Sometimes when things are going your way, it could feel like there is no way things could take a wrong turn. The U.S. U-20 Men’s National Team has been hitting the jackpot at the 2018 Concacaf U-20 Chamionship so far, rolling its way to a place in this weekend’s second stage.
After a sensation group stage in Bradenton, Fla., Tab Ramos’ squad now has its eyes set on qualification for the 2019 FIFA U-20 World Cup. Steamrolling their way to a 5-0-0 record and a +37 goal differential, the U.S. U-20’s will now face Costa Rica and Honduras in a pair of matchups, beginning on Friday.
The top two teams from this three-team group will clinch a World Cup berth while the winner will advance to the tournament final. As the U.S. now get set to face Los Ticos on Friday, the competition will get tougher as every team wants to book their place for — next year.
“I’m really happy with how the team has played in the first stage,” Ramos said. “I think the most difficult thing is holding them back a little bit, trying to work on some team concepts so we can get better for the second stage. At the same time I think what’s difficult is trying to keep the players focused in the games, because winning games 6-0, 7-0 sometimes you can lose focus. The guys came out and played hard every minute of the games so far so I couldn’t be happier of that.”
“Costa Rica is a very skillful team, they defend well, they have two very good centerbacks, and they have three forwards who can potentially score at any time. At the same time we’ve seen Honduras already this year, we played them twice, winning once and losing once but I felt either game could’ve went either way so it will be tough.”
With young talent all over the roster, the U-20’s have shown zero signs of fluttering despite some rotation in the squad due to the high volume of matches. Philadelphia Union defenders Mark McKenzie and Matt Real have been leaders in the backline, paired with Sporting KC wingback Jaylin Lindsay. Ulysses Llanez, Ayo Akinola, and Alex Mendez led the team in goals with 16 between them through five matches.
Ramos made three roster moves ahead of the second stage, bolstering the squad with even more well-known talent. Bundesliga youth players Sebastian Soto and Chris Richards join the team fresh from consistent playing time with their domestic clubs abroad, while Ajax youth defender Sergino Dest has also been added. Anthony Fontana, Issac Angking, and Griffin Dorsey were replaced by the trio of newest arrivals, after all getting valuable time in the group stage. Even with the changes, the hopes are for the team to continue to gel as a unit.
“We’ve made three changes going into the second stage, and I think the changes have not so much been because the three players have not done a good job because they have worked hard and helped the team get to the next stage,’ Ramos said. “When you go into the second round, different scenarios may arise. You may be down by a goal, you may be up by a goal, you may need help out wide, there’s different situations that arise so I think the players we brought in add more depth to different situations we may encounter in the second stage.
“I think the fact the players we’ve brought in are playing games week in and week out helps. We certainly didn’t want to bring in players who have not been playing the last few weeks, that obviously plays a role because we only have four days to prepare for the games. With the players we brought in, we feel we don’t have to worry about their fitness and game fitness.”