USYNT analysis

Mixed USYNT window sees U-23's struggle, U-19s shine, & Vargas bolt for Mexico

It was a rocky week for top U.S. youth national teams and ASN's Brian Sciaretta has you covered through the ups and downs of it all. 
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
June 14, 2024
6:00 AM

 THE PAST WEEK has been a rocky but mixed weekend for two of the most important U.S. youth national teams on the men’s side. First, the Olympic team had a very poor outing on Tuesday to conclude its final camp before the Paris Games. On the other hand, the U.S. U-20/19 team defeated Uruguay 1-0 to conclude a great trip to South America ahead of U-20 qualifiers next month. But then on Wednesday, one of the most promising American teenager prospects left the program.

There is an awful lot to break down, so let’s get into it.


Olympic team blues


The United States Olympic team ended its final pre-Olympic camp on Tuesday night with a 2-0 loss to Japan in Kansas City. As most know by now, it was a poor effort and Japan dominated. The worst part about this game was that the U.S. team could not generate the slightest bit offense. They didn’t have any scoring chance other than a blocked Taylor Booth shot in the second half.

It was a very disappointing effort and head coach Marko Mitrovic must rethink some things and he must hope that the release battles in the coming weeks are more favorable.

It is fair to point out that the U.S. team was without several key players. Aidan Morris left the team to complete a move to Middlesbrough. Gianluca Busio and Kevin Paredes were out with knocks. The team will add one or two more overage players (almost certainly a central defender and possibly an attacker as well), plus there is the possibility of one or two age eligible players coming down from the full national team. Gio Reyna could be a prime candidate.

That would be six different players than what we saw on Tuesday.

But that doesn’t excuse the performance on Tuesday, which did not go well, at all. The midfielders and the forward who played, were capable of so much more – but didn’t show it. It suggests that this team might not be as deep as expected and it might need releases to go their way. Mitrovic also said he was using the game to experiment with players in second positions since the 18-player roster for the Olympics demands versatility. 

A few players showed well in the game. John Tolkin was an improvement when he came into the game in the second half. Walker Zimmerman had a tough assignment in his Olympic team debut as he was partnered with Jonathan Tomkinson, who had a tough game, and was behind a midfield which couldn’t hold the ball. Booth, Paxten Aaronson, and Cade Cowell all made a few interesting runs, but nothing much.

It was a bad performance but what does this mean?

First, the team still had a pretty good cycle despite this result. They drew France in France, defeated Japan, Mexico, and Guinea.

Second, Mitrovic has said he wants to move quickly to put together his top Olympic team. That will likely include feedback and input from the full national team staff because of a few overlapping players. If requests for releases go out next week, Mitrovic will likely want a response within a week to know who he has. Then the week after that will be filling in gaps where he is denied.

One of the bigger issues comes with players who are potentially or even likely to move this summer. That includes Tanner Tessmann, Bryan Reynolds, Duncan McGuire, Aidan Morris, Paxten Aaronson, etc. It becomes difficult to seek the release for players when the club at the time of the Olympics is not yet even known.

But between the way this team played against Japan, the need to make changes, getting players released, and working with the full national team for overlapping players, Mitrovic’s job is very hard.

Projected roster: Patrick Schulte, Gaga Slonina, John Tolkin, Bryan Reynolds, Nathan Harriel, Walker Zimmerman*, Miles Robinson*, Jalen Neal, Tanner Tessmann, Gianluca Busio, Aidan Morris, Jack McGlynn, Paxten Aaronson, Taylor Booth, Kevin Paredes, Gio Reyna, Duncan McGuire, Haji Wright*

“*” denotes overage player


U-20 team shines in South America


In a much more positive note, the U.S. U-19 team (aka the U-20 team, which it will be called starting in the fall) recently completed a very impressive two game camp in South America where they defeated Argentina 1-0 last Friday in Buenos Aires and then defeated Uruguay 1-0 in Montevideo on Tuesday. 

Against Uruguay, the winning goal came when Niko Tsakiris forced a turnover, beat two defenders, and sent in a cross for Keyrol Figueroa that was redirected in by Uruguay's Nicolás Ramos, who is actually born in Miami and eligible for the U.S. U-20 team.  

Those are not easy places to get wins and the U.S. team defended very well in tough games on the road. But what was most impressive was that the team kept two cleansheets on the road. Team defense and goalkeeping stood out after speaking with people who watched the game.

This comes in their final camp before U-20 World Cup qualifying next month in Mexico. For head coach Michael Nsien, it will be tough for him to bring players that haven’t been part of the first two camps.

There are still some key age-eligible players not involved with the team yet: Reed Baker-Whiting has been injured, Benja Cremaschi and Esmir Bajraktarevic are with the U-23 team.

As for the players on this roster, the big goal needs to be for more of the players to get first team minutes. It is normal for U-20 teams in the first half of cycles to have mostly players who aren’t first team starters. Gradually that changes over the course of a cycle. There are a number of players on the edge of first teams, but it will be interesting to see which ones are breaking through.

This U-20 team is in excellent shape at goalkeeping with Diego Kochen, Gavin Beavers, Adam Beaudry, and Julian Eystone.

What was interesting about this camp too was that Nimfasha Berchimas made his U-20 debut shortly after turning 16 years old. The Charlotte winger had a great U-17 World Cup and is eligible for the current U-17 team as well.  He ended up picking up the assist on Keyrol Figueroa’s goal against Argentina. Also of note, FC Dallas homegrown left back Nolan Norris was the captain for both games.

Club releases could be problematic next month for some of the European-based players who are trying to make inroads at the first team level. Cole Campbell at Borussia Dortmund could fall into this category, and he was not part of this camp. But he was the team’s best player in March (his first since filing a one-time switch after playing for Iceland’s youth national teams).

Regardless, the team is lacking players who are at the first-team level, but the results should give rise to optimism for qualifying next month.


Vargas switches to Mexico


In what was bad news for the U.S. youth program, Obed Vargas left the U.S. youth national team setup and filed for a one-time switch that will see him now represent Mexico moving forward. Vargas, 18, was born in Alaska to Mexican parents.

This is bad news for U.S. Soccer because Vargas checked the boxes of a top prospect. He has already been the starter for the Seattle Sounders for over two years. He has won a CONCACAF Champions League where he assisted on the winning goal against Pumas. He was a starter on the 2023 U-20 World Cup team while playing up a cycle, and helped the team advance to the quarterfinal.

Looking forward had he stayed with the U.S. program, he was going to come up short making the 2024 Olympic team but he would have started again for the 2025 U-20 World Cup team and then been a front-runner to start on the 2028 Olympic team for the Los Angeles Games.

It is certainly no guarantee that Vargas would have risen to the level of being a full U.S. national team player, but he was getting tremendous opportunities that, in total, are reserved for top prospects.

As a 2005-born player, he is 6-7 years younger than Tyler Adams and Weston McKennie and would be part of the generation that follows that group.

But overall, it is not a good thing for U.S. Soccer to be losing out on its most promising young players. Maybe other top prospects will emerge instead, but Vargas was already in the top group of his generation (the current U-20 level and younger).

He is also not the first player that U.S. Soccer has lost from this class as Noel Buck has opted to represent English youth national teams. Buck has struggled in 2024 and is behind Vargas, but it’s not a good thing to see top American players who were born, raised, and developed in the United States opting to play for other countries when they’re still wanted by the United States.

Only time will tell if Vargas will be missed by the U.S. program beyond the current U-20 team and the next U-23 team (where he surely will be). But the more this becomes a trend, the more likely players will get away who the U.S. truly ends up missing.

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