Photo by ISIphotos.com
With the Under-20 World Cup now underway, and the U.S. Under-20 team ready to make its debut on Saturday vs. Germany (10am, ESPN Classic/ESPN360.com), there is plenty of talk about the team's lack of star power or name recognition, but this year's installment of the U.S. Under-20s is certainly not lacking for talent.
There are no media darlings like Freddy Adu and Jozy Altidore, no established senior national team starters like Michael Bradley, but the current U.S. Under-20s boast a well-balanced collection of players that could wind up having just as much quality professional talent as the 2007 edition.
Whether you have defender Ike Opara, widely-regarded as one of the best young defenders to come through the youth national team pipeline in years, or Jared Jeffrey (pictured above) and Dilly Duka, two highly-skilled midfielders capable of controlling a game, or playmaker Mikkel Diskerud, a Norwegian-born standout who could be the star of this team, there are plenty of players for scouts to take note of and for U.S. fans to become acquainted with.
The 2007 team set the bar high for this U-20 team. The memories of Danny Szetela's performance vs. Poland, Jozy Altidore's two-goal effort vs. Brazil, Freddy Adu's dominating form throughout the tournament and Michael Bradley's mature and imposing presence as midfield captain left many American fans feeling confident about the future of the U.S. national team.
The current crop may be further away from having a national team impact, but it should also be noted that this is the first U.S. Under-20 team to have age-eligible standouts pass on it for professional commitments in Altidure and Adu. Add those two players to this group and you realize just how much talent is in the American Under-20 pipeline.
Of the players actually in Egypt, several will draw more interest than others. Opara was considered a player who could have gone No. 1 in the 2009 MLS Draft, arguably the deepest draft in MLS history, before choosing to return to Wake Forest. Diskerud is a standout in the Norwegian League with unique ability who hasn't been seen by many U.S. Socccer fans. The same can be said for Jared Jeffrey, who plies his trade with Belgian power Club Brugge. Then you have FC Dallas' Brek Shea, who just might be the breakout player of this group.
Here is the roster for those of you who haven't seen it or don't know it yet:
GOALKEEPERS– Sean Johnson, Josh Lambo, Brian Perk
DEFENDERS– Gale Agbossoumonde, Kyle Davies, Jorge Flores, Ike Opara, Gerson Mayen, Sheanon Williams
MIDFIELDERS-Daniel Cruz, Mikkel Diskerud, Dilly Duka, Jared Jeffrey, Aaron Maund, Brian Ownby, Dillon Powers, Michael Stephens, Bryan Arguez
FORWARDS– Peri Marosevic, Brek Shea, Tony Taylor
The U.S. under-20s have a tough group, with Germany, Cameroon and South Korea rounding out what is regarded as the tournament's Group of Death. The Germans will be missing most of their pool's best players due to lack of releases by professional clubs, a development that just might help the Americans advance out of the group if it can manage a result on Saturday.
Whether this installment of the U.S. Under-20s progresses to the knockout rounds or not, what will ultimately matter is the impression these players will make in their first appearances on the big stage, in their first performances for U.S. fans who only read their names and have yet to see much of the next generation of American standouts, a generation that will begin to lose its anonymity on Saturday.
Now, onto some free kicks:
With Jay DeMerit'savailability for next month's U.S. World Cup qualifiers in doubt, could this spell an opportunity for newly-eligible Edgar Castillo? Don't be surprised to see him called into the group to join the squad in training, but not be active for either qualifier against Honduras or Costa Rica.
If there's a defender who could slot back into the national team mix with DeMerit sidelined, it is Kansas City Wizards defender Jimmy Conrad, who had been enjoying a run of stellar perform before a few key errors in the Wizards' match against FC Dallas. He atoned or this mistakes with a game-winning goal.
"If you're going by form in the league and who deserves to be in the mix, Jimmy is definitely someone who deserves to have a look," KC head coach Peter Vermes said of Conrad. "He's been dominant in some games and really helping push the team to a new level."
Jonathan Bornstein's impressive performance vs. Trinidad & Tobago should lead to another start at left back vs. Honduras, with Carlos Bocanegra partnering with Oguchi Onyewu in central defense. Chad Marshall should serve as the back-up central defender for both of them, with Conrad another possibility for that slot.
Houston defender Geoff Cameron is someone else we have repeatedly mentioned as worthy of a look, but we don't see him getting one until the January national team camp.
If you don't know what Ike Opara looks like, you should be able to spot him based on the unique haircut he recently got (assuming he keeps it):
Brian Ching was given a new four-year contract by the Houston Dynamo this week, helping Houston lock up its goal-scoring forward for what should be the rest of his career. While it is good news, what remains to be seen is what will happen with Ricardo Clark and Stuart Holden. Both are expected to make winter moves to Europe.
Chivas USA has lost midfielder Bojan Stepanovic is set to miss between four to six weeks after suffering a dislocated patella in his right knee during Chivas USA's friendly vs. Chivas de Guadalajara on Wednesday.
In other Chivas USA news, forward Ante Razov underwent ankle surgery that will sideline him for between four to six months. Razov had a procedure to repair his Achilles tendon and remove bone spurs in his left ankle.
You might have heard about Chris Armas being chosen to go into the Chicago Fire's Ring of Fire. While the ceremony was originally slated to be a pre-game ceremony on Oct. 22, the day of Chicago's match vs. Chivas USA. Fire officials tell us the ceremony will now be a half-time ceremony.
One of SBI's most popular series is making its way back. The SBI Questions will be back next week and we have lined up an interview subject who should draw a good number of questions. We won't say who it is just yet, but you can find out on Monday.
That's all for now. What do you think of the U.S. Under-20 national team? Interested to find out more about this group? Think it could go even further than the 2007 team? Excited to see players like Opara and Diskerud?
Share your thoughts below.