It’s been over a month since the United States under-20 men’s team fell in a 2-1 defeat to a tough Ecuadorian side. Despite crashing out of the tournament in just the quarterfinals, this group of 17 to 19-year-old kids has given a great deal of hope to all United States soccer fans — here’s how and why this tournament was so important.
The US U-20 side has lost in the quarterfinals in each of the last 4 U-20 world cups. Just seeing that stat would make it seem like there’s been little-to-no progress in the last eight years (U-20 world cups happen every 2 years to allow youth prospects a chance at playing in at least one). That, however, is far from the truth. This U-20 side that Tab Ramos put together was possibly the best one yet and should have every USMNT fan itching to see what these players have in store.
Winners and losers of the tournament:
Paxton Pomykal: Coming into the tournament, Pomykal was well known among those that paid close attention to US soccer, but now he’s become a household name. The FC Dallas prospect impressed with his immense work rate and ability both going forward and tracking back to win the ball back. Although he didn’t record a goal or an assist, he was the engine of the midfield and was extremely impressive. Pomykal wore the captain’s armband in all four of the matches he started as well. The 19-year-old was recently named an MLS All-Star as well and is a regular starter for his club.
Tim Weah: Weah is the most well-known of the bunch, which usually means he gets the most criticism. There was a lot of doubt on how he would perform after a bit of a slow start, but Weah consistently showed flashes of brilliance even when it seemed like he struggled (like this beauty that sent the US to the knockout stages). Weah didn’t play at his preferred winger position for the entire tournament, but he still managed to flash his technical ability throughout the tournament. He finished with two goals and an assist in the tournament and earned himself a move to Ligue 1 side Lille for around $11.4 million.
Sebastian Soto: Soto shattered expectations with his performance in this tournament. The Hannover 96 man proved to be clinical and always in the right place at the right time. He finished the tournament with four goals in five games, including a two-goal outing in the United States upset of tournament-favorites France. After his impressive tournament, Hannover made an effort to retain him and just recently extended his contract. He even bagged a brace in their first pre-season friendly just a couple days ago.
Chris Richards: Richards was clearly our best defender throughout the tournament. He looked strong, won every header that came his way, and locked down opposing forwards. Many are already dubbing him as the best CB prospect we’ve ever had. His performance could help him break through at Bayern Munich, where he currently plays for their Bayern II side, but hopefully, he can jump up to the first team in the future off the back of his impressive tournament.
Sergino Dest: Dest was shaky in some cases, but it’s clear his ability and potential are through the roof. He looked great going forward as an attacking full-back, and his defending was good, although inconsistent at times. Dest has earned a couple starts in Ajax’s pre-season friendlies already this year. He’ll look to push for competitive minutes throughout this season.
Other names to know: Chris Gloster, left back; Mark McKenzie, center back; Alex Mendez, center mid;
Aboubacar Keita: Keita played opposite Chris Richards for the majority of the tournament, and they seemed like complete opposites. Keita was poor in 1-on-1 defending, tracking runs, and he turned it over far too often when playing out of the back. He had some bright moments, and he did look confident stepping forward and playing balls between the lines on occasion, but he was turnover prone and not good enough defensively.
Chris Durkin: Durkin wasn’t terrible. He had a great game against Nigeria. The rest of the tournament, he looked slow and struggled to complete passes–the 2 things he can’t afford to do as a holding midfielder. His role was to put out fires defensively and spring attacks with good passes, but instead he struggled to track his man and win the ball while turning it over numerous times as well.
Konrad de la Fuente: The youngest player on this roster struggled throughout the tournament. At just 17, he’s received lots of hype due to him being in Barcelona’s infamous “La Masia” academy. He’s an extremely technical winger that likes to dribble. Unfortunately for him, he failed to live up to the hype. He wasn’t decisive and held on to the ball too long. His ceiling is still extremely high, and he’ll be eligible again for the 2021 U-20 WC, but he has work to do to take that next step. Now, he didn’t have an awful tournament, but he wasn’t what everyone expected. He’ll look to get back on track with Barcelona’s youth side this year.
Uly Llanez and Richy Ledezma: These guys aren’t on here because they played poorly. In fact, they played spectacularly when they got minutes. Unfortunately, they sat behind Konrad de la Fuente for much of the tournament. They both have very bright futures, but it’s disappointing that we didn’t see them as much as we could have.
Wrap-up of the tournament:
The US lost just two games in this tournament–the opener, a 2-1 defeat to Ukraine, who won the entire tournament, and a 2-1 defeat to Ecuador in the quarterfinals, who lost in the semifinals. This U-20 side impressed. They beat the tournament-favorites France in a thrilling 3-2 victory. They bounced back from an opening-night loss and dominated a tough Nigeria side. The US made it known that we can produce elite talents, too. This is the golden generation for the US, and fans should be thrilled.
We shouldn’t get ahead of ourselves yet and start demanding results immediately, but the potential in the ranks of the USMNT and USYNT is sky high. This is the best and deepest group of young players US soccer has ever seen. Should we only get success from 25% of these players, we’d still end up with plenty of talent moving forward. This was also the first time we entered the U-20 WC without a single college player, which is extremely encouraging. That means that US soccer is finally understanding the importance of developmental academies and real club soccer, and we also have numerous guys getting minutes in Europe. The potential in this squad is ridiculous. Get ready, US soccer fans. The future is bright.