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The young stars of Copa America


As we did last week with Euro 2024, it’s time to shine a light on some of the younger talent about to appear at the 2024 Copa America.

Sticking to players 21 and under, here are five to keep your eye on as the tournament gets ready to kick off on June 20.

Alejandro Garnacho Argentina

Alejandro Garnacho (Manchester United), Argentina

Despite an FA Cup triumph over Manchester City to cap off the year, it was mostly a dreadful season for Manchester United. Riddled with more injuries than any other team in the league, the Red Devils crashed out of the Champions League at the group stage and then finished eighth in the Premier League, the club’s lowest-ever finish in the table. Bright spots were few and far between at Old Trafford, but they were there. One of those was the continued emergence of Alejandro Garnacho. The Madrid-born winger left the Atletico academy for United in 2020 and made his senior debut in April of 2022 before becoming a fixture in the squad during the 2022-2023. This past season, Garnacho became an established starter, appearing in 50 games across all competitions and scoring 10 goals. Among his goals was an outrageous overhead strike against Everton in November that was named the Premier League Goal of the Year. Still only 19, Garnacho’s joie de vivre made him the most fun player to watch at United most of last season. Both tireless and fearless, Garnacho ran at opponents at every opportunity and had no lack of confidence in his shot. Employed mostly on the left, Garnacho possesses terrific ball control that allows him to change his run in an instant to throw off a marker and his ability to draw in defenders creates room for teammates to operate. Still, it remains obvious that Garnacho is not a finished product. Too many times last season a promising move ended with a poor choice made by the winger. For Garnacho to take that next step, that part of his game must evolve. Since his debut with the Albiceleste in the summer of 2023, Garnacho has been capped five times. How much game time he sees at Copa remains to be seen, but there are few options at Lionel Scaloni’s avail who possess the skill set that Garnacho does. The chance to make an impact should be there.

Endrick Brazil

Endrick (Real Madrid), Brazil

Fresh off of another La Liga title and a sixth Champions League crown in 11 seasons, Real Madrid remains a juggernaut. But the rich are about to get richer. Not only has Kylian Mbappé, perhaps the best player in the world, joined on a free transfer, but Brazilian wunderkind Endrick will officially sign his first contract with the team on July 1 after having agreed to sign for the team all the way back in December of 2020. The duo adds to a young core that already includes Vini Jr., Jude Bellingham, Rodrigo, Eduardo Camavinga, Andriy Lunin, Arda Guler, Fede Valverde and Aurelien Tchouameni, all of whom are 25 years of age or under. While everybody knows what Mbappé brings to the table, the 17-year-old Endrick brims with potential. A Palmeiras youth product, Endrick broke into the first team at 16 and immediately began to draw comparisons to the great Brazilian attacking talents of prior generations including Ronaldo, Romario and even Pele. Hyperbole aside, it’s easy to see why people have fallen in love with what Endrick brings to the table. Surprisingly strong for a player of his frame, only 5-foot-9, Endrick is capable of playing anywhere up front, but is perhaps best suited as a centre forward. A fine dribbler who can burst forward with speed, Endrick is a nightmare to mark in the area and seems to be able to lose defenders at will. He’s also adept at headers, possessing the ability to get high into the air. Naturally, Endrick is far from his final form at his young age. At 17, his decision-making still needs a great deal of work, and he has a tendency to try to go it alone at times when the safer play is to get a teammate involved. Capped five times by the Selecao since his senior debut last fall, Endrick already has three international goals, including becoming the youngest ever goal scorer at Wembley Stadium back in March in a win over England. Even on a squad dripping in offensive talent, Endrick has already become undeniable and will undoubtedly make his mark at Copa.

