We continue on from our first edition of the list that ranks the younger players of the women's game. After already having to make some difficult decisions in 20-11, selecting the very best 10 players came as an almost impossible task. Looking on the bright side, that just means that there is a lot of talent coming through and that should be celebrated - even if it list making becomes frustrating as result.
As mentioned before, in a monumental year for youth football, there were more stand out performances to pick from than ever. With the U-17 and U-19 European Championships, the U-17 South American Championships and the FIFA U-17 and U-20 Women's World Cup, there have been a lot of players making their mark on the game and if they did not make the list in 2016, there is definitley time for next year.
So finally, after assessing performances of the players for both club and country, and a lot of reshuffling later, VAVEL are proud to introduce the final edition of the Top 20 Under 20 Players of 2016...
10. Ri Hae Yon (Korea DPR)
Korea DPR became the first nation to earn a second title in the U-17 Women's World Cup as they battled their way to the trophy with a strong record of 12 goals. Their top goal scorer and driving creative force: Ri Hae Yon.
Having made her debut on the world stage in the 2014 edition of the tournament, hosted in Costa Rica, Ri excelled as one of the more experienced players in her team. Scoring five goals, she earned the silver boot of the tournament, but the number 10 dutifully carried out her role as the instigator.
Sparking attacks with brave runs through the middle, down the flanks and even contributing to the defensive efforts of her team when needed, Ri's work ethic and ruthless attitude on the pitch integral to the success of the U-17 Korea DPR squad.
9. Sandra Owusu-Ansah (Supreme Ladies/Ghana)
At 16 years old, Sandra Owusu-Ansah has already played in three different FIFA World Cups. In 2016 she captained her country to the quarter finals, picking up two goals along the way - vital goals. The first came in the form of a penalty, which led Ghana to victory off the back of a 5-0 defeat to Japan, and the second was a sublime overhead quick against Paraguay which was the goal that sent them through to the Quarter Final.
The U-17 edition of the tournament was not the only one that the forward participated in this year as she became one of the youngest players to be taken to the U-20 WWC. The fearless teenager has impressed with an air authority, which can mainly be witnessed when she charges her team forward against tough opposition, such as the USA. Although Ghana did not make it further than the group stage, the youngster was a talking point after being awarded a Player of the Match award for playing her part in the 2-2 draw against France.
To end a superb year for the forward, Owusu-Ansah's performances in the past 12 month have earned her a nomination for the Best CAF Youth Player, a prestigious award for which she has been short listed alongside the likes of Arsenal's Alex Iwobi.
8. Lorenna Navarro (Madrid CFF/Spain)
The spectacular opening ceremony of the U-17 Women's World Cup was rivalled by the performance of, then 15 year old, Lorena Navarro in the game that followed the first game celebration. In her first appearance the short forward stunned the tournament, hitting hosts Jordan for five, even showing aerial threat despite her short height.
Presumably due to her age the forward did not feature much in the tournament, making appearances off the bench, but in the battle for third place was when Navarro demonstrated that given a full 90 minutes she can deliver. The attacking juggernaut scored a hat-trick in quick succession - bringing her tournament total to eight goals in a mere five appearances. More than enough for the young Spainard to pick up the Golden Boot for the U-17 WWC.
In the U-17 division of Europe, Navarro has also proved herself as an out-and-out goal scorer. Having made 15 appearances in UEFA competitions, she has scored 15 times. As the Spanish women's game continues to grow, it is comforting for them to know there is youth coming through that have the ability to score goals like Navarro can, and with her team Madrid CFF sat at the top of Group 5 of the Segunda Divison - the number nine could have a very exciting 2017 ahead of her.
7. Janina Minge (SC Freiburg/Germany)
2016 has been the year that Janina Minge not only developed the leadership element of her game as she captained the U-17 German side, but it was the year that she made her breakthrough into the SC Freiburg first team. In the current Frauen Bundesliga so far she has earned eight caps in the laegue, netting once in a win over USV Jena, with an additional appearance in a cup game.
Despite a difficult year in terms of the World Cup for the German team, Minge demonstrated that she has what it takes to captain a team. Though her individual performance earned the merit of a Player of the Match award, the way in which she commanded her team mates was the most impressive both on the pitch, as she was instrumental to many forward advances and off the pitch as she consoled her teammates following being knocked out of the World Cup by Spain.
The highlight of her 2016 however has to be winning the U-17 European Championship where she was one of the team members that successfully converted a penalty in the final shoot out against Spain. In addition to that, she scored twice in the opening games but her creativity in midfield was once again Germany's key to unlocking the defence of some of the strongest of teams. That vision is what makes her such a valuable asset to the national squad and will no doubt be a selling point as she grows into the domestic league, earning more minutes and starts.
