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U.S. U-20s learn valuable lessons at CONCACAF U-20 Championship

Tab Ramos


The U.S. Under-20 Men’s National Team accomplished their goal of qualifying for the FIFA Under-20 World Cup later this year, but they did it in somewhat underwhelming fashion.

Endowed with a squad chock full of professionals, the U.S. stumbled out of the gate at the CONCACAF Under-20 Championships in Jamaica, drawing Guatemala and falling to Panama. Tab Ramos’ side recovered in the final four matches, shutting out the rest of their opponents and earning their place in New Zealand, but the damage from the first two matches knocked down some of the lofty expectations on the team and added a few more helpings of pressure.

The result was that the team learned a tried and true lesson the hard way, that any game in CONCACAF is a difficult one, despite what the outlook seems on paper.

“I would say the players learned a lot, and the coaching staff as well,” Ramos told SBI in a phone interview. “I’ll tell you there (in Jamaica), no matter how much preparation you have…no matter who you play in friendly games leading up to that competition, it doesn’t matter the quality of the opponent that you face.

“When you get to the CONCACAF qualifiers, there’s nothing like it. Every game is a final.”

One of the biggest lessons the team learned early on is that a one-goal lead in a CONCACAF cup competition is almost never enough to put away an opponent.

Outside of the Aruba rout and the final match against El Salvador, the U.S. failed to finish enough of their chances to ease the pressure that had been slowly building up over the course of the tournament. Ramos even said it was a sigh of relief when Paul Arriola’s 68th minute goal snaked its way across the goal line to give the U.S. some breathing room.

“I think one of the things that’s very important to us is recognizing the importance of putting teams away early, to push the teams more to create a little more distance,” Ramos said.

Ramos said overall that he was happy with the U.S. team’s performance in qualifying for the World Cup, which he doesn’t take for granted.

But at the same time, Ramos did admit that the team’s finishing was sub-par. The U.S. led the tournament with an incredible 92 shots on goal – 14 of them came in the Aruba match – but only scored 14 goals, a strike rate of just 15 percent.

Contrast that to Mexico, who scored 19 goals in 76 shots – 25 percent – and you can see where the U.S. has to improve before arriving in New Zealand.

“We created a lot of opportunities but unfortunately we couldn’t put the ball away,” Ramos said, adding that some of the blame was on the choppy field conditions in Jamaica. “We were not good enough in front of the goal. I thought for creating 92 shots on goal, we should have scored anywhere between 20-25 goals in the tournament, and we only scored 14. We were poor in front of the goal and we’ve got to get better at that.”

The U.S. U-20s coach was also overall happy with the way his team was managed. Ramos said he was proud of the fact that the entire 20-man roster played at least one half during the tournament, and added that he was okay with starting the same lineup for the final three games in a row, although he and the coaching staff thought about possibly changing the starting XI for the last game.

“Maybe we could have used a change,” Ramos said of the team heading into the El Salvador match. “Maybe we could have shaken the lineup a little bit instead of keeping it the same. (But) we didn’t want to do that because our subs, in particular Paul Arriola and Junior Flores, were doing so well coming off the bench. They’re certainly players who deserve to start, but I think that things were working well the way they were, so why change them?”

Now that the U.S. have qualified for the World Cup, one of the biggest questions looming over the team is whether Arsenal youngster and recent naturalized American Gedion Zelalem will be added to the team. The 18-year-old is age-eligible for the U-20 World Cup this summer, and if he and U.S. Soccer can receive an exemption from FIFA for him, he’d be able to put on a U.S. jersey as soon as this spring.

Even if Zelalem does become eligible to play for the U.S. this year, a decision has not been made as to whether he’d play with the U.S. U-20s or be fast-tracked straight to the U.S. Men’s National Team.

“That’s yet to be decided,” Ramos said of Zelalem’s international future. “I have to have a conversation with Jurgen (Klinsmann) about what our priorities are going to be this summer.

