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The Kids Are Alright

Ramos' U-20 Roster Takes Shape in First Camp

2012 U.S. Soccer Young Male Athlete of the Year Rubio Rubin and a host of other emerging talents joined the first camp of the 2015 World Cup cycle. Josh Deaver takes a look at the future stars.
BY Josh Deaver Posted
November 22, 2013
3:54 PM
The U.S under-20 Men’s national team, meeting for the first time under head coach Tab Ramos, concluded its first camp of the 2015 cycle this week with a pair of friendlies match ups against Serie A youth squads for clubs Hellas Verona and Atalanta.

In the first match against Hellas Verona, the U.S. tallied first but gave up three second half goals on the way to a 4-1 loss.

Despite the lopsided score line, the Americans created plenty of chances and were unlucky not to score more in the opening half. Lorient FC midfielder Romain Gall was impressive early, nearly putting the U.S. ahead in the game’s opening minutes, only to have a one-versus-one breakaway snuffed out by the Hellas keeper. After some sustained early pressure, Ramos’ side eventually found their breakthrough in the 18th minute, when a well-placed cross from captain Kellyn Acosta found the knee of Molde forward Ben Spencer, who recently made his second full team appearance for the Norwegian club. Rubio Rubin, reigning U.S. Soccer Young Male Athlete of the Year, nearly doubled the American lead moments later, weaving his way through traffic and rattling the post with a hard left-footed effort.

Verona level the score line in the 25th minute, capitalizing on a poor U.S. clearance and sending a low-driving effort past the glove of Ethan Horvath. The U.S had more dangerous opportunity before the half, with the six-foot-five Spencer heading a corner kick from Acosta just wide of the target. After the half Ramos tinkered with his lineup, replacing 10 of his starting XI. The U.S. again came out on the front foot early, with Real Salt Lake product Benji Lopez and Bayern Leverkusen reservist Kainoa Bailey forcing saves early in the half. Verona would eventually pull ahead in the 62nd minute after a sloppy defensive lapse on a Verona counter attack. Then the floodgates opened. With the home side picking up its third in the 85th minute. Four minutes later, a foul from John Requejo Jr. inside the box gave Hellas one more from the penalty spot. Closing out camp on Wednesday, the U.S. seemed to learn its lesson, flipping the score line with a 4-1 victory over the Atalanta Primavera squad. Ben Spencer bagged a brace, while Romain Gall and Rubio Rubin each added a goal and an assist.

Despite the very limited sample size, it’s nevertheless a promising beginning to the 2015 World Cup cycle. There will no doubt be high expectations, considering this player pool is teeming with an abundance of young talent currently excelling in competitive professional environments throughout the world.

During last summer’s World Cup, the Americans were defeated while fielding a majority of collegiate and MLS academy prospects against many players who received regular minutes in top flight European leagues. While France’s Paul Pogba was scoring goals in the Champions League or Spain’s Gerard Deufloeu was entertaining breathless recruiting pitches for the upcoming season, a majority of the U.S. under-20 squad were barely seeing time for European or Mexican reserve teams—with some not even starting for their collegiate squads.

Thankfully, this may not be the case for the 2015 cycle. It’s a long way to go before qualifying or the World Cup, but Ramos’ initial roster should buoy those American supporters disheartened by recent results. And this is just the tip of the iceberg. Let’s take a closer look at some of the talent who attended the recently concluded camp.

Kellyn Acosta, D, FC Dallas
A surprise selection for the summer’s U20 World Cup, Acosta blossomed late in the season for FC Dallas, making 13 appearances and playing heavy minutes during the stretch run of the MLS campaign. He will play right back in Ramos' system but has enough positional versatility to play nearly anywhere on the field. Acosta is calm on the ball, excellent at linking up play through midfield and can get forward when needed. He still has the tendency to get caught out in 1v1 situations; especially on counter attacks (see above), but is a relentless defender nonetheless. Despite limited appearances, Acosta led FC Dallas in successful tackles per game by a noteworthy margin. Matt Miazga, D, New York Red Bulls
Training against Thierry Henry and Tim Cahill on a daily basis, Miazga has already been put through a master’s class in his short time with the Red Bulls first team. A smooth, ball-winning defender, the 6'3" center back will likely be penciled in to most U-20 lineups given his relative professional experience compared to the rest of the U.S defensive corps. Dominant in the air and with pace for his size, Miazga has risen quickly up the ranks of the Red Bulls academy system since joining with the U-14 level in 2009. Despite fielding European offers, he signed with the hometown Red Bulls in March and hopes to make his first team debut next season. One issue for his national team future: Miazga is also eligible for Poland, with whom his family has deep ties. Despite several U.S call-ups, he remains undecided. Russell Canouse, MF, TSG Hoffenheim
The former Red Bull academy product arrived with Hoffenheim in 2010 after accompanying his father on a move to Germany. Eventually becoming captain of the U-17 squad, Canouse decided to forego collegiate opportunities and signed a three-year professional contract to remain with the club. Now with the U-19’s, he is a fixture in the starting XI, having appeared in nine of club’s 11 matches this season. Playing as a deep lying midfielder, Canouse has both the technical acumen and positional awareness required for a prominent role under Ramos. As you can see at the 2:45 mark, he’s got a pretty nice shot too. Recent time with the Hoffenheim first team, along with fellow U20 Zack Pfeffer, could signal a reserve squad move may be in the offing.

