An eye towards Poland: A look at how the U.S. U-20 team is shaping up
The U.S. U-20 team will now focus on Poland after playing their last friendly before the start of final World Cup preparations. Brian Sciaretta takes a deep dive with the possible provisional and World Cup rosters and looks at the key positional battles.
BY Brian Sciaretta PostedTHE UNITED STATES U-20 team wrapped up a successful international camp on Monday with a 2-1 win over Japan. That win came on the heels of a 2-2 draw against a very strong French team. Overall, it set up a series of very hard choices head coach Tab Ramos will have to make when selecting his roster.
March 24, 2019
March 24, 2019
The reasons why this camp was impressive is that four of the best players over the two games (Chris Durkin, Christian Cappis, Andrew Carleton, and Konrad de la Fuente) were not part of November’s team that won the CONCACAF Championship. So already players from a very good U-20 team are starting to get squeezed out.
Competition is a good thing and several players are starting to raise their games. As is typical, players at the youth levels see their forms change quickly. Players who performed well in November might now perform well six or seven months later.
In the draw against France, the U.S. team fell into a 2-0 hole but rallied for the draw after a terrific individual effort from de la Fuente cut the lead to one. Then the late equalizer was set up on a great passing sequence from Carleton to Jonathan Amon to Aboubacar Keita and finally to Cappis for the finish.
Here are the two U.S. U-20 goals in the 2-2 draw today with France. The first from Konrad de la Fuente. The second is a beautiful sequence: Carleton to Amon to Keita to Cappis for the finish pic.twitter.com/u0AbTUIRMC— Brian Sciaretta (@BrianSciaretta) March 22, 2019
In the second game against Japan, the United States played a poor first half and a very good second half for the 2-1 win. Andrew Carleton came off the bench and scored the opening goal in the 50th minute. After Japan equalized in the 63rd minute, the U.S. team found the winner through Cappis in the 75th.
The United States U-20 will next reconvene in May for its final preparations before heading to Poland for World Cup later that month.
Choosing a roster
Tab Ramos will have extremely hard decisions to make when putting together his final World Cup roster of 21 players (which must include three goal keepers).
The good news for Ramos is that the size of the provisional roster for this year’s World Cup expanded from 35 players to 50 players. That will allow him to keep the door open for a wider group of players a little bit longer.
For key players like Nick Taitague, Richard Ledezma, and now Justin Rennicks (who was forced out of the game in the first half of Friday’s draw vs. France) who are injured or who have been injured recently, they can have a few weeks to recover.
For players like Brenden Aaronson and Omir Fernandez who have started off the new MLS season in top form, Ramos can give them more time to impress.
For players like Werder Bremen’s Josh Sargent and Celtic’s Tim Weah, Ramos can wait longer to see if either player will be released by their respective clubs or if the USMNT staff of Earnie Stewart or Gregg Berhalter will let them play in the U-20 World Cup. Neither at the moment is playing regularly for his club and the only club conflict for either would be the Scottish Cup final should Celtic advance that far.
Ramos could even use a spot or two to hold open for undecided dual nationals like Florain Balogun or Efra Alvarez or even more younger players who are eligible for the 2021 World Cup.
Predicting the roster, analyzing the battles
There are lots of roster battles across the entire player pool to make the U-20 World Cup team and this previous camp will only make it harder for Ramos.
Here is a look at my predicted 50-player provisional roster. The players in bold are part of my 21-player predicted final roster, which changes frequently in the weeks leading up to the U-20 World Cup.
Also below is some analysis of each of the positions as to where I see things right now.
CJ Dos Santos
The skinny: FC Koln’s Brady Scott was the first-choice starter at the CONCACAF Championships in November. If healthy, he will be going to Poland. At the moment Dos Santos and Muse have a good chance at going but David Ochoa has played very well to start the season for the Real Monarchs and is playing regularly as he aims to be the next Real Salt Lake keeper after Nick Rimando retires after this season.
The skinny: Sergino Dest is easily the top right back in the pool and one of the more interesting fullback prospects the U.S. has had the past decade. Lindsey looks like the back-up at this point and it helps he can also cover in central defense. But the race is tight. Manny Perez is coming off a strong game for North Carolina FC (where he is on loan from Celtic) and Julian Araujo should be getting more minutes at the LA Galaxy. Araujo also looked strong for the U.S. U-23s in a 0-0 draw vs. Holland on Sunday.
The skinny: Despite all the huffing and puffing from Philadelphia, I think Mark McKenzie will be released for the U-20 World Cup. I also think Chris Richards will be released by Bayern Munich. That would be a good thing because McKenzie and Richards are very good, but the central defense depth is this team’s biggest weakness. If either is not on the field, the team has a big hole on the backline.
Right now, Aboubacar Keita seems to have the inside track to be a back-up. After Ketia, it will come down to hoping players from other positions can help the team get by. Players like Jaylin Lindsey, Matthew Real, and Chris Durkin can fill in.
The skinny: Chris Gloster is a very solid left back and has done well with this team. Matthew Real was the team captain at the CONCACAF Championships and brings a lot of intangibles (plus central defense cover). Lara played for Mexico in the past and wants to come back into the U.S fold but this will be a tough team for him to make. Vines was also once a regular with this U-20 team earlier in the cycle but is now behind others. George Bello easily has the talent to make this team but he will probably stay with the U-17 team unless there is a wave of injuries.
Juan Pablo Torres
The skinny: While Durkin wasn’t with the team in November, he had a very strong camp in January and was sharp this past month. He has done enough to leapfrog Juan Pablo Torres from November to make the World Cup squad.