Yunus Musah United States

Yunus Musah (Milan), United States

Getting Yunus Musah to wear a United States shirt was a coup in itself for Gregg Berhalter. Born in New York City to Ghanaian parents on vacation and raised in Italy before relocating to London to join the Arsenal academy, the 21-year-old midfielder had his choice of multiple nations to represent internationally. With all of England, for whom he played at youth levels, Ghana and Italy interested, Musah picked the USMNT and made his senior debut in 2020. Leaving Arsenal for Valencia in 2019, Musah broke into the first team in 2020 under Javi Gracia, but instability at the club meant that Musah was forced into a new role almost with every managerial change in a string of them. Now with Milan alongside close friend and USMNT teammate Christian Pulisic, Musah took over the role the Rossoneri was missing since the departure of Franck Kessie to Saudi Pro League side Al-Ahli. Perhaps most comfortable on the right side of a three-man midfield, but capable of operating as a traditional winger, Musah makes up for a lack of power in his tackles with fine spatial awareness that often puts him in the right place at the right time to make a play. An efficient reader of how a play unfolds, Musah is proficient in winning the ball in the attacking third and forcing turnovers. Musah can also be counted on to drive play forward. Despite this, Musah’s offensive game needs work. He provided only two assists in 30 Serie A appearances this past season and generated 2.32 shot-creating actions per 90 minutes. Irrespective of club form, Musah has been a rock for Berhalter in his time with the national team, already earning 36 caps. With Sergino Dest out injured, Berhalter could once again turn to Musah to progress the ball up the pitch.

Ismael Kone

Ismaël Koné (Watford), Canada

Alright, admittedly this one is kinda cheating. By the time Canada takes to the pitch on June 20, Watford’s Ismaël Koné will be 22 years old. But as of the publishing date of this piece, he is still 21, so he fits within the criteria laid out and it doesn’t hurt to have a CanMNT player on this list. Koné was one of the bright spots for what was a disappointing 2023-2024 season for the Hornets. In their second season back in the Championship following a one-and-done Premier League stint, Watford finished 15th in the table and significantly closer to relegation than to the playoffs. In his first full season with the team after a transfer from CF Montreal, Koné developed into a reliable midfield presence. In 42 games this past season, Koné scored four goals and added three assists. Koné excelled at moving the ball forward. He averaged 2.57 progressive carries per 90 minutes, in the 91st percentile among midfielders, and 1.30 successful take-ons per 90 minutes, putting him in the 88th percentile. Capped 19 times by Canada since his senior debut in 2022, the same year in which he appeared in all three of Canada’s World Cup matches, Koné has since claimed Canada’s Young Player of the Year Award in two straight years. He had, perhaps, his finest moment in a CanMNT shirt during the team’s June 9 friendly against France. Earning Performance of the Match honours, he completed 41 of 44 passes and won nine of 14 duels, outplaying the lies of Eduardo Camavinga and N’Golo Kanté. Whether Koné returns to help Watford make another attempt at returning to the Premier League is up in the air. His skill level is greater than that of a midtable Championship side, and a strong showing at Copa could be the springboard he needs to land a move to a bigger league. According to reports, he already has an admirer in Roma manager Daniele De Rossi and there are few better who could nurture the career of a young midfielder than an all-time great at the position.

Marcelo Flores Mexico

Marcelo Flores (Tigres), Mexico

The 2024 Copa America could have looked very different for Marcelo Flores. Instead of being on a young Mexico roster, the 20-year-old Tigres midfielder could be getting ready to suit up for the country of his birth – Canada. The son of former Cruz Azul forward Ruben Flores, Flores was born and raised in Georgetown, Ont. In 2016, he traveled to England to join the Ipswich Town academy before departing for Arsenal in 2019. After failing to break into the first team, Flores headed to Liga MX last summer. In his first season in Monterrey, Flores scored six goals and added an assist in 25 league appearances. He also earned the first silverware of his career, winning the Campeones Cup – the match that pits the MLS Cup winner against the Campeon de Campeones winner – as Tigres defeated Los Angeles FC on penalties. Eligible to play for Canada, England and El Tri, Flores appeared to be leaning towards Canada after having accepted a call-up to the senior camp in early 2021. He never arrived, though, choosing to stay at Arsenal. He was then named to Canada’s provisional squad for the 2021 Gold Cup that summer, but was not a member of the final squad. In the fall of 2021, Flores would suit up for the Mexico senior side for his first international cap and has earned two more, officially cap-tying him to El Tri. Small in stature at 5-foot-7, Flores is pacey and a good dribbler of the ball. There are no questions surrounding his work ethic as Flores tracks back very well for an offensively minded player. His diminutive size does hamper his ability to win balls back, though, as he is not a particularly stout tackler. With some of Mexico’s more vaunted attacking talents like Hirving “Chucky” Lozano and Luis Jimenez left at home by manager Jimmy Lozano, El Tri is looking for one of its younger stars to break through at Copa. With only two years until a World Cup that is being co-hosted by Mexico, this could be the chance for Flores to step into the spotlight.