Saturday, December 1, 2012
Updated: December 24, 3:17 PM ET
Soccer: Who is NEXT?
ESPN The Magazine
NAME: Marco Fabian | AGE: 23 | BIRTHPLACE: Guadalajara, Mexico | ALREADY: Led Chivas de Guadalajara to the Copa Libertadores final in 2010 and bagged a gold medal at the 2012 Olympics.|
Marco Fabian first made international headlines in August 2011, when he scored two amazing goals -- a bullet strike from 30 meters and an outrageous overhead bicycle kick -- in a friendly against European champions Barcelona. A year later, Fabian was the focal point of El Tri's gold-medal-winning Olympic team in London; in 20 career games with the U23 team, Fabian scored 15 goals. He is now the heartbeat of his club side, Chivas, and has averaged close to a goal every two games over the past two and a half seasons. Not bad for a player whose best position is in midfield. A technician on the ball and a hard worker off it, Fabian is quickly outgrowing his hometown club with his talent and ambition. With disciplinary problems behind him (Fabian was one of eight Mexico players suspended for six months for breaking team rules during the 2011 Copa America), he has the ability and maturity to succeed on a bigger stage. Before long, Fabian could be enjoying the same global fame as former Chivas teammate Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez -- if not surpassing it. -- Tom Marshall
|NAME: Iker Muniain | AGE: 19 | BIRTHPLACE: Pamplona, Spain | ALREADY: Claimed the title of La Liga's Breakthrough Player of 2010-11 and is the youngest ever to play for Athletic Bilbao.|
Muniain already is widely known as the Spanish Messi, and not just because he's a lightning-quick, slick-dribbling attacker who stands under 5-foot-7. Like the Barca star, Muniain made his league debut at 16 and played for his country's senior squad while still in his teens. But unlike Messi, the Athletic Bilbao winger -- who turns 20 on Dec. 19 -- is right-footed. Also, Muniain's first La Liga goal came at the age of 16 years and 289 days, more than a year younger than Messi was when he notched his first La Liga score. No surprise, then, that FCB is interested in signing him. Same for Real Madrid and Manchester United, where Sir Alex Ferguson has been smitten ever since he watched Muniain help Athletic upset the Red Devils in Europa League play last season. Fergie reportedly sees the $50 million-rated youngster as the heir to Cristiano Ronaldo. Spanish Messi or Spanish Ronaldo? Can't really go wrong either way. -- Doug McIntyre
|NAME: Oscar | AGE: 21 | BIRTHPLACE: Americana, Brazil | ALREADY: Has twelve caps (four goals) for Brazil's senior team.
Oscar dos Santos Emboaba Junior had big boots to fill when he arrived at Chelsea from Brazilian club Internacional in July following a $40 million transfer. The Blues were just two months removed from their first Champions League title, which they won largely because of the departing Didier Drogba, whom Chelsea supporters recently voted the club's greatest player. When Oscar reported to Stamford Bridge, he was issued Drogba's No. 11 shirt. He's already done it proud. After missing much of the preseason due to his participation in Brazil's silver medal campaign at the 2012 Olympics, Oscar -- whose slashing style has drawn comparisons to compatriot Kaka -- started his Premiership career coming off the bench. But he's been a mainstay in the Blues lineup since making his first start in late September, when he scored both Blues goals in a 2-2 Champions League draw with Italian power Juventus. The second was spectacular, but it might not match the one he produced against Shaktar Donetsk on Nov. 7. He's well on his way to becoming a Chelsea legend himself. -- Doug McIntyre
|NAME: Raheem Sterling | AGE: 17 | BIRTHPLACE: Kingston, Jamaica | ALREADY: The fifth-youngest player to represent England.|
Everybody knew Raheem Sterling had great potential. They just didn't expect him to realize it this quickly. Sterling, who inked a developmental deal with Liverpool at 15 -- choosing the Reds over Arsenal and Manchester City -- has exploded onto the Premier League scene this season, winning a starting job at Anfield and electrifying fans with his otherworldly speed. The winger also has shown a tactical savvy beyond his years, which led to a call-up from England's senior team for a World Cup qualifier in September. Two months later, on Nov. 15, he made his international debut in a friendly against Sweden. "It goes to show how far he has come in a short space of time," says Liverpool and England captain Steven Gerrard. "He is going to be a phenomenal talent." Although he remains eligible to play for the Reggae Boyz, the Jamaica Football Federation is no longer chasing him; England manager Roy Hodgson recently assured JFF president Horace Burrell that Sterling will be part of his adopted country's plans for the foreseeable future. The youngster's development will be in good hands at club level too: Liverpool is expected to tear up Sterling's contract when he turns 18 on Dec. 8 and sign him to a rich, long-term deal. -- Doug McIntyre
|NAME: Summer Green | AGE: 17 years | BIRTHPLACE: Bloomington, Ill. | ALREADY: Leads the U.S. U17 team in 2012 with 18 goals and 12 assists.|
The red, white and blue soon may be adding a color: Green. That's Summer Green, the 17-year-old prodigy who broke the U.S. record for the most goals in a qualifying tournament at any age level with an astounding 12 in just four games during the CONCACAF U17 Women's Championship earlier this year. Despite the U.S. team's disappointing performance in the subsequent U17 Women's World Cup, the Illinois-born, Michigan-bred forward didn't miss a beat when she returned to the States. Having graduated from Brighton High School a year early, Green made an instant impact at women's soccer powerhouse North Carolina, winner of 21 national championships. Green kicked off her rookie season with seven goals and seven assists and is first for the UNC team in total points and second in goals scored and game-winning goals. A deadly finisher who excels in the attacking buildup, Summer is well on her way to joining Hope, Alex and Abby as the next superstar of U.S. women's soccer. -- Lizzie Haldane
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