6. Giulia Gwinn (SC Freiburg/Germany)
Already a regular for her club, SC Freiburg, Giulia Gwinn took to the world stage in the European Championship and U-17 Women's World Cup to demonstrate her natural flare for the game. Her skills and competence on the ball is neatly packaged alongside a keen goal scoring ability, wrapped up in a fearless skin as Gwinn will run into any defence, often obtaining some kind of result.
In the current season of Frauen Bundesliga, Gwinn has started in all games she has played in, since being part of the starting line up back in December of 2015. Now an integral part of Freiburg's midfield, Gwinn is on the way to at least challenging for the title as they continue to edge closer to Bayern Munich and gain grounding on 1. FFC Turbine Postdam.
During the U-17 WWC, the midfielder really began to find her pace as she was chief scorer and creator for her country. Firstly gaining the attention of spectators against Venezuela in the first group game, Gwinn went on to be involved with the vast majority of the goals, able to score or assist from about any position or method possible - notably a superb freekick to equalise with Canada, enough to send fear down any keeper's spine.
Winning gold is an obvious high point for any player, which Gwinn achieved at the European Championships, but the development of such a key player for Germany U-17 and Freiburg in just 12 months is impressive and warrants a place in the top 10 of the VAVEL Top 20 Under 20 list.
5. Georgia Stanway (Manchester City/England)
After impressing thoroughly at Blackburn Rovers with an incredible courage and goal scoring record, Georgia Stanway earned herself a move to Manchester City in 2015, but the following year would be the making of the forward as the club itself came to fruition.
She broke into the first squad with an almighty crash - scoring a 30 yard goal in the right hand corner to send through City to the Quarter Final of the FA Cup, against Liverpool. In 2016 Stanway made 10 appearances for Man City, four of which starts, and on one particular start against Sunderland the striker showed what she is made of by scoring a hattrick, and at this point she stopped being 'one for the future'.
Stanway's trophy cabinet has been filled up in 2016 for both club and country. Firstly winning bronze with her nation and then going on to win the Continental Cup and FA WSL title with Manchester City. Though England could not reach further than the quarter finals in the U-17 Women's World Cup, the forward still managed three goals in three appearances in a historic apperance in the tournament. To round off the year, just before she turned 18, Stanway also picked up a nomination for the prestigious BBC Young Sport's Personality of the Year award.
The striker has not been ruled out as an option for the England squad in Euro 2017 and after already making an appearance in the Women's Champions League, which will resume in 2017, it looks as though the striker is going to continue to shine with more game time.
4. Mallory Pugh (UCLA/USA)
Mallory Pugh was selected as the US Young Player of the Year in 2015 and shortly confirmed she was worthy of the prize as she became the youngest player to make her debut for the national team in the first month of 2016 - the qualifying stage for the Olympics where she scored. Since then, with the national team, her progress has been on the up and she looks like a real prospect.
For the best team in the world, ranked by FIFA, 2016 was quite a sore year as none of the teams managed to achieve what was expected, namely the senior side bowing out of the Olympics in early fashion. However, individually for the forward, it has been a learning curve where she represented the different elements of her game positively. Under Jill Ellis, in the senior team, Pugh ripped up the flanks with speed and skill which resulted in the youngster leading the USWNT in assists. While with Michelle French she captained the U-20 side in WWC the from the number nine position, where she engaged her pace and ability to glide around defenders in a different way - head on.
As 2016 was the year that Pugh's international career really began to soar and her calendart he 18 year old delayed joining UCLA, which she will now do in January 2017. Having already displayed her versatility, the late entrance to the Bruits will not impact on Pugh's shot in the squad as she can slot in many ways - not to mention her leadership qualities.
And like many players who have, being able to collect playing time on a frequent basis will be where Pugh can holistically polish off her style. Given the experience that she has gathered in the past 12 months, her tenure with the senior USWNT can only be cemented from the college experience, as Ellis has looked to introduce more youth, and collegiates to the squad.
3. Delphine Cascarino (Olympique Lyonnais/France)
Unlike many featured on VAVEL's Top 20 Under 20 list, Delphine Cascarino has had a solid year for both her country and club, Lyon. While not quite a starter just yet for a team such as Lyon which features so much quality, she did score for them in the Champions League round of 32. In addition to heavily featuring in the youth sides for France, the midfielder earned her debut in a friendly against England even if it was only for nine minutes.
In 2016 Cascarino became a decorated player with a very busy calendar. For Lyon, where she made 12 appearances in the 2015/16 season, the 19 year old was involved with winning the UEFA Women's Champions League, Division 1 Fèminine and Coupe de France. If that alone was not enough, the France U-19 side won the European Championship, while she captained the U-20 side to a historic second place in Papa New Guinea.
On top of the team awards, her own ability has also earned her not only the praise from media outlets but from FIFA itself. Her ruthless technical ability and confidence to ruin the opposition's flanks with pace and intelligent footwork, alongside the two goals she bagged, earned her the Bronze Ball of the U-20 Women's World Cup - as well as two Player of the Match certificates.
