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Under-20 World Cup

U.S. Under-20 Men's National Team: The SBI Breakdown

At the end of the day, the U.S. Under-20 Men’s National Team simply came up against a better team. There are few ways to spin it. Venezuela is and was, by all measures, the superior team for 90 minutes and beyond in Sunday’s quarterfinal clash.

Sometimes, you just run into better teams. It happens, but all you can do in those scenarios is give yourself a chance to win. The U.S. did just that but, in the end, they came up short.

It was a World Cup push with plenty of highs and lows. It was a tournament that started with a scare and two rapid-fire goals to Ecuador. It was a tournament that saw a 6-0 pounding of New Zealand and a narrow 1-0 defeat of Senegal. There were several bad moments and plenty of good ones as the U.S. put together yet another strong tournament run.

With that in mind, here’s a look at several of the big takeaways from the Americans’ performance at the U-2o World Cup:

SARGENT BOOSTS REPUTATION IN A BIG WAY

Heading into the World Cup, Josh Sargent’s inclusion was the biggest surprise. Sure, he was coming off a strong campaign in Under-17 World Cup qualifying, and, yes, the team did need help at forward, but was Sargent ready for this level?

The answer was an overwhelming yes. Sargent was more than sufficient; at times, he was dominant. Playing against opposition several years older, Sargent proved an absolute force for an American attack that genuinely needed it. From goals to hold-up play to clever runs to open up space, Sargent brought it all while playing well above his label as a mere 17 year old.

He was kept quiet in the quarterfinal, but that shouldn’t diminish what was a strong tournament. At the time of the Americans’ exit, Sargent is tied for the Golden Boot with four goals in five matches.

The question is, obviously, what’s next? Sargent had already been a major target of clubs overseas and had reportedly signed a deal with Werder Bremen. When, and if, that becomes official, we’ll know a bit more but, for now, it’s quite clear that Sargent has rapidly climbed the list of most promising American prospects.

DEPTH IN DEFENSE BODES WELL

Centerback depth was certainly a key theme for the U.S. throughout both qualifying and the World Cup and, after a strong performance, those centerbacks now look poised to compete with one another on a bigger stage for years to come.

Cameron Carter-Vickers, Erik Palmer-Brown, Justen Glad and Tommy Redding all showed fairly well throughout the tournament as each was given time to shine throughout the five games. Tab Ramos knew he had depth at the centerback position and, through a variety of factors, that depth came into play as the U.S. allowed just five goals in as many games.

Looking forward, there’s little doubt that Carter-Vickers is the brightest prospect of the bunch. The Tottenham centerback is one of the most prized prospects in the U.S. pool and looks to be set for more first team minutes on the club level next season. Palmer-Brown also did himself plenty of favors, even if his miss in the quarterfinal loss will overshadow what was a strong captain’s performance throughout the tournament.

As for Glad and Redding, both have a chance to prove themselves further in a strong club situation. The two should return to their clubs and earn solid minutes, minutes which will be vital for Glad due to his early-season injury.

The pool, in many ways, is deep when it comes to young centerbacks. Matt Miazga is just 21. Walker Zimmerman is 24. Even John Brooks is only 24. However, this current crop of U-20s certainly made their case in what is certainly a position with plenty of promise for 2018 and beyond.

ADAMS DEVELOPING INTO STAR MIDFIELDER

Aside from Sargent, the team’s big winner might have been Tyler Adams. Throughout the tournament, the New York Red Bulls midfielder was an absolute bulldog in midfield as he helped anchor a central unit that had very little depth.

Following the injury to Gedion Zelalem, the U.S. was without a No. 10, forcing several tactical switches. With Derrick Jones inserted into the lineup, Adams and Eryk Williamson were given room to roam. While Jones and Williamson both had strong moments throughout, it was Adams that was the standout player.

After breaking onto the scene with a stunning goal against Chelsea two years ago, Adams’ steady ascent has been well documented. He did well on the USL level before making the step up to MLS while showing the attitude and ability to play in that central midfield role. It carried over to the World Cup where his workrate was vital for the U.S. throughout.

The Red Bulls have made a habit of developing talented young Americans, players like Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley and Matt Miazga. Adams may very well be the next on that list after yet another strong international showing.

STILL SOME CATCHING UP TO DO

There’s no shame in a quarterfinal defeat, and there’s no need to over-criticize a youth competition. Youth trophies and senior success rarely correlate, even if it’s easy to say it’s better to win competition’s than lose them.

What matters most, more than trophies or deep runs, is progress. The U.S. U-20s showed that progress throughout their five-game run, but there’s still much, much more to be done on the youth level.

