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U-20 World Cup

For the U.S. Under-20s, Now It's Time to Talk Turkey

The Americans are through the rigors of qualifying and ready to begin preparing for the World Cup in Turkey. Josh Deaver examines who should be there, who is on the cusp, and who will miss the trip.
BY Josh Deaver Posted
March 07, 2013
12:19 PM
BY ANY MEASUREMENT the CONCACAF Championship was a great success for the U.S. Under-20 men’s national team.

Facing injury, missing squad members, and the kind of pressure that comes from expectation and past disappointments, the U.S. still managed to qualify for the World Cup and advance to the tournament final. While Tab Ramos’ fatigued and short-handed squad was unable to bring home the trophy the U.S. coach was encouraged but what he saw from his team.

“This shows the character of the players that we have coming up,” he said. “Not only are we playing in a difficult environment, but we take a goal early when we’re attacking and the players responded.” Now, with only four months to prepare, the focus turns sharply toward the World Cup. Ramos will finally have his chance to bring together a full-strength American side for perhaps the first time in his tenure. A majority of those who made the trip to Puebla for the CONCACAF Championship should also go to Turkey in early July. Others, however, may have seen their last minutes for the U-20’s. There are too many variables to say with any certainty who may play themselves into or out of the national team picture, but here's our best guess.

In goal, Cody Cropper is the undisputed No. 1 selection. Recent choices indicate that backing him up will be Kendall McIntosh of Santa Clara University along with U-20 goal keeper-in-waiting Zackary Steffen, who is poised to start between the pipes for the 2015 cycle. Gerogetown’s Tomas Gomez and Sporting Kansas City prospect Jon Krempin have also been called recently, rounding out the competition.

On the backline, Juan Pablo Ocegueda and Shane O’Neill delivered the best performances of the group and made a strong case for their future inclusion. The others—Eric Miller, Javan Torre, and Boyd Okwuonu—are less certain to return. Okwuonu specifically did not appear in tune with the speed of the game and was targeted frequently throughout the tournament, at fault for a goal against Haiti in a woeful defensive sequence. While the University of North Carolina product is averaging more minutes than anyone in the player pool, his stock plummeted after his subpar performance. Torre and Miller looked a bit better for Ramos but, with the current depth, they could also find themselves on the outside looking in.

U-20 captain Caleb Stanko starred at center back, but—like O’Neill—he is naturally a defensive midfielder. Injuries and a lack of depth in the middle of the backline could change his role in Turkey. In a recent interview, assistant coach Thomas Dooley praised Stanko’s transition, signaling that the Freiburg product could line up again at center back if needs dictate. In midfield, Ramos’ choices were much closer to what we can expect from a full strength U.S. side. Wil Trapp should assume his role as a defensive midfielder, joined by Sporting KC product Mikey Lopez. The MLS rookies showed well in front of the back four during the tournament, providing an offensive bite as well as helping to steady the U.S. midfield during some nervy moments. They will likely remain automatic selections for Ramos along with Santos Laguna prospect Benji Joya and Real Salt Lake midfielder Luis Gil. This standard leaves few roster spots up for grabs, with Daniel Garcia and Dillon Serna fighting for an opportunity.

Daniel Cuevas and Jose Villarreal, both of whom had breakout performances in Puebla, have clearly locked up spots in the U.S. attacking corps going forward. Mario Rodriguez also logged big minutes and showed considerable improvement as the tournament progressed. Despite criticism, he remains a favorite for the U.S. coaching staff and is likely to be included for the World Cup roster. Stuttgart’s Jerome Kieseswetter and Georgetown University freshman Brandon Allen logged some minutes, but were not overly impressive. Nevertheless, they will be two names considered for the U.S. attack.

With Birmingham City’s Will Packwood and Liverpool’s Marc Pelosi both sidelined with significant injuries, Ramos will be forced to revisit his 72-man player pool to fill the gaps left by the two prospective starters. The main focus will be the U.S. defensive rotation, which needs improvement coming out the CONCACAF Championship.

Before suffering a rather serious groin injury late in 2012, FC Dallas center back Walker Zimmerman had become a valuable commodity in the center of the U.S. defense. Out of action since prior to the MLS draft, he still has a long road ahead of him to be ready for the rigors of international competition. When healthy, the 6’3 defender has a huge upside and would definitely be an upgrade at the position. If he can return to form, Zimmerman is considered a lock to be included in the final roster.

With all the troubles at outside back, Seattle Sounders rookie DeAndre Yedlin has become another possible option for Ramos on the backline. The speedy right back started his first professional match on Sunday night, receiving positive reviews for his shift in a loss against Montreal Impact. The Akron product was called into camp only once in 2012, but since has demonstrated that his ability and success in a professional environment may warrant him jumping to the top of depth chart, over Okwuonu and Eric Miller, on the right side of defense.

