussia Dortmund, with which he won the 2016/17 German Cup. The former U.S. U17 captain was voted onto the 2017 CONCACAF Best XI squad.
#2: Alan Cervantes, Midfielder (Guadalajara/Mexico & Mexico U20); January 17, 1998
In 2017, the Mexico U20 national team played in 10 competitive games – five in the CONCACAF Under-20 Championship and five in the FIFA U-20 World Cup -- and Alan Cervantes was on the field for every minute of the action. The defensive midfielder, who also competed in the entirety of Mexico’s seven games in the 2015 FIFA U-17 World Cup, spent the 2017 Liga MX Apertura with Leon (on loan from Guadalajara) and appeared in eight games. His ability to dictate the flow of match will continue to grow as he gains more top-flight experience.
#3: Darixon Vuelto, Forward (Real España/Honduras & Honduras U20); January 15, 1998
While the midfields of CONCACAF sides appear in good hands by players born in 1998, Darixon Vuelto has staked a claim as the best forward from that age group. He burst onto the scene in 2013, when – as a 15-year-old – he scored for Victoria in a 4-1 loss to Luis Angel Firpo in the Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League. In 2015, Vuelto scored two goals in the CONCACAF Under-17 Championship to help Honduras to a berth in the FIFA U-17 World Cup. This year, he netted twice in the CONCACAF Under-20 Championship as Honduras finished as runner-up to the United States. Vuelto appeared in all three of the Catrachos’ matches at the FIFA event, registering two assists. He has been outstanding in the 2017 Honduran Apertura as Real España edges towards the title thanks to his nine total goals. In the final, first leg against Motagua on December 27, he struck for both goals in a 2-0 win.
#4: Ian Smith, Defender (Santos de Guapiles/Costa Rica & Costa Rica U20); March 6, 1998
Ian Smith’s impact on club and country in 2017 deserves plenty of recognition. For Costa Rica, he played in the CONCACAF Under-20 Championship (4 games/0 goals) and the FIFA U-20 World Cup (4/0). Smith was also key to Santos de Gupailes’ run to the 2017 Scotiabank CONCACAF League final, appearing in six games and registering one assist (on Kenny Cunningham’s 86th-minute goal in a 1-0 win over visiting Arabe Unido in the semifinal, second leg). His rise should be closely watched over the coming years.
#5: Jorge Alvarez, Midfielder (Olimpia/Honduras & Honduras U20); January 28, 1998
Although Jorge Alvarez has yet to make his first-team debut with Olimpia, he was immense for the Honduras U20 national team in 2017. The midfielder was instrumental in guiding the Catrachos to a runner-up finish in the CONCACAF Under-20 Championship, earning a spot in the Best XI by scoring three goals in six games. His strong international performances continued in the FIFA U-20 World Cup, where he netted twice in three outings. Alvarez’s offensive instincts and shooting ability bode well for a bright future.