“Everything we do is for the senior national team. Once we decide priorities for the summer in terms of the Gold Cup and all the other competitions, then we can backtrack from there. We’ll have those conversations sometime around the Panama game (on February 8).”

Ramos also hinted that Zelalem might not be the only player who could be unavailable to play for the U.S. this summer at the U-20 World Cup.

“We have that scenario really not just with Gedion in how he gets incorporated into our programs but also the same scenario with Rubio Rubin, Emerson Hyndman, and possibly Zack Steffen,” Ramos explained. “We have some good players in this group that could potentially just not be with (the U-20s). Whether that means for the (U-20) World Cup or something else, that’s yet to be decided.”

Looking forward, Ramos has just begun to plan out the schedule for the U.S. U-20s ahead of the World Cup. Although he couldn’t reveal a location, Ramos did confirm that talks are underway to bring the team together either in the USA or abroad during the March FIFA dates, which are from March 23-31, and possibly having a week-long training camp in April.

And after the U-20 World Cup draw on Feb. 10, Ramos believes he’ll have a better idea of when to schedule preparation games and the final training camp before the team departs for New Zealand. The U-20 World Cup takes place from May 30-June 20.

“There’s a lot to be decided in the next few weeks,” Ramos said.


  1. I think it would be a bad decision to bring those U-20 guys to the Gold Cup. We have plenty of other players that are overage that can make a bigger difference on the GC roster than some of the youngsters mentioned in article. The only player I could understand putting on the Gold Cup roster is Gedion, because that would be a cap-tying tournament as opposed to the U-20 World Cup. However, after watching him play a bit, I think he needs a little more time before he can really make a significant impact to the senior team. He needs to grow into his body a bit more, and I think by Copa 2016 he’ll be ready to make that jump.

  2. I’m excited to have Zelalem in the US program but what has he done to merit a spot in the full national team? If he’s cleared in time, he should absolutely be on the plane to NZ.

    • Agreed. Probably true for Hyndman and Steffen as well. Rubio is likely the only one that might be actually needed for the full USMNT. He is hardly a sure shot with Wood, Johannsonn, Altidore, Dempsey and maybe Zardes likely ahead of him on the list, but injuries happen.

      • Also, isn’t Julian Greene also age eligible for the U-20 WC. JK likes him, but it may be that a decision about which of the U-20 or Gold Cup would provide the best situation overall.

        Despite Mexico and CR the Gold Cup is a tournament the US can win and I doubt Greene’s presence or lack of it will be the deciding factor, For the U-20s he could be much more influential.

      • That makes no sense since he has played for the US U-18s in between playing for the German U-17 and U-19 teams.

      • I’m pretty sure it’s because he played for the German u19s which was part of the qualification for the u20 World Cup and you can’t play in the same tournament for two different teams.

      • Green is not eligible to play with the US U-20s at the WC due to his participation with Germany’s U-20s during their youth EU tournament before the WC. His next ability to contribute with the Youth Team would be the Olympics U-23 side.

        His presense with the full SR USMNT over the summer will largely depend on what transpires over the next couple months. He’ll need to get games at the club level, and hope that others (Zardes, Gyau, Wood, etc….) don’t start lighting it up.

      • Personally from what I’ve seen of Rubin I think he should be ahead of Wood (definitely) Zardes (Until we see him with the USMNT) and Johannsonn (based off current form, hasn’t been impressive since returning from injury).

    • nothing, we are all just assuming that playing at Arsenal and Germany’s youth teams makes him better than Canouse or Arce Jr. (not that Hoffenhiem or Tiujana are that bad..)

      It would be really nice to have him in camp for a friendly or two prior to the U20WC.

    • Of course he should be in NZ, just as Julian Green shouldn’t have been at the World Cup. But if Jurgen wants to bed Gedion in with the first team this summer then he has every right to do so. He’s the coach and technical director, doesn’t really matter what we think. The bigger issue is if Rubio Rubin/Emerson Hyndman can’t play this summer with the U-20s.


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