Following the defeat to Venezuela, Ramos said that this group was the first American team to truly believe it could win the World Cup. It’s hard to argue with that, all things considered, as the U.S. did look like a team capable of making that run. A header away from beating Venezuela, the U.S. very much had a chance to advance and maybe, just maybe, make a real at it.

This group had better players than those that came before, players more developed and refined than in years past. It’s a credit to the changes and improvements in the development system and a bigger focus on youth developed by MLS clubs. American prospects are simply better than they were a decade ago, and it shows.

Now, were there deficiencies? Sure. The style of play still isn’t quite where it needs to be. Without Gedion Zelalem, the U.S. lacked that true passing central midfield, even if Derrick Jones and Tyler Adams were beasts in box-to-box roles. Much like the senior team, fullback remains a weakness while set piece defense remains an adventure.

But, you can see the building blocks. In two straight cycles, the U.S. has shown progress and demonstrated that the moves made in youth development are starting to bear fruit. The country as a whole is getting better at identifying and molding young talents, and this U-20 group showed that, while there’s work to be done, the program is on the right path.

6 comments
  • johnnyrazor

    The Bremen sporting director told a German paper that they do not expect to be able to sign Sargent now that he has become known by larger clubs. Its my understanding that no deal can be signed until his 18th birthday so nothing will truly be decided until next February.

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  • Gary Page

    A good run, especially when you consider that some good and one great player were missing.

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  • Lost in Space

    Are we making progress…Yes. Especially along the spine of the team.
    CB is looking like it’s going to be a position of real depth over the coming years. Miazga from the last cycle; CCV, EPB, & Glad from this cycle, and Babir from the upcoming cycle all look good. When you add in Brooks & Zimmerman it appears as if we’ve got a nice stable of options.
    CM has a number of interesting options as well. Acosta, Hyndman, Gooch, Roldan from the last cycle; De La Torre, Mckennie, Adams Taitague & Akale this cycle, than Lederman & Reyna from the upcoming cycle.
    Striker/Forward looks OK, but few true stand-outs at this point. Rubin was the class of the last cycle, but can’t seem to stay healthy. Arriola is starting to make strides. Wright & Perez are making progress…but weren’t released. Lennon looks decent, but can he step it up to be an option at the next level. Sargent & Weah have promise, but aren’t there yet. Thankfully Wood & Jozy are still relatively young and can help carry use while Morris & others develop.

    But there are still area’s where our team(s) are lagging. This is the 3rd cycle where out wide defenders have been less than stellar. Granted this cycle we were missing a some of our best prospects, but overall we don’t seem to be producing as many quality options for these spots. Payne, Moore, Requejo have all stagnated in their development. Trusty & Herrera didn’t appear up to the challenge at this U-20 WC. Fossey was injured and unable to play, Olosunde wasn’t released this cycle. Only Danny Acosta & Yedlin seemed to have shown well these past 2 cycles…although Farfan showed some promise (wish he could have been called up).
    Keeper, once a strength of the US, seems to be a bit of a concern. Yes we still have Howard, but after him the options are fairly pedestrian. Guzan hasn’t lived up to expectations. Hamid, S. Johnson & Cropper, can’t stay healthy or consistent, Horvath & Steffen show potential but have a ways to go. Was not impressed with Klinsmann at this WC.

    We’re getting there and have some very nice players emerging, but we are still a ways away from truly having the players to challenge consistently.

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      • Lost in Space

        I did mention him under the striker/forward section along with Wright as players who were progressing, but weren’t released for this cycles WC. I’m sure I forgot some players, but there’s only so many I can list/track.
        Ultimately it’s a numbers game….we have to hope that we have more successes than failures, and right now we’re having success down the spine….but seem to be having stagnation at Outside Back & Keeper. Which, IMO, is a concern since for me if you have a strong defense you can take more risks further up the field. Right now I don’t think we’ve got a foundation (defense) that is strong enough to allow riskier player selections…and that is why we see guys like Zusi, Wondo, Jones, and some of the others continue to linger with the team.

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    • Brian from Kansas

      Klinsmann standing on his head against Venezuela wasn’t quite on the Howard vs Belgium level, but it was as close as I’ve seen since then. Besides his misplay vs Ecuador, I can’t remember any glaring miscues. All I really expect from young goaltenders is shot-stopping. The organization and leadership come with maturity.

      We’ll still need an intermediate option between this age group and Howard, but no one is really separating themselves at this point. A little disconcerting we don’t have one obviously superior goalie in the 23-29 age group.

      Have you forgotten about pulisic and green? Granted, Green still has a long (long) way to go, but CP is undoubtedly world class and would’ve been a difference-maker in Korea (too bad he was busy winning the DFB-Pokal…)

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