U.S. U-20's prepare for second qualifying stage plus Yanks in Europe & more
The U.S. U-20 team will be getting ready for the second stage of World Cup qualifying and head coach Tab Ramos will have decisions to make. Elsewhere, its been a huge week for Americans in Europe and Red Bulls defender Aaron Long.
BY Brian Sciaretta PostedTHE UNITED STATES U-20 team has virtually assured itself of a spot in the second stage of World Cup qualifying following a comfortable 6-0 win over St. Vincent and the Grenadines on Wednesday night in Bradenton, Florida. The U.S. team now has a three point and +17 goal differential over second place Suriname, which it will face on Friday.
November 08, 2018
November 08, 2018
It is pointless to break down each and every game of this first stage since the scores are so lopsided. As for how the U.S. team has played so far in the tournament, I think they’ve been find. It is actually hard for a team to play in a tournament where it is expected to win between 6-10 goals every game and be impressive. Boredom and frustration both sit in at times when scoring becomes common place.
The U.S. team was actually scoreless against St. Vincent & the Grenadines on Wednesday night, to the chagrin of American soccer fans on social media. But while the U.S. team’s finishing wasn’t great at times, that is what happens in soccer after being a lopsided favorite in every game.
There has been talk about the U.S. team’s style in this tournament, where it frequently attacks down the flanks and sends in a cross for many goals. Some are questioning if the team needs to play down the middle. This team is capable of doing so.
I think Ramos’ team has played quite well so far. It has been expected to win with huge margins every game, and so far has delivered. It’s not always beautiful but it is pragmatic and effective. I think that deserves some real appreciation from American fans. CONCACAF is rarely pretty and doing whatever simply works is often best.
There is going to be a bit of a break between the first stage and the second stage and that will allow Ramos to essentially recalibrate his team from the expectations of having to win in lopsided fashion to simply winning.
On another note, this new format of U-20 World Cup qualifying has truly been awful. Most of the games are extremely lopsided and group winners should not be decided by which teams can run up the score the most on small countries. This first stage has been a waste of time to the bigger countries and embarrassing for others. There needs to be some sort of play-in tournament between the tiny countries and the top 12 from the region.
Changes on the way
Teams that qualify for the second stage are allowed to make six changes to their rosters and all changes must come from the preliminary 35 player roster that was submitted early in October.
Ramos will make changes although he might not use the full six. There is also still one more game to play and injuries are still possible. So nothing is finalized yet.
Two players ASN expects to be added to the roster are Nordsjaelland winger Jonathan Amon and Ajax right back/wing Sergino Dest. Amon is a regular with Nordsjaelland’s first team and his success there saw him earn his first U.S. national team cap in October.
There are also other options, and another player possibly to be added is Hannover forward Sebastian Soto who has been scoring goals in droves this season for the club’s U-19 team.
It is unclear which players Amon, Dest, and Soto will replace.
Putting together this roster has been difficult for Ramos, who saw injuries, conflicts with European clubs, MLS clubs, and the full national team get in the way from him naming his best team. While he should be able to have enough to qualify, a stronger team will be needed to make a run at the World Cup next May.
The team’s attack is in pretty good shape as it is right now without full national team players Tim Weah and Josh Sargent or other players Ramos would like to have like Andrew Carleton and Nick Taitague. Central midfield has done well in this tournament and Ramos might not want to mix up the chemistry by adding players here for the second stage (the injured Richard Ledezma and Chris Durkin could be strong options at the World Cup).
The biggest upgrade Ramos would likely want to have for the second stage but probably won’t get is Chris Richards. The talented central defender from Alabama is at Bayern Munich, on loan from FC Dallas, and is a regular starter for the club’s U-19 team and trains with the first team during international breaks. Getting Richards released, even for the second stage, might be difficult as clubs are never required to release players for youth competitions – even in international windows.
Unlike previous cycles, this team is thin in central defense behind presumed starters Richards and Mark McKenzie.
The bottom line is that Ramos might only make a few changes to his team and roll with most of the current group.
Huge week for Americans in Europe
In other news outside of the U-20 team, it has been quite a week for Americans in European play. On Tuesday, three Americans played in the Champions League: Ethan Horvath, Christian Pulisic, and Weston McKennie. Horvath posted a clean sheet for Club Brugge in a 4-0 win over Monaco. Pulisic started for Dortmund in a 2-0 loss to Atletico Madrid. McKennie came off the bench in the 56th minute for Schalke in a 2-0 win over Turkey’s Galatasaray.
It is impressive because it is the first time since December 2012 that three American players have played in the Champions League on one day. On December 4, Anderlecht’s Sacha Kljestan, Sporting’s Oguchi Onyewu, and Schalke’s Jermaine Jones all played in the Champions League group stage final round. The following day on December 5, Nordsjaelland’s Michael Parkhurst also played against Chelsea.
Unlike 2012 where only one of the four players would go on to feature heavily for the U.S. national team moving forward, this year’s group seems more likely to be playing a big part of the national team – regardless of the coach.
In addition, Romain Gall and Kenny Saief could feature in the Europa League on Thursday.
Long named defender of the year
Aaron Long, 26, was named the MLS Defender of the Year and I spoke to him recently for Soccer America.
There were a lot of good defenders and Long has certainly made a fair case. His play this year has seen him get a deserved call-up to the national team.
But Long’s success is also credit to a Red Bulls organization that built a great backline which included trading for Tim Parker, signing Kemar Lawrence, and developing Aaron Long. Long is very much a product of the Red Bulls organization which brought him in after he failed to stay at two MLS clubs. The Red Bulls converted him to central defense and put him on a track which began with the club’s USL team. He promptly won the USL defender of the year in 2016 and has never looked back.
Long has succeeded but the Red Bulls have built up the best backline in the league and those players all help each other. It’s a huge testament to the organization.