There is no doubt a lot more to come for Cascarino as she continues to flower among the greats at Lyon, providing assistance to the likes of Ada Hegerberg in addition to being able to muster up and finish chances of her own. After already making her debut for France senior team, there is the prospect of Euro 2017 looming.
2. Jessie Flemming (UCLA/Canada)
After making her debut for the Canada senior team at just 15 years old and subsequently attending the World Cup two years later, it is a wonder that Jessie Flemming continues to keep surpassing her own achievements. However, her reign as a top talent took a new turn as the midfielding wonder started playing college football for UCLA Bruins, and inevitably putting her stamp on the game with outrageous skill.
The amount of acclaim that Flemming has picked up since joining UCLA summarises the positive impact she has on a team as a play maker, leader and goal scorer. The star earned the NSCAA Third-Team All-American honours, while being named Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week twice, and on top of all that was selected as the No. 1 player on Top Drawer Soccer’s Midseason Top 100 Freshman list.
While Flemming is a midfielder, and carries out her duty of injecting creativity into each game with smart passing and dribbles through the final third, the 18 year old is also UCLA's top goal scorer with 11 goals. Beginning her tenure at the Bruins by scoring seven goals in just six games. Not only does she score and lay off goals for teammates, Flemming's timing is impeccable, which she has shown by often been the difference in winning games- or at least been involved in creating those chances.
In addition to shaping her game some more with a lot of game time through the college circuit, Flemming's run with the Canadian team has continued from strength to strength. In 2016, she was selected in the team that travelled to Brazil for the Olympics where she played in every game game. It was Christine Sinclair's goal that eventually won the Bronze medal for Canada. Flemming played her role as she knicked the ball from the Brazillian defence before dancing it past two defenders and precisely delivering it to Deanne Rose - who earned the assist for Sinclair's 165th international goal.
Flemming has been coming up for a long time but without fail lives up to the expectation and hype every year. Having kicked off her Freshman year to a flying start and starting the majority of games for Canada, it is easy to predict that next year will be much of the same growth, with plenty more exciting football and clever tricks.
1. Deyna Castellanos (Florida State/Venezuela)
While many can only dream of hitting in a goal from the halfway line on the latest edition of FIFA, Deyna Castellanos makes it look easy even with the weight of a nation of her back. The young Venezuelan striker was already making waves in the 2014 edition, as she claimed the Golden Boot, but in 2016 Castellanos became a more refined version of herself, still raw in passion but exceptionally clinical in play making and goal scoring.
Prior to the U-17 WWC in Jordan, Venezuela had become 2016 South American Champions with Deyna at the heart of the achievement. The star scored 12 goals in just seven games, including two hat tricks, which led to the striker being showered in accolades of MVP, including the Golden Boot. The dominant performance which Castellanos led by example, was the key to qualifying for the World Cup which took place just over seven months later.
With the captain’s armband firmly secured around the sleeve of her number nine shirt, Deyna marched her team out for the first time against a strong German team. While the force of Germany was too much for Venezuela, all conversation in the press box was about Castellanos who did not score in the opening game but still shone through as a leading talent.
By the next game she had already bagged one curling free kick and a 50 yard goal in the fourth minute of additional time, just seconds after an equaliser. Castellanos, if she had not already, etched herself into the brains of all the spectators and the subsequent viewers as she broke down Canada with a nuanced Cruyff turn and spectacular hit that floated the ball into the corner of the net.
Deyna's delight doesn't end there..
The Deyna show continued through the Quarter Finals, the natural striker responded to Mexico going 1-0 up with in a minute, and after another four her brace took Venezuela through to the semi-finals. Two heavy defeats saw Venezuela leave Jordan in fourth place, but the tournament did not end for Castellanos as she was awarded the Bronze Boot, Bronze Ball, three Player of the Match awards and her stunning halfway line strike against Cameroon was named goal of the tournament.
In between the two landmark occasions for Venzuela, Deyna embarked on another venture as the 17 year old joined Florida State University to study but above all, to play for the Seminoles. Since joining the College, Deyna has made nine appearances and scored nine goals within them, a true representation of the clinical striker she has become. When she was absent, the Seminoles missed her presence and goal scoring ways but she returned to strike a a volley with the spectacular Deyna stamp on it . While the Venezuelan will be grateful for the college facilities available and regular game time with the FSU squad, which has positively influenced her game, the University will surely feel more indebted to the player that has become number three on Top Drawer's Top 100 Freshman list.
Given the achievements that she has led her country to in 2016, with all odds against her -as coach Kenneth Zseremeta explained the U-17 had limited resources and even had to borrow from other teams to get by, Coupled with the natural skill Deyna has for the game, and the hard work the striker has put in to optimise that talent, it is difficult to award the top spot to any other player under the age of 20.