The 2015 U20 World Cup kicks off on Saturday in New Zealand. Thanks to a massive time difference, the action starts in the U.S. on Friday night/Saturday morning. Twenty-four teams are in the hunt for the crown over the course of the next three weeks.
While continental champions Germany, Argentina, and Nigeria look like the favorites to lift the trophy, the U.S. has plenty of reasons to be optimistic. Tab Ramos’ side drew a favorable group for the first stage with Myanmar, New Zealand, and Ukraine selected as opponents for Group A. After only earning one point at the 2013 World Cup and failing to advance out of one of the most difficult groups in the history of the competition, the U.S.’s path to a better showing in 2015 looks much easier.
The action kicks off for the U.S. against Myanmar on Friday at 9 p.m. (PT) on Fox Sports 1. TopDrawerSoccer will have coverage from all of the U.S. games during the World Cup.
For the past two weeks, TopDrawerSoccer has been previewing some of the players from the roster as well taking a look at the possible formations and tactics that Ramos and his staff might use in New Zealand. Take a look at all of that content below as well as a guess at the U.S. starting XI for the first game.
Tommy Thompson was not part of this group until LA Galaxy kept Bradford Jamieson IV out of a camp in LA last summer, which led to Thompson’s first call-up. Since then, he’s been a mainstay for the team. Thompson chats about his ascension into the youth national team.
Desevio Payne made his professional debut in February. Now, he is on a World Cup roster. Find out how the defender ended up with the U.S. and what role college soccer played in his spot on the team.
It’s nice to have safe hands in the net. Zack Steffen is providing just that for this team. Steffen discusses his role with the team and his recent move to Germany.
TopDrawerSoccer’s Will Parchman took a crack at the possible lineup and tactical guidance that Tab Ramos might use while in New Zealand. With plenty of options on this roster, Ramos will have some difficult decisions to make.
After announcing his roster for the World Cup, Ramos chatted with a dozen reporters about his thoughts on the squad and how he might approach the games in New Zealand. Here is a full transcript from that conference call.
Take a look at the big questions that face this team heading into the opening game - how good are the new players to the youth national team picture? Will the U.S find a solution at the No. 9 position? How does the center back tandem work out?
Who they’ll face
Myanmar: The Americans’ first match comes against mighty Myanmar, a Southeast Asian country of 51 million people but little soccer tradition to trumpet. The senior team’s never been ranked higher than 97th, and this is the first appearance at any World Cup for any Myanmar team. The fact that they hosted qualification and only had to win two matches to get here won’t help their underdog image. Attacking midfielder Nyein Chan Aung is one of the top prospects in Asia and the team’s guiding light, but he’s returning from injury and won’t be 100 percent against the U.S. Aung Thu and Than Paing, who scored the goal in qualifying that got Myanmar to this stage, are the names to watch for going forward.
New Zealand: Smaller host nations in World Cups, regardless of the age level, always deal with the stigma that they qualified not on the back of their exploits but by sheer technicality. There’s truth there, obviously, but don’t overlook the Kiwis because they didn’t need to qualify. Coach Darren Bazeley called on six players based overseas, headlined by Marseilles prospect Bill Tuiloma, who captains the squad as one of the steadiest holding midfielders in the tournament. Midfielders Tuiloma, Matt Ridenton and Clayton Lewis along with defender Deklan Wynne have all been capped with the full national team. Watch out for the college connection, too. Defender Cory Brown (Xavier) and forward Stuart Holthusen (Akron) are both based Stateside.
Ukraine: Handicapping this group is difficult, but you could do worse than predicting Ukraine to win it. On paper there isn’t anything separating the Ukrainians from the U.S., the two clear favorites to advance. Ukraine of course qualified out of UEFA, the most difficult road here, and they did so at the expense of an England team featuring a few top, well-known prospects. Ukraine was the first team in New Zealand, nearly two weeks before their first match, the tourney curtain-raiser against the Junior All Whites, and they’ll have plenty of firepower ready. Watch out for tricky midfielder Viktor Kovalenko, who made his professional debut with Shakhtar Donetsk earlier this year. Yevhen Chumak (Dynamo Kyiv) and Valeriy Luchkevych (Dnipro) are both attackers to watch. The latter arrived late after watching the Europa League final from the bench on Tuesday.
Projected XI (4-4-2; right to left)
Zack Steffen; Shaq Moore, Cameron Carter-Vickers, Erik Palmer-Brown, Desevio Payne; Jordan Allen, Emerson Hyndman (capt.), Gedion Zelalem, Paul Arriola; Tommy Thompson, Rubio Rubin
U.S. World Cup Schedule (all times PT)
May 29 - U.S. vs. Myanmar at 9 p.m. on Fox Sports 1
June 2 - U.S. vs. New Zealand at 12 a.m. on Fox Sports 1
June 5 - U.S. vs. Ukraine at 12 a.m. on Fox Sports 1
TDS Staff Predictions
Will Parchman: Nothing’s come to this U20 team all that easily. While they qualified through CONCACAF, it wasn’t a vintage tournament performance. The U.S. will take care of New Zealand and Myanmar but falter against Ukraine to take second in the group. That’ll pit them against a tough group winner in the first knockout round, where their journey will come to a swift close.
J.R. Eskilson: A favorable group sets up nicely for the U.S. to figure out the right players and formation in the opening games. With added confidence from a strong performance in group play, the U.S. makes it to the quarterfinals before bowing out of the competition.
Travis Clark: While this may be one of the most talented U20 rosters in recent memory, there are no doubt questions about the team’s ability to compete with the best of the best. Advancing from the group should be no problem, though the Round of 16 is where this group’s tourney ends.
U.S. 2015 U20 World Cup Roster
Defenders: Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas), Cameron Carter-Vickers (Tottenham Hotspur), Conor Donovan (Orlando City), Matt Miazga (New York Red Bulls), Shaq Moore (Huracan Valencia), Erik Palmer-Brown (Sporting Kansas City), Desevio Payne (FC Groningen), John Requejo (Club Tijuana)
Midfielders: Paul Arriola (Club Tijuana), Marco Delgado (Toronto FC), Emerson Hyndman (Fulham), Gedion Zelalem (Arsenal)
Forward: Jordan Allen (Real Salt Lake), Bradford Jamieson IV (LA Galaxy), Rubio Rubin (Utrecht), Joel Sonora (Boca Juniors), Maki Tall (Red Star), Tommy Thompson (San Jose Earthquakes)