LA Galaxy prospect Oscar Sorto, a late addition to the player pool, received calls in December and January under Ramos but ultimately was not chosen for the Puebla roster. Sorto is a versatile defensive player who can lineup on at every position on the backline and could a valuable utility player in Turkey, something the U-20 boss was badly missing in the later stages of the CONCACAF Championship.

Fellow Galaxy starlet Jack McBean will also be eager to make his presence felt. McBean emerged late in 2012 thanks to some excellent performances in the CONCACAF Champions League, where he scored three goals in his 3 appearances. Recently, McBean entered as a late substitute for the Galaxy in their season opener, and looks to be in line for some increased minutes this season. With a clear opening at the forward position, McBean is one of only a few candidates that could fill the role.

After playing such a large role for the U-20’s, Chicago Fire homegrown product Victor Pineda currently find himself out of the picture while he recovers from a meniscus injury. It’s hard to ignore Pineda’s contributions for the squad in 2012, where he picked up four goals in eight appearances before undergoing surgery in November. In a recent interview he revealed he was ahead of schedule in his rehabilitation and is hopeful to see the field soon for Chicago. Vancouver Whitecaps forward Omar Salgado is in a similar situation coming off a recent foot injury. The former No. 1 draft pick has recently resumed full training with the squad and is hopeful for a return to action this month. Whether he can get playing time is another question entirely. If these two talented players can return to top form, expect one, if not both, to take a spot on the final roster.

Although it’s too soon to tell, a long-shot wager could be made on Portland Timbers defensive midfielder Mobi Fehr. Fehr has previously excelled in a U.S. shirt, starting every minute at center back for the U.S. U-17 squad during the 2011 World Cup run. Calm on the ball, Fehr seems to be a perfect match for Ramos’ ideal possession-based offense. Fehr also brings a true international pedigree, having spent time in the youth setups of Standard Liege, FC Basel, and Tokyo Verdy over the past year. The 18-year old is one of the youngest players in MLS, but don’t be surprised if he gets his chance sooner than later under Caleb Porter.

The conversation of U-20 eligible, foreign-based players begins and ends with Hertha Berlin defender John Anthony Brooks. An engrained starter for the German second division side, Brooks has been a force, displaying skill and maturity beyond his years. Although he has not suited up for the U.S., he would be one of the squad’s most talented players immediately upon his inclusion. Brooks has the potential to represent Germany at the U-21 Euros this summer and has been getting increased looks from Die Mannschaft. The German media have been stoking the fires, but Brooks has continually stated his desire to play for the U.S. and, barring a significant injury or change of heart, should get the opportunity at the World Cup.

Currently featuring for Blackburn Rovers, right back Adam Henley has long been mentioned about as a potential future member of the U.S. National Team. Having represented Wales in past competition, Henley would have to file an international switch fairly soon in order to feature for the Americans. U.S. Soccer has had recent dialogues with the Tennessee-born youngster, issuing him an invitation to the December training camp which was summarily rejected by his club. It remains unknown whether he is still in the plans for the U-20’s.

Keeping in mind that so much can change between now and July, here’s how I would currently project U-20 World Cup roster.

Goalkeepers (3): Cody Cropper (Southampton; England), Kendall McIntosh (Santa Clara University), Zackary Steffen (FC Delco Academy)
Defenders (6): John Anthony Brooks (Hertha Berlin; Germany), Walker Zimmerman (FC Dallas), Shane O’Neill (Colorado Rapids), Javan Torre (LA Galaxy), Juan Pablo Ocegueda (Chivas USA), DeAndre Yedlin (Seattle Sounders)
Midfielders (7): Wil Trapp (Columbus Crew), Mikey Lopez (Sporting Kansas City), Caleb Stanko (Freiburg; Germany), Luis Gil (Real Salt Lake), Benji Joya (Santos Laguna; Mexico), Dillon Serna (Colorado Rapids), Victor Pineda (Chicago Fire)
Forwards (5): Jose Villarreal (LA Galaxy), Mario Rodriguez (FC Kaiserslautern; Germany), Daniel Cuevas (Santos Laguna; Mexico), Daniel Garcia (University of North Carolina), Jack McBean (LA Galaxy)
Alternates: Oscar Sorto (LA Galaxy), Alejandro Guido (Tijuana), Eric Miller (Creighton University), Omar Salgado (Vancouver Whitecaps), Tomas Gomez (Georgetown University), Jerome Kieseswetter (VfB Sttutgart; Germany), Boyd Okwuonu (University of North Carolina)
Wildcards: Adam Henley (Blackburn Rovers; England), Mobi Fehr (Portland Timbers)

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