6517_ap_palmer-brownerik_ap_17142405955659 Associated Press

Post Mortem: U-20 World Cup a Mixed Bag for Yanks

Despite missing a few key players, Tab Ramos' U-20 side advanced to the quarterfinals of the World Cup—a solid showing from a team that had plenty of question marks ahead of the tournament.
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
June 05, 2017
12:00 PM

THE UNITED STATES U-20 men's national team national bowed out of the World Cup on Sunday after a 2-1 extra time loss to Venezuela. It was the second straight tournament in which the U.S. made it to the final eight but fell short of the semifinals.

There can be no denying that Venezuela was the better team Sunday. The South American side has been remarkably strong not just in South Korea but also during World Cup qualifying, when it outclassed many traditional soccer powers. It is by no accident that Venezuela is a perfect 5-0-0 at the World Cup.

FIFA’s nearsighted scheduling gave the U.S. two fewer days of rest than Venezuela but the Yanks were always going to be the underdog against a team that had superior talent at every position. It wouldn’t be surprising if Venezuela went on to lift the Cup.

The U.S., meanwhile, did not have several of its best players: Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie, Josh Perez, and Nick Taitague all missed the U-20 World Cup for various reasons. If you added those players to the mix, it’s entirely possible that the Yanks would have held their own against Venezuela and continued to the next round. We’ll never know.

Tab Ramos’ came up short primarily due to its inability to maintain possession and dictate the pace of the game. Venezuela controlled the ball and pushed the game to a frantic pace, rushing the Americans’ decision-making and overwhelming an already-tired team.

Possession is typically where the game falls apart for American teams facing elite competition. It is probably frustrating for Ramos because the U.S. dominated possession in qualifying against traditional regional powers like Mexico. His team also was better in every group stage game outside of the first 10 minutes of the opener against Ecuador. Venezuela was just at a different level, however.

The success of this tournament will be measured by how the players move forward from here. Did players use this tournament to boost their respective careers? Are they more prepared to move to the U-23 team and the full national team?

Which players improved their standing?

The 2015 U-20 World Cup team was very successful in terms of career development. Matt Miazga used that tournament to impress scouts and pave a way to Chelsea. Cameron Carter-Vickers was uncovered as a genuine prospect (which he confirmed in South Korea). Emerson Hyndman and Zach Steffen could be part of the national team in the future while Paul Arriola, Kellyn Acosta, and Miazga are part of the current national team player pool.

It will be hard for the 2017 team to reach that level but it is not unrealistic. Here’s a look at where the key players currently stand after the World Cup.

Erik Palmer-Brown: Without a doubt Palmer-Brown is the star of this cycle. The team captain was the player of the tournament in the CONCACAF Championships and was quite possibly the best defender in the U-20 World Cup through the first four games. Now in the last year of his contract with Sporting Kansas City, Palmer-Brown did enough to earn a big European contract. Given his struggles to break into SKC under Peter Vermes, he should look to take a move abroad if he can find a club with a pathway to the first team. His upside is through the roof.

Brooks Lennon: The U-20 World Cup was productive for Lennon. Sometimes his combination play wasn’t there but his crossing was very strong and he put himself in dangerous positions. He is an easy player to like because he works very hard and hustles on defense. Like many players at this age, he is raw and needs a lot of polish. If he develops, it is possible to see him sneak into the national team picture in a few years in the same way Paul Arriola has (both are good team players). Lennon seems like he will need the Olympic team in 2020 to provide that intermediate step.

Josh Sargent: The St. Louis native scored four goals in South Korea and looked very mature, both physically and mentally, for his age. It was the right move by Ramos to call Sargent, 17, up and make the quick transition from the U-17 team to the U-20 team. His finishing was effective and he showed talent with both in his hold-up play and passing. He’s a genuine prospect with a bright future within U.S. Soccer. He will have high-profile European suitors and hopefully he chooses a team where he can find a good path to first-team soccer.

