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U.S. U-20s World Cup squad boasts plenty of talent despite surprise omissions

U-20 USMNT starting XI vs. El Salvador (Mexsport)



The talent was evident, but so too were the surprise decisions.

U.S. Under-20 Men’s National Team head coach Tab Ramos revealed on Thursday morning 20 of the 21 players he will take to New Zealand later this month for the U-20 World Cup. Ramos called in a strong team of mostly professionals who will look to maneuver out of a manageable Group A, a team that includes promising prospects like Fulham midfielder Emerson Hyndman and SC Freiburg goalkeeper Zack Steffen.

Leaving one spot open might seem odd, but not when U.S. Soccer is still in the midst of a waiting game with FIFA over the eligibility of Arsenal prodigy Gedion Zelalem. Rosters do not have to be officially submitted until May 15, so Ramos can hold off until the very last second to decide on whether he makes Zelalem that 21st player or, as has been reported, someone like Philadelphia Union midfielder Zach Pfeffer.

As loaded as the U.S. roster is even without Zelalem’s inclusion, there were a few talented casualties for whom a case could be made. Midfielders Romain Gall of the Columbus Crew and Borussia Dortmund’s Junior Flores surprisingly failed to make the cut despite their constant roles throughout this U-20 cycle and in January’s far from smooth but ultimately successful World Cup qualifying campaign.

Gall was arguably the bigger omission of the two. He not only led the U.S. in scoring during the qualifying campaign in Jamaica en route to making the tournament’s Best XI, but also netted the winner in last month’s friendly victory against Croatia.

But Ramos may have left Gall off the World Cup roster because of how the midfielder struggled at times during the run of play in qualifying. Gall scored a joint-tournament-high five goals, but three of those came from the penalty spot, and three of them were netted in a rout of lowly Aruba. The stretches of rough play may have been too much for Ramos to overlook, especially with midfielder Jordan Allen now healthy again and earning minutes at Real Salt Lake.

Flores’ absence could be explained similarly. He had a rough time in qualifying, failing to make much of an impact when used as a starter. Flores never really imposed himself on the other teams, and that inability to produce saw him fall out of the lineup and quite possibly out of the World Cup picture.

There were other notable omissions from Thursday’s announced squad, such as Reading forward Andrija Novakovich, Orlando City centerback Conor Donovan and Club Tijuana attacker Amando Moreno. The former is reportedly not being released by Reading for the tournament — FIFA does not mandate clubs to release players for the U-20 World Cup — and the latter two seem to have missed out purely due to the amount of talent in the pool.

As for the the actual squad that is heading to New Zealand, there are not many weaknesses. Size isn’t something the team has in abundance but the U.S. boasts impressive prospects and versatility throughout the field, including in defense where the projected center back duo of Matt Miazga (New York Red Bulls) and Cameron Carter-Vickers (Tottenham) is complemented by a U.S. newbie like Desevio Payne (FC Groningen), who can play anywhere across the back line.

The U.S. is even more talented in the midfield and up top, especially with the addition of FC Utrecht and U.S. senior team forward Rubio Rubin. There’s a healthy balance of different options, including FC Dallas’ versatile Kellyn Acosta, LA Galaxy wunderkind Bradford Jamieson, Boca Juniors midfielder Joel Sonora, and technical San Jose Earthquakes winger Tommy Thompson.

Overall, Ramos’ roster is strong and should have no real problem getting out of a group that includes Myanmar, New Zealand and Ukraine. Reaching the knockout phase of the World Cup and trying to make a deep run should be the goal, as anything less than that with this pool of talent would be severely disappointing.


  1. Age eligible but not eligible due to involvement with German youth team during European qualification for this. Basically cup tied.

  2. I suspect I will be in the minority but I have a big problem not taking the two well known players named, who did their best in qualifying, for a player that has not played one game for the USA and whom we don’t even know if he’ll be approved by FIFA.

    This crap of taking unknown foreign players over AMERICANS that have been working to advance the cause stinks and reeks of Kilinsmann. He is not an American and doesnt give a damn about Americans

    The sooner we clear the whole rotten bunch out the better off we’ll be

    • You seem to be confused, Gedion Zelalem is an American. I have yet to see Klinsmann cap a player who isn’t American and i’m not sure FIFA would let him.

    • Guess what….Zelalem is an American. He may have been born in Germany, but spent a number of years (8-16 I think) living in the USA. He was spotted by Arsenal while playing on a US Club team at the Dallas Cup (US Club Youth Tournament). Since he was born in Germany he had an EU passport which allowed him to sign in England before turning 18.
      His father received US Citizenship before his son turned 18, so was able to apply for US Citizenship and receive it as a minor born to a naturalize US Citizen.
      The kid stated, before obtaining US citizenship, that he felt American and wished to represent the USA. He turned down call ups to the German youth national team in order to allow for the file of a 1 time switch w/ FIFA once he gained US Citizenship.
      So get over it…..The U-20 coach feels that he is a better option, if FIFA approves the switch, than a player (or 2) who under performed during qualification tournament.

  3. I’m surprised Ben Spencer didn’t make the team. He seemed like a really good fit in the offense during the tournament, at times looking better than Jamieson. I haven’t seen Tall or Allen play though, so I can’t really call it a snub.

  4. Starting 11 assuming Zelalem is granted his exception:

    Sonora for Zelalem if not granted his exception in time.

      • I think you could see Payne instead of Requejo; Moore seems fairly entrenched at the right back spot. Also, I have Jamieson as the center forward with Rubin on the left and Allen as a spark off the bench.

  5. I think the US U20’s got some luck of the draw this year. Not only did they get a “mild” group A., ie Myanmar (Burma), New Zealand, Uzbekistan, but their paired group (for the round of 16) is group C which includes Portugal, Columbia,Senegal and Qatar. Not an easy group, BUT, far better than if they were to be paired with group B, which includes Argentina, Panama, Austria and Ghana!!

    While no path to the quarters-finals are easy, some are very doable and some require a great leap of faith for USU20 fans to believe in.

    I think if FIFA has not made a decision on Zelalem by May 15th, Ramos should go ahead and name him to the 21 anyway, as a negative decision is sure to be appealed by USSF. Not naming him would be harder to get him on the roster, even if the the decision goes the US’s way.

    I think the US loss to Panama in the U20 qual was due more to fatigue than the anything else. Playing that many games in so short a period is a challenge to any coach to keep track of minutes, and not only the “hard” active minutes, but the easy ones too. It will be much more manageable with the traditional 4 team groups in the WC, and the US tem has more depth than ever before.

    • Drawing Portugal, Colombia, Senegal and Qatar is only slightly better than drawing Argentina, Panama, Austria and Ghana?

    • The funny thing about your comments is that you are looking at these youth teams and basing their supposed strengths from their senior national teams. That is a huge misconception.

      We have no idea how good these U-20 teams from these other countries are. So just because Argentina’s senior national team is better than say Ghana, and has historically been better than Ghana, that does not mean that Argentina’s U-20 team will be better than Ghana’s u-20 team. Look at the past winners of these U-20 World Cups and you will see what I mean.

      • That is true. You really cannot measure the youth teams against their senior counterparts. However, you can gauge, that if a Sr. team is highly ranked, it probably got their based on the strength of it’s young players and development system.

        The big difference come with the countries and the leagues (and the teams) who do not release its players for youth WC as they are not required to.So you have some really good footballing nations struggle not because the youth teams do not measure up to their Sr counterparts, its just that the best players for many nations will not be able to compete due to their club teams deciding against it. It does make it harder to make intelligent predictions when not all the variables are defined.

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