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U-20 analysis

With the U-20 World Cup roster deadline approaching, key questions emerge

With a little more than a week to go, the competition is tight for the final roster spots on the U-20 World Cup team. Some players are locks, some are questionable, some players are on the outside looking in. ASN's Brian Sciaretta has been covering the team the entire cycle and here is his best guess where things stand at the moment. 
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
April 24, 2019
7:00 AM
ON MAY 10, the deadline will arrive for Tab Ramos to name his roster for the upcoming U-20 World Cup and there are still a lot of issues at play. In 2017, Ramos took all of the time given to him before naming his World Cup roster and there is plenty of reason to think he will do the same in 2019.

While some of the players are clear locks, there are a whole host of other issues such as getting players released, deciding whether or not they are fit or in form, or determining if they will play with the full national team instead. So over the next week, here are the issues to follow.


Brady Scott has been injured but returned at least to the point where he was on the bench for Koln’s reserve team on April 1 (to this point, that has been the only roster he has made since December). He was the started during November’s CONCACAF run but that may no longer be the case, even if he is healthy. But his health is a huge question mark at the moment.

David Ochoa has also been making a case in 2019 as he is the regular starter for the Real Monarchs in USL and has signed a contract with Real Salt Lake. Ochoa is promising but is still very young. He is eligible for the 2021 U-20 World Cup and it is rare to have a starting goalkeeper who is playing up a cycle. It might happen here – especially if Scott is not fully healthy but it still might happen even if he is. 

Ochoa was recently in net for an ugly 5-1 loss to New Mexico but if he plays well down the stretch – or makes his Real Salt Lake debut due to the injury to Nick Rimando – he might be the clear number one.

But it seems as if the starting goalkeeper position is up for grabs right now in the final weeks before the tournament. Beyond Scott and Ochoa, CJ Dos Santos and Trey Muse seem to be the candidates for the last backup position.

Right back

Without a doubt, Sergino Dest is the starting right back for the U.S. U-20 team. But who Ramos takes as his backup is not yet settled.

Manny Perez is playing right now for North Carolina FC (on loan from Celtic) but has been appearing as a wing at times. He has a lot of experience with this team.

Julian Araujo is also one of the players in contention to play up a cycle but his versatility to play central probably gives him a leg up over Perez. Araujo has been playing well when given an opportunity at the LA Galaxy and even made his first start last weekend.

The Perez vs. Araujo battle for the backup right back position was once close but Araujo has probably opened up a sizable gap. It is possible that Ramos might bring Araujo and Perez if he believes that there is a good chance Araujo would need to play central defense.

Left back

Chris Gloster is the starting left back for this team and the New Jersey native was solid for the team in CONCACAF.


The backup position probably goes to Matt Real who was the captain during qualifying and playing regularly for the Bethlehem Steel. Like Araujo, Real provides cover at central defense.

There are not many issues at this position as Gloster and Real are continuing to play steady minutes.

Others in the running are Sam Vines and Edwin Lara but both are distant options at best.

Central defense

This is by far the biggest area of concern for the U.S. team. Right now, there is only one settled player in Chris Richards – who is a lock. Everything else is a huge concern.

Mark Mckenzie recently had an appendectomy and should recover soon. That is not the only issue. Philadelphia Union still might not cooperate in releasing him for the World Cup. This decision will come down to the wire.

Aboubacar Keita should also be on the inside of the bubble but is not playing on loan with the Richmond Kickers due to an injured hamstring. Will he recover to play ahead of the World Cup?

Having one of Keita and McKenzie is a must for Tab Ramos but neither are in a secure place to make this team.

There are other options. James Sands has played both central defense and defensive midfield for New York City although he has never fully been in Ramos’ plans. Chris Durkin, Matt Real, and Julian Araujo can play out of position in central defense.

Central defense depth was never optimal for this group and now injuries and release issues are emerging at the absolute worst time.

Defensive midfield

In an ideal world, Chris Durkin would start in this position. Durkin is coming off of two very strong camps in 2019 and Ramos likely feels he can depend on him.

While Edwin Cerrillo has never played a United States youth national team at any level, look for him to make the team. He has been terrific for Dallas and has improved with every passing game with his passing range and defensive capabilities.

If Ramos feels inclined to bring a third No. 6 due to Durkin being needed in central defense, it will probably go to Brandon Servania who has continuity with the team from qualifying. It can also go to Christian Cappis who is a No. 8 but can fill in at the No. 6. Juan Pablo Torres is likely out due to the rise of Cerrillo and Durkin since qualifying.

