The U.S. Under-20 national team kicks off its Under-20 World Cup campaign on Friday against Ukraine (2:30 p.m., FS1).
The Americans enter the tournament as reigning Concacaf champions, and will look to make a deep tournament run after reaching the Under-20 World Cup quarterfinals in each of the past two tournaments.
Standing in the way of that potential run is a strong group featuring Ukraine, Nigeria and Qatar, a strong group, but one that will give the highly-regarded U.S. team an opportunity to show its quality.
“I think we have the best team we’ve had. We have the most talent we’ve had, but I don’t know every single team in the World Cup right now,” U.S. Under-20 coach Tab Ramos said. “I don’t know if Ukraine doesn’t have the best team they’ve ever had in their history too. It’s really hard to tell. To me, it doesn’t make a difference. I just want our team to play well. We’re going to go win one game at a time and see how far we go.”
Leading the U.S. team are Tim Weah, Alex Mendez and Sebastian Soto in attack, with a strong defense anchored by team captain Mark McKenzie, Ajax right back Sergino Dest, Hannover 96 left back Chris Gloster and Bayern Munich centerback Chris Richards.
This U.S. Under-20 team is playing without the top two prospects in the age group, Tyler Adams and Josh Sargent, who are both expected to take part in the Concacaf Gold Cup with the USMNT this summer.
Stepping in for Adams and Sargent are Sebastian Soto in the striker role and D.C. United midfielder Chris Durkin in the defensive midfield position Adams would have occupied had he been part of the team.
Some of the more exciting prospects on the team are its youngest players. Wolfsburg winger Ulysses Llanez and FC Barcelona academy standout Konrad De La Fuente should also factor into Tab Ramos’ plans as dangerous attacking threats.
FC Dallas miefielder Paxton Pomykal is another player who should take on a key role with this U.S. team, along with PSV midfielder and Real Salt Lake academy product Richie Ledezma.
Ramos has promised to take full advantage of his team’s attacking weapons by employing an attack-minded style at the World Cup.
“The idea for us is always the same. We want to have the ball,” Ramos said. “We’re going to the World Cup and trying to figure out how we can break down Ukraine. How we can break down Nigeria. How we can beat Qatar.
“Part of our way of breaking down Ukraine is not going to be by sitting all the way back and hopefully countering. It’s not something I’m comfortable with, it’s not something I like and it’s not something that fits our players,” Ramos said. “Our players want to attack. Our players want to be aggressive. If it happens that we lose that way, we lose that way, but we’re losing that way going after it.”