U-20 team analysis

Breaking down the U-20 team after a convincing 6-1 win over Trinidad & Tobago

The United States U-20 team is cruising forward towards the qualification stage of World Cup qualifying. ASN's Brian Sciaretta takes a look at the team's progress and direction following the convincing 6-1 win over Trinidad & Tobago. 
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
November 06, 2018
3:20 AM
THE GAME that was supposed to be the biggest challenge to the United States U-20 national team in the first stage of World Cup qualifying turned out to be another lopsided affair as Tab Ramos and his squad rolled to a convincing 6-1 rout over Trinidad & Tobago in Bradenton, Florida.

Ramos named a strong starting lineup that included top players Mark McKenzie, Ulysses Llanez, Paxton Pomykal, Justin Rennicks, Alex Mendez, and Brandon Servania. With that firepower, the Americans scored two goals inside of the first 10 minutes to ensure that this game was never in doubt.

Now with two games remaining in the first stage against minnows St. Vincent & the Grenadines and Suriname, the U.S. team can begin preparations for the second stage of the tournament where the opposition will get stronger.

While the games have been lopsided it sets up important internal competitions within the team as Ramos will be able to make up to six changes to the roster for the second stage. These games are critical for players to prove to Ramos that they deserve to be on the team both for the second stage and for the World Cup in next May, should the U.S. team qualify.

Here are some thoughts on the team after the win over Trinidad & Tobago.

Pomykal and Rennicks rising

There are a lot of players right now who were expected to play well and are playing well. Ulysses Llanez was known to be the team’s best winger and has thus far delivered. Similarly Brandon Servania as the No. 6 and Alex Mendez in the advanced playmaking role have also done very well, which was expected. The late addition of Mark McKenzie in central defense has helped.

Two players, however, who have really improved their stock are Indiana University’s Justin Rennicks and FC Dallas attacking midfielder Paxton Pomykal. It was unclear how important either were to this team at the start or if they would be replaced for the second stage.

Instead, both Rennicks and Pomykal have made themselves very important to the team moving forward. Yes, the opposition is weak but both are showing to fit really into the system of how Ramos wants to play. Rennicks has been able to finish and pass effectively. Pomykal has also been valuable scoring and assisting.

Central defense depth needed

This team is very thin in central defense. Trinidad & Tobago scored its one goal on a mix-up from captain Matthew Real who is a left back but is covering in central defense due to lack of depth. Similarly, it is Puerto Rico also scored against the Americans due to a comedy of errors in the back. Against better opposition, these mistakes can’t happen.

Ramos doesn’t have a strong hand. With his best roster, he has Mark McKenzie and Chris Richards (not released for this stage of the tournament). The gap after that is huge, although Sam Rogers has a lot of experience with this team.

It’s a stark contrast to the last two U-20 cycles which produced Erik Palmer-Brown, Matt Miazga, Justen Glad, and Cameron Carter-Vickers. There is simply not a lot of depth at this position for the 2018/2019 U-20 team. Julian Araujo is promising although he is playing up this cycle.

The U.S. team might qualify but it is hard to see them winning CONCACAF unless Chris Richards is released by Bayern Munich for the second stage. It is unclear yet if that will happen but Richards and McKenzie might be able to get the job done. Having both for the World Cup next year is also critical.

FC Dallas playing time

FC Dallas is well represented on the U-20 team this cycle. Paxton Pomykal and Brandon Servania are both signed to Dallas. Chris Richards is as well, although it seems more likely that Bayern Munich will exercise an option to buy his contract that is attached to his current loan.

Recent homegrown signee Thomas Roberts also holds out hope of playing on this U-20 team although at 17, he is eligible for the next U-20 cycle as well. Jesus Ferreira might also play for the U-20 team if he gets his American citizenship in time.

All of this talent on the team will put Dallas into the spotlight in getting players onto the field and playing them. If they shine for the U-20 team and then disappear with Dallas, it will sound alarm bells at a louder rate then they currently are.

Dallas finally made it formal that it will have its own USL team next year. With the talent in its academy which has spilled over onto U.S. youth national teams, that announcement was important to U.S player development. Dallas is not a typical MLS academy.

Still, there will be a huge need to ensure that these players can also get MLS minutes. Pomykal played a few minutes but needs more (and injuries also limited him to some extent). Brandon Servania also clearly looks ready to step into the mix as well.

FC Dallas has a lot of things going for it by way of player development but this tournament shows why it is important to put it all together.

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