No. 8 and No. 10

This is the strength of this team although it is very unclear how many players at this position Ramos will take.

Paxton Pomykal and Alex Mendez are unquestionable locks and both will get opportunities to start at the World Cup.

Richard Ledezma is finally playing for PSV’s U-19 team but is yet to go a full 90. He is so good that Ramos will probably take him but his situation is not ideal.

Christian Cappis improved his stock at the last camp where he scored against France and Japan. His versatility really helps him to make this team – as does his ability to play a physical game. He has only played a handful of minutes with Hobro but his last camp might have him on the inside of the bubble.

Do not discount Frankie Amaya either. While the first overall draft pick hasn’t played much for FC Cincinnati, Amaya’s loan to Orange County SC in the USL will give him minutes. Amaya is versatile and knows the team well. He has a chance to make it.

Brenden Aaronson is making an enormous push right now and has been a great story in the first eight weeks of the 2019 MLS season. He might find himself the victim of a tough numbers game, despite the fact he would make it any other year. Also, Philadelphia might also decline his release even if Ramos wants him.

Wingers and Forwards

Konrad de la Funete is a lock but that is about it. Every other decision will be based on which players are available, healthy, and released.

Regarding Josh Sargent and Tim Weah, Weah is more likely to play at the U-20 World Cup. He’s playing occasional minutes with Celtic but is decent whenever given the chance. The problem is that the Scottish Cup final comes the day before the U.S. team’s opening game at the World Cup. Would Celtic allow him to miss that and would Paris St. Germain also sign off on a release.

Sebastian Soto is also likely to go to the World Cup although he played behind Justin Rennicks during the CONCACAF Championships.

Justin Rennicks returning to the field will be key to his chances. Ramos trusted him during the CONCACAF run and Rennicks was very solid. His mobility and strength paid dividends.

Ayo Akinola is also more likely to go than not although if Weah is released, perhaps that makes Akinola vulnerable.

On the wings, Jonathan Amon is back for Nordsjaelleand and he should make the U-20 team although most likely as a super-sub late in the game when the U.S. team needs a goal.

The big question is Ulysses Llanez. The talented winger is now at Wolfsburg but can only play in occasional friendlies and scrimmages. Ramos is prioritizing playing minutes and Llanez has played sparingly since November. He’s very talented but unfortunately due to the timing of his move abroad and his birthday (which came after the registration date in Germany), he can only play in friendlies and scrimmages. Llanez will still probably go, but he is not a lock for this team. He is eligible for next cycle as well. If everyone were to become available, it could put Llanez in a tough situation.

The situation over Nick Taitague is perhaps the most disappointing. Ramos has rated Taitague very highly for years and wanted to bring him to the World Cup in 2017 only to have Schalke deny his release. Taitague was the best player at the 2019 U-20 January camp but is once again injured as he has been for most of the past two years.

Prediction and thoughts

Nine days out, this is what I have with the following odds (Lock, highly likely, likely, questionable)

1) David Ochoa (Lock)
2) Brady Scott (Questionable)
3) CJ Dos Santos (Likely)
4) Sergino Dest (Lock)
5) Julian Araujo (Highly likely)
6) Chris Richards (Lock)
7) Mark McKenzie (Questionable)
8) Chris Gloster (Lock)
9) Matthew Real (Highly Likely)
10) Chris Durkin (Lock)
11) Edwin Cerrillo (Questionable)
12) Paxton Pomykal (Lock)
13) Alex Mendez (Lock)
14) Richard Ledezma (Likely)
15) Christian Cappis (Questionable)
16) Konrad de la Fuente (Lock)
17) Jonathan Amon (Highly likely)
18) Ulysses Llanez (Questionable)
19) Sebastian Soto (Highly likely)
20) Justin Rennicks (Likely)
21) Ayo Akinola (Likely)

Still with a chance to make the team: Aboubacar Keita, Brandon Servania, Brenden Aaronson, Manny Perez, James Sands, Frankie Amaya, Tim Weah*, Josh Sargent*
*- denotes possible senior team duties or release issues.

If that is indeed the team, it could be quite strong but certainly has some major issues of concern. Is Ochoa ready to start at a U-20 World Cup at his age? Can Ramos get by in central defense with his back up options coming down to players playing there out of position? Are Akinola, Soto, or Rennicks lethal enough finishers for this major tournament? What kind of form is Llanez in at the moment?

This team has the talent to go very far but also needs a lot of luck in certain areas.

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