This summer was a nice measuring stick of how well our U-23 and U-20 squads stack up to the rest of the world. The USMNT had their U-23 squad at the Toulon Tournament in France, while the U-20 squad was at the U-20 World Cup in New Zealand. Each squad has distinct differences, with all players vying for a spot on Jurgen Klinsmann’s full senior team.
The U-23 squad as a whole was a bit of a disappointment. They went 3-2 at the Toulon Tournament, despite struggling during the competition. They lost to CONCACAF rivals Costa Rica in group play, while beating Qatar and the Netherlands. They opened the tournament with a loss to France, the hosts. They needed a perfect scenario to progress to the 3rd place game, which miraculously happened. They went on to beat England 2-1 to capture bronze.
It wasn’t all bad though. Stanford phenom Jordan Morris showed that he was the best player on the team and deserving of Klinsmann’s recurring call ups. Seemingly every positive play that the US had was either caused by or flowed through Morris. Julian Green on the other hand, has been extremely disappointing ever since his World Cup goal. Club troubles aside, Green simply hasn’t dominated or nearly been the presence that he was hyped up to be for the US. He had moments where his quality showed, but they were few and far between.
The U-20 squad on the other hand, has loads to be excited about.
They did struggle a bit in qualifying, but eventually booked their ticket to the U-20 World Cup in New Zealand. Tab Ramos’ squad was set a few weeks ago, and only had one notable absence. That was Andrija Novakovic, who was left off the squad at the request of his club, Reading. Despite only signing recently, Novakovic had been playing brilliantly for the U-20 team and Reading’s youth system. Reading asked for him to stay home because he is likely to compete for a first team spot next season. Ramos also left one spot open in his initial roster, which was filled by Gedion Zelalem. Zelalem had been waiting for FIFA to approve his one-time switch to play for the United States. Despite coming close to the deadline, the paperwork came through, and Zelalem got the roster spot.
The squad has both present and future impact players at almost every position on the field. Zelalem has made headlines and has a bright future in the midfield. Emerson Hyndman is already a first team staple at Fulham since coming through their youth academy, while also wearing the captain’s armband for the US. Paul Arriola had a solid tournament, and will likely get some first team looks as he returns to Club Tijuana. The US midfield future is very bright with these three.
The forward line also has some big names. Rubio Rubin has already featured for Jurgen Klinsmann, while starting in Europe at FC Utrecht. Bradford Jamieson IV and Maki Tall each got injured during the tournament, but showed they can score while on the pitch. Injuries made the forward line very thin and low on options, but they still had a pretty good tournament as a group.
The defense was a surprising strength of the tournament. Zach Steffen played every minute in goal, making some awesome penalty stops. He did make some costly errors, reminding us that most of these kids are in their teens and have plenty of time to develop. The fullbacks were the weakest part of this team, similarly to the senior squad. They never developed a rhythm or flowed with the rest of the squad, while making a few crucial errors that led to goals.
The centrebacks on the other hand, were a revelation. No one knew quite what to expect out of this position, but most were pleasantly surprised. Matt Miazga and Cameron Carter-Vickers were the main pairing, and they were awesome. Miazga is with NY Red Bulls in the MLS, while Carter-Vickers just re-signed with Tottenham. Carter-Vickers also happened to be the youngest player in the squad at only 17, yet played with a maturity much beyond his years. He is eligible for both the United States and England, so hopefully Klinsmann gets him capped before England has a chance to recognize his exceptional talent. Erik Palmer-Brown and Conor Donovan also got some playing time in the back as well, proving just how deep this group was.
The US started the tournament off well, with a 2-1 victory over Myanmar. Maki Tall and Emerson Hyndman got the goals and the Young Yanks got a crucial 3 points. The second match was even better, dominating the hosts New Zealand in route to a 4-0 victory. It wasn’t all roses though, as Ukraine took the final group match 3-0. The US went through as the 2nd place team in the group.
The US got a solid draw in the Round of 16, and took the opportunity with a 1-0 victory over Colombia. That matched them up with Serbia in the quarterfinals. It was a hard-fought match, and after 90 minutes and extra time, there was no winner. Penalties decided this one. The normal 5 shots weren’t enough as the penalty shootout went to the 9th round. Serbia put one in the back of the net while fullback John Requejo had his attempt saved, sending Serbia through to the semifinals. Serbia would go on to win the entire tournament, making the result just a little more bittersweet.
The important thing is that all these players continue to grow and develop. If the past is any indication, at least a couple of these players will become part of the full senior time in the future. We will continue to keep you updated on all of the up-and-coming stars for the US National Team here at the Center Circle.