The big race could be Brandon Servania and James Sands. Servania was the main defensive midfielder in the CONCACAF Championship run but hasn’t played for FC Dallas this season. Meanwhile, James Sands has been a regular starter for New York City FC and has played well.
Sands has not played with the U-20 yet but as a former U-17 World Cup player in 2017, he is familiar with a lot of players on the team. Like Durkin, Sands also gives Ramos cover in central defense.
If Servania can find the field over the next month, he probably goes to keep continuity from November. If he doesn’t play for Dallas in the weeks ahead while Sands continues to play, Sands could leapfrog Sevania and be a late inclusion into the team.
No. 8/No 10
The skinny: Without a doubt, Alex Mendez and Paxton Pomykal are locks. Mendez was the team’s best player at the CONCACAF Championships and Pomykal was also strong in that tournament – while continuing that form into the start of the season with Dallas.
Ledezma is a tough case. He is one of the most talented players in the pool and is a dual national who is eligible for Mexico. The problem with Ledezma is that he injured himself with a broken metatarsal during the course of his move from Real Salt Lake/Monarchs to PSV Eindhoven. He hasn’t played an official game since the middle of June 5, 2018.
Ramos needs to give Ledezma every chance on getting healthy and playing because he’s that good. But if Ledezma isn’t playing by the end of the season for PSV’s U-19 team, either Ramos will have to leave him off or PSV might not release him.
If Ledezma can’t go, Christian Cappis would probably be the next in line after a very strong final camp where he scored an equalizer in a 2-2 draw vs. France and the winner in a 2-1 win over Japan.
There is a lot of talent in this age group. Taylor Booth, Thomas Roberts, and Cole Basset are both players eligible for the 2021 U-20 team. Meanwhile, one player to keep an eye on is Philadelphia’s Brenden Aarronson who has effectively replaced the suspended Marco Fabian in the Union’s starting lineup and has scored against Atlanta in a 1-1 road draw and was sharp in a 3-0 win over Columbus.
Konrad de la Fuente
The skinny: When looking at the player pool, this roster is really deep on wingers. Uly Llanez will make the final roster as he has been a regular with the team this cycle and impressed at the CONCACAF Championships.
Konrad de la Feunte is one of the top prospects with U.S. Soccer and had a standout recent camp in March. He gives Ramos a lot of options across the front line and is an explosive threat.
A third winger will be one of the toughest calls in the player pool. If Tim Weah is released by Celtic/Paris St. Germain and the full national team, he will go over Jonathan Amon. If Nick Taitague is healthy (which has not been the case for most of the past two seasons), he will also go in place of one of the forwards, most likely Ayo Akinola. Unfortunately, it is tough to predict that Taitague will be healthy or that Weah will be released (although it seems hard to understand why U.S Soccer or his clubs wouldn’t want Weah to play in this tournament barring a run by Celtic to the final of the Scottish Cup).
Andrew Carleton can either play as a winger or a No. 10 for the U.S. U-20 team. For awhile it seemed like he would be an important part of the U.S. U-20 team but then he fell behind and appeared on the outside looking in. Ramos has cited Carleton’s lack of games as a concern. But Carleton is firmly back in the mix right now after a strong camp where he scored the first goal in the 2-1 win over Japan and was part of the build-up to the late equalizer vs. France. He’s on the bubble and might be off it right now, but he’s trending in the right direction and could claim a spot by May.
Omir Fernandez is a player that would likely start for the U.S. U-20 World Cup team in any other cycle except this one. The Bronx native has impressed with the Red Bulls to start this season and with his attacking skills and his ability to draw fouls.
Efra Alvarez is talented with the ball and has impressed with the Galaxy to start this year. But perhaps Ramos will entice him to walk away from Mexico with a World Cup spot? Probably not given the talent of the wingers but it is something to consider.
The skinny: The forward positions are a little bit up in the air right now. Like Tim Weah, Josh Sargent will go if released by U.S. Soccer and his club, Werder bremen. That could happen if he does not play much for Werder Bremen the rest of the way.
Ayo Akinola has been part of the team and he has produced for Ramos while also offering the possibility to play forward and wing. If Taitauge, Weah, or Sargent become available, however, Akinola could get cut.
Jesus Ferreira is certainly in the mix but it is a race against time for him to obtain his citizenship and FIFA residency waiver to be eligible. At this point, it becomes tough to predict he will even be eligible for the U-20 World Cup. Like with Alvarez, Folarin Balogun is in the English youth national team pool but perhaps could be enticed with a U.S call-up.
At the recent camp, Justin Rennicks also went down with an injury and had to be replaced in the first half against France. If Rennicks’ injury is long-term, that could open the door for players who have not been with the team much. Charlie Kelman, 17, has played in a U-18 camp and could particularly be interesting after starting games in League One. He has a game that is similar to Rennicks and this World Cup could give him a jump heading into the next U-20 cycle, which is also eligible for. For now, that is a ways off to predict as Rennicks has plenty of time to heal.
The potential is there for Ramos to take his strongest ever team to the U-20 World Cup. There are some concerns but if everything breaks his way, it could be an impressive team. Players like Omir Fernandez, Brenden Aaronson, Manny Perez, James Sands would easily make and probably start for most of the previous U-20 World Cup teams. Now they are in an uphill climb.
The final two months ahead of the World Cup will be fascinating to watch players build cases to make the team and then watch as Ramos tries to bring them together for a deep run in Poland.