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Is now the time for San Jose Earthquakes’ teenagers?

Projecting the prospects’ prospects in 2020.

SOCCER: JUN 26 MLS - Houston Dynamo at San Jose Earthquakes Photo by Cody Glenn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

A few years ago, the San Jose Earthquakes looked like they were left in the dust in terms of youth development. While other teams were signing Homegrown players at a regular clip, the Quakes academy didn’t seem to be linked up with the professional set-up, leaving many to wonder if Tommy Thompson was an anomaly or just the tip of the talent iceberg.

Obviously he isn’t the only talented kid in the club’s wide catchment area, and in the last few years the club has made concerted strides to integrate the academy and start producing homegrown players.

This year, there are five teenage homegrowns on the Quakes roster. Will any of them emerge to get some real playing time under Matias Almeyda in 2020?

Time will tell, of course, and while it’s pretty much a dead certainty 14-year-old goalkeeper Emi Ochoa won’t play for the first team this year, some of the others could see some real playing time. Let’s go through their prospects.

Jacob Akanyirige

MLS: 2019 Portraits USA TODAY Sports

The 18-year-old defender has been biding his time in his first two seasons, growing into his adult body and mostly hanging around the club. He played some pro games last year for Reno 1868, but on a limited basis.

I think he’s likely to go back on loan this year, and now that he’s of adult age, if he stays healthy he could see a sustained run at Reno to really get game experience on the pro level. Could he make his MLS debut this year? Of course, but I think he’s likely to be further down the bench to start the season, and we’ll see how it goes from there.

Cade Cowell

MLS: U.S. Open Cup-Sacramento Republic FC at San Jose Earthquakes
Cowell (left) in action in 2019.
Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

Now 16, Cowell has the size to compete with adults and did get to make his first-team debut last year in the U.S. Open Cup, while also getting a few appearances at Reno 1868. He scored one goal in four appearances in USL last year, and the big question is if he’ll be a bench option or if a more sustained loan run in Reno is best for him. Given Reno is deep in attack, Cowell isn’t an automatic starter there, either, and at his age getting 10 minutes off the bench occasionally in MLS games might be better than getting 20 minutes off the bench in Reno.

Gilbert Fuentes

Fuentes (pictured, top) is now 17, the baby face is disappearing and with a few minutes in MLS under his belt (literally, he’s played three minutes across two seasons in the league) this could be the time he starts to get more playing time with the first team.

Fuentes has gotten some sustained playing time in Reno the last two years, and while he’s not been a regular there, there is clearly a sense that the midfielder is progressing. I think there’s a decent chance he goes to Reno again to see if he can play 20+ games, but I also think of the teenage cadre he’s probably the most likely to see the most playing time in 2020 in San Jose. It may not necessarily be a breakthrough year for Fuentes with the Quakes, but don’t be surprised if he is the homegrown teenager to start making a national name for himself in MLS this year.

Casey Walls

The newest homegrown signing, the 17-year-old center back has the height but from the looks of it, almost certainly needs to add muscle to his frame, unless he’s a Jack Elliott-style outlier.

It’s unusual for a 17-year-old rookie to be handed a starting spot in MLS, and that seems unlikely here, but often defenders can earn coaches’ trust a little earlier than attacking players in MLS, if they’re up for it. Walls will likely be firmly behind Oswaldo Alanis, Guram Kashia, Florian Jungwirth and fellow rookie Tanner Beason on the depth chart, but an international absence and/or injury or two could open up the path for Walls to see playing time if he acclimates to the higher level well. And The Athletic’s Will Parchman recently wrote he believed Walls was a good candidate to see playing time among young prospects.

Which teen Quakes player is most likely to see the field with the first team in 2020? Who are you most excited to see? Leave a comment below, let’s chat!