The U.S.’s 2013 U20 World Cup team stands apart for some positive reasons and a few that, well, aren’t quite so rosy.
The good primarily involves the successful CONCACAF qualification campaign itself and simply getting to the Big Show. That particular U20 side is the only U.S. YNT to play in its global competition since 2011. The U23 team missed the 2012 Olympics and the U17 MNT whiffed on the 2013 World Cup. And, much as there is no spoon, there is no U19 competition in this part of the world.
The bad involves the style of play in small measure, but really the draw more than anything. There may have been tougher group draws in U20 World Cup history, but you’ll have to find them for me. Spain, Ghana and eventual champion France were positively loaded. Spain featured No. 9 Paco Alcacer (who’s scored three goals in three games for the full Spanish national team in Euro qualifying), Jese and Gerard Deulofeu, and that’s not to mention names like Suso, Oliver Torres and Juan Bernat. In the midfield France had Paul Pogba, who was probably the best player at the entire tournament (Florian Thauvin, Lucas Digne and Arsenal striker Yaya Sanogo also had very good tournaments).
Ghana, the “weakest” of these three of Khaleesi’s hell-spawn brood, boasted Anderlecht’s Frank Acheampong (who many Ghanians were disappointed to see miss Brazil), prized Chelsea youth Daniel Pappoe and left back Baba Rahman, who’s impressing in consistent first-team starts in the Bundesliga this season with Augsburg.
No. Big. Deal.
Unsurprisingly, a sturdy if unspectacular U.S. side was hardly up for this kind of test. I dare say a majority of the planet’s U20 teams would fall in that same category, so we shouldn’t be so hasty to let the hammer drop on coach Tab Ramos on results alone (though points of criticism are not out of the universe of the acceptable here, of course, as we’ll see shortly). And while the Americans were obliterated by Spain and roundly beaten by Ghana, a 1-1 draw against a France team that just three weeks later won the entire tournament means the U.S. at least got something out of the bargain.
But the point of U-whatever teams isn’t results, necessarily, but the pattern that emerges from plucking out the players who produce them and making them productive first team professionals. And in that sense, the recent past is always an interesting if wholly necessary lens through which to view where we are now. In essence, we need to look back to go forward.
This is a glimpse at all 21 players Ramos called into last year’s World Cup team and the progress they’ve made over the last 16 months.