Junior Flores, MF, Borussia Dortmund
Still waiting for his opportunity to officially suit up for Bundesliga titans Borussia Dortmund, Flores is back from the failed under-17 World Cup campaign. But, what will be his role? 2013 saw U-17 head coach Richie Williams bench Flores—or play him out of position—at some questionable and inopportune times, including a decisive World Cup qualifier where Flores, arguably the teams most dynamic offensive threat, did not see the field. Regardless of what may have led to his ouster, he is a remarkable talent who should thrive under Ramos. Flores is a creative playmaker, a true no. 10, who will pull the strings for the American attack. He has the ability to open up defenses with his incisive passing, or treat them like orange cones with his pace. Training recently with the first team, Dortmund’s coaching staff appears high on the teenager’s future. After a brief lull, his stock is set to rise again. Kristian Scott, MF, Swansea City
Scott is an expressive midfielder who has seemingly made a leap in his development since leaving the Stoke City academy to join the Swans in September. It’s a move that could pay dividends for the Americans. Swansea’s attractive, possession-based game is much closer to what Ramos and, ultimately, Jurgen Klinsmann are looking to implement for the National Team; rather than the Stoke City strategy of—in Scott’s own words—“just kicking it long.” Since signing, he has moved comfortably into the game day XI, starting every match and recently scoring his first goal, a stoppage time winner in a 2-1 win over Crystal Palace last month. Eligible for England duty through his father, ex-Newcastle defender Kevin Scott, he has been a steady part of the U.S setup since featuring for the U15’s in 2009. He is the brother of Chelsea product and purported Real Madrid target, Kyle, who recently accepted a U.S under-18 call up.

Emerson Hyndman, MF, Fulham FC
Grandson of the former FC Dallas boss, Emerson missed under-17 World Cup qualifying due to club commitments, but instead helped pilot the Whites to their second consecutive U18 Premier League crown and a title run at the prestigious Dallas Cup Youth Tournament. Small in stature, Hyndman is perhaps the most technically proficient player in the U.S. youth ranks. A box to box threat, he is a lethal passer who sees the game effortlessly. Depended on for his playmaking abilities, he will help orchestrate the Americans in the final third. As an every match starter for Fulham, Hyndman (no. 8 in the video) in an indispensable part of the squad and a big reason why the young Whites are once again top of the U18 table. With his continued top-class output, a move to the reserve squad can’t be far off. Lynden Gooch, MF/F, Sunderland AFC
Despite being eligible for both Ireland and England through his parents, 18-year old Lynden Gooch is an American developed talent. After impressing at an early age with USSDA club Santa Cruz Breakers, Gooch was able to secure trials with several clubs thanks to his family’s European ties. After tryouts with AC Milan and Everton, he ultimately caught the eye of Sunderland AFC, who signed the teenager to a two year scholarship in 2012. This season he has been an every match starter for the club and is already drawing rave reviews from Sunderland management. Kevin Ball, the club’s professional development director, labels Gooch "one of the most technically gifted players in our youth squad." Adding, “the kid has such a bright future." With a unique combination of physicality, incredible ball skills and an eye for goal, the California native (No. 9 in the video) could be one to watch up front for the U.S. Rubio Rubin, MF/F, FC Utrecht
Currently on pre-contract with FC Utrecht in Holland, the Oregon native will reportedly sign a long-term deal with the club when he turns 18 in the Spring. Rubin has been a fixture for both the U17 and U18 squads in 2013. Deployed on the wing, he has continually impressed observers with his pace, inventiveness on the ball and nose for goal. In July, he led the U17’s to victory at the Niigata International Tournament, scoring three goals in as many games. With the U-18’s in October, Rubin helped the team to an undefeated run and second place finish in the Limoges Tournament, scoring a late equalizer in a comeback performance against eventual winners, France. Riding a stellar run of from, he is poised to break out on the international stage. Ben Spencer, F, Molde FK
The New Mexico-born forward is the latest in a string of American players to join the former Norwegian champions. Originally with the Chivas USA academy, Spencer signed his first professional contract with the club upon turning 18 in March. He made his first team debut in September, before a brief cameo last week in the final game of the Norwegian season. Standing 6'5", Spencer cuts an imposing figure. A true target man, he is deadly in the air and excellent in back-to-goal situations. His ability to neutralize defenders and hold up play offers a dimension that was sorely lacking for Ramos’ squad at the World Cup. With a strong performance, he has staked his claim early as a first-choice forward for Tab Ramos.

ASN will have on-going coverage of the U.S under-20 national team as the 2015 cycle progresses.

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