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24 Under 24: Cream of the crop

Fire contribute two players as list moves into the Top 10

24 Under 24: Pappa, Shea, Johnson, ream, Braun

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We have reached the cream of the crop in the rankings of the 24 Under 24 – the top 24 players under the age of 24. Today's five names include a 2010 Rookie of the Year candidate, two Chicago Fire players, Braunaldinho and the lowest SuperDraft pick in the entire list.

With a career high nine goals in 2010, the stock of "Braunaldinho" Justin Braun (No. 10) has risen considerably this year.

Braun is followed by two rookies who have wowed the critics in NY Red Bulls central defender Tim Ream (No. 9) and Chicago Fire goalkeeper Sean Johnson (No. 8), who has left his mark with several spectacular saves.

He's in his third year in the league, but 2010 has been the breakout season for Brek Shea (No. 7) and US manager Bob Bradley has also taken notice, giving Shea a USMNT call-up.

The surprise of the day is Marco Pappa's No. 6 spot in the rankings. The Chicago Fire midfielder has had a quiet year in 2010, but three years of MLS action have left their impression on the expert panel.

Check back on Monday as we begin the countdown of the Top 5.

What is the 24 Under 24? Simply, the best 24 players in MLS under the age of 24 (as of Nov. 1, 2010).

MLSsoccer.com whittled down the list to a group of 30 players and then an expert panel ranked the names based on five categories: (1) Skill; (2) Upside; (3) Q-Rating or Marketability; (4) Future Value; and (5) Intangibles.

The “24 Under 24” expert panel was made up of six members: Jeff Carlisle (ESPN.com), Steve Davis (SI.com), Brian Dunseth (Fox Soccer Channel), Allen Hopkins (ESPN), Alexi Lalas (ESPN) and the MLSsoccer.com editorial staff.

 

Facts & Figures

Sean Johnson is the lowest drafted player in the 24 Under 24 list.

Marco Pappa is one of only two MLS All-Stars in the rankings.

Tim Ream has started more games (26) than any other 24 Under 24 player in 2010

Brek Shea is one of 11 players among the Top 24 not to have played NCAA soccer

Justin Braun has played the fourth most career MLS matches (63) of any player on the list

6.Pappa, MarcoM

MLS Technical Directors Say: “Really technical with great skill … Has good vision for the game and he can find a splitting pass and can change a game getting by a guy … He’s not going to run you up and down … Plays a lot older than his age … If he played more defense he’d be a more effective player and he’d be around the ball more often and in position more often to take advantage of quick breaks.”

7.Shea, BrekM




MLS Technical Directors Say: “Great size, good engine and brave with the ball … Very good technical ability especially for his height … Has a nose for the goal … He’s matured and matured in a comfortable environment, you’re seeing the talent blossom … Having more of an impact on games … Big and fast and left-footed and attacking. You’d kill for that package in anybody, anywhere at any age.”

8.Johnson, SeanGK




MLS Technical Directors Say: “His athleticism in terms of being a shot-stopper is very good. Where he’s going to need to show improvement is the tactical end with his positioning and when to come out of the goal … With more experience will learn to read the game, direct his back line and know positionally where to be when the ball is in different parts of the field.”

9.Ream, TimD




MLS Technical Directors Say: “Composed and good in the air … Comfortable on the ball, a very good passer of the ball and a playmaker out of the back … The mistakes he’s made they don’t live with him. … Needs to improve on ability to turn and make quicker decisions … Has to smell danger and learn to whack balls up the field when he needs to and not make passes that aren’t there.”

10.Braun, JustinF




MLS Technical Directors Say: “He’s got a great body for the position as a target forward … Very active and very good in the air and once you get him going forward … Needs to improve on erratic finishing, playing with his back to goal and getting his teammates involved with the passing … He’s a young kid and has a lot of upside.”

11.Opara, IkeD




MLS Technical Directors Say: "He is still raw but an excellent athlete ... Tremendous upside ... can dominate in the air, good timing in the air ... He's able to outrun mistakes ... From a man-marking situation few can physically beat him ... Needs to work on ability to play out of tight spaces, make passes and make quick decisions."

12.Smith, RyanM




MLS Technical Directors Say: "Talented player, technically gifted with both feet, has pace, the ability to serve balls on the run … Needs to find some kind of consistency to be regarded as an elite player in this league … Has 50 different moves on the dribble … Needs to find when the best time to dribble and when the best time to find a teammate."

13.Bowen, TristanF




MLS Technical Directors Say: "He’s got a lot of good tools … Very good athlete and technically better than people give him credit. He can take people off the dribble. He’s a good finisher with both feet … Needs to get better with his head and holding the ball up… He’s going to be a very solid MLS player."

14.Hamid, BillGK




MLS Technical Directors Say: “He’s clearly got the tools and he seems to have got some poise … He can be a really successful goalkeeper in this league for a long time if he can get healthy and stay healthy. Young guys have persistent injury problems.”

15.Rogers, RobbieM




MLS Technical Directors Say: “He’s left-footed, he has pace and he’s American. These are players to be celebrated … Needs to be tougher and defend more … He’s one of those players that will stretch a defense. He has a good engine … He needs to demand the ball a little bit more and get more involved in 90 minutes.”

16.Tchani, TonyM




MLS Technical Directors Say: "Tchani is still very raw ... One of the best players in college last year. An amazing athlete. Huge, massive upside. Almost unlimited potential but he is not very polished which is normal for a kid at that age."

17.Bunbury, TealF




MLS Technical Directors Say: "He’s got the size, the physicality. He’s better than some in terms of technical abilities and he’s got some more size. And he’s probably got some more pace than most guys ... It needs to be consistency with him around the goal area. He’s got the tools physically and technically. He’s above average."

18.Pontius, ChrisF



MLS Technical Directors Say: "In our league he’s got to be a forward ... You want him in and around the goal to profit from that athleticism and ability in the air. For a young player, he’s a decent finisher which is relatively rare. He’s a prototypical college player in that he’s a tremendous overall athlete and he works really hard."

19."Juninho"M



The Brazilian is a vital cog for the Galaxy, pulling the strings in central midfield and jumpstarting their deadly counter. He reads the game well and has a knack of being in the right place at the right time. He’s not the strongest and most imposing of central players but his presence is felt as LA can attest during his recent absence.

20.Johnson, WillM




MLS Technical Directors Say: "A fantastic player, he’s got a great engine. Technically very good. He’s a fantastic two-way player, one of the best in the league even though he’s a young player from an age standpoint ... He needs to be a little bit more productive on the attacking side of the ball: assists and goals ... You’re looking for an 8-and-8 guy. His production needs to be better."

21.Alston, KevinD




MLS Technical Directors Say: “Has very good concentration, he’s brave and he has elite athleticism … He can get forward with that athleticism but he needs to refine his game in the attacking third in his one-v-one play and his combination play … he needs a little more consistency on his final pass.”

22.McInerney, JackF




MLS Technical Directors Say: “Like his mentality. He’s always busy, always in motion … His size is a factor but he makes up for it with this work rate and his ability in the air … His finishing is very good … He needs to manage his own expectations and he’ll find his way in MLS.”

23.Torres, RogerM


The young Colombian wowed fans with his ball skills early on, but he has since lost his place in the Union starting lineup and has become an occasional sub. He possesses superior vision and technique but there are doubts whether his speed and physique can meet the demands of MLS.

24.McCarty, DaxM




A full 2010 season may have bumped up McCarty’s place in the rankings. After a promising start in central midfield alongside Daniel Hernandez, he fell to a quad injury and now has an uphill battle just to regain his spot in the FCD starting lineup.