Tyler Adams: Like Sargent, Adams is eligible for the 2019 U-20 World Cup. Adams displayed a ton of potential in South Korea but he remains a raw talent. He struggled with Venezuela’s high-pressing game but during the group stage he looked strong and made big plays. Adams has some very interesting skills: He can cover a ton of ground, is fast, and can play hard for a full 90 minutes. Adams appears to be a first-choice starter with the New York Red Bulls, and he needs to adjust from playing against young players to playing against men. The Red Bulls organization has historically been great with getting young, local players on the field, developing them well, and then selling them. Adams seems to be following that path.

Justen Glad: The Venezuela game showed that Glad is not really a right back. As a central defender, Glad has an attractive upside but it is going to be a steep climb to make the full national team due to the competition. Palmer-Brown and Carter-Vickers will be in his way and it is also worth pointing out that senior national team players like John Brooks and Walker Zimmerman are also under 25. Glad has a real opportunity at Real Salt Lake to play a lot of minutes soon. He can succeed there but if he wants to be in the national team picture, he has to be one of the best players in the league.

Cameron Carter-Vickers: Two years ago Carter-Vickers showcased himself very well at the U-20 World Cup. This tournament showed that his upside is still there. Last year his number of minutes decreased as he was pulled from Tottenham’s reserve teams to ride the bench and train with the first team. That training is at a very high level but now he needs games. It is very easy to see him being a starter at the World Cup in 2022 but this season needs to be a turning point where he goes from a youth player to a regular first-team player.

Derrick Jones: In South Korea Derrick Jones showed that despite his flaws his upside could be enormous. The Philadelphia Union does not have a great track record of developing young players but the fact that head coach Jim Curtin is playing Jones is positive. The six-foot-four defensive midfielder has good feet and technique and his big frame helps him break up plays.  He still produces too many turnovers and his decision-making was a little slow in South Korea. He needs to distribute the ball better and quicker, and if he does so he could be on the national team one day.

Danny Acosta: Ramos was forced to experiment late in the cycle at left back when his first choice, Marcelo Borges, was injured. Danny Acosta is normally a central midfielder but was converted to fullback recently at Real Salt Lake. He showed some defensive flaws in South Korea but when you factor in his late conversion the backline he did better than expected. He has indeed learned a lot about the position in a short period. He got forward effectively a number of times and the fact that left backs are so hard to find qualifies him as a player to watch.

Luca de la Torre: Like many of his teammates, it was an up and down tournament for de la Torre. The San Diego native had three assists and scored an important goal over the five games—a good haul. He was always looking to make plays and take defenders on. He has solid technique but he tends to get taken out of the game when it gets physical. There’s an upside to de la Torre’s game and playing for an English Championship team like Fulham offers him opportunities to adjust to the physical nature of the sport. The next season will be important for him to grow in this regard.

Evaluating the coach

Tab Ramos just completed his third cycle as head coach of the U-20 national team and the federation’s youth technical director. His first cycle at the 2013 World Cup was poor. Some of it was his fault—notably when he cut Jordan Morris and Walker Zimmerman from the World Cup team. Other aspects were not his fault: the 2013 World Cup draw was brutal and he had limited talent at his disposal.

Since then, the U-20 program has made some impressive strides. Making back- to-back quarterfinal runs is impressive—especially since the team did not have several of its best players. The best attribute Ramos has brought to the 2015 and 2017 World Cup teams is that both teams played very, very hard and represented the nation well.

It is also worth noting that the decision to bring 17-year-old Josh Sargent to the U-20 World Cup was the single best coaching decision Ramos has ever made. The U-20 team needed an upgrade at the forward position and Ramos made the call for Sargent and it paid dividends. The youngster was ready both physically and mentally.

Should Ramos return for a fourth cycle? It would be understandable for any federation to want to bring in fresh blood and new ideas after one coach has been through three cycles. But U.S. Soccer would also be justified in bringing Ramos back. He produced good results.  

What did you think of the United States' run in the U-20 World Cup? Satisfied? Disappointed? Share your take below. 

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