The U.S. Under-20 Men’s National Team is in its final days of preparation for the World Cup, which begins this weekend in South Korea.
Entering the competition as champions of CONCACAF, Tab Ramos named his roster last week and traveled to Japan for training in advance of Monday morning’s group opener against Ecuador.
While results at the competition aren’t make or break, a positive run would reinforce confidence in a development program that has shown signs of life of late.
These five players are integral to a positive performance over the next few weeks.
M Gedion Zelalem
The U.S. U20s don’t just need Zelalem to perform at a good level, but Zelalem needs this tournament in order to jump start a career that’s sputtered over the past year. Still on the books at Arsenal, Zelalem’s spent last year on loan at Rangers and VVV Venlo. He’s not really set the world alight at either club, struggling for minutes this past season in the Dutch Second Division. Expected to slot in the midfield three ahead of Derrick Jones and Tyler Adams, Zelalem will have every opportunity to showcase what he can do with the ball at his feet. If he can find form quickly, it will be a big boost for both his team and his club career.
D Cameron Carter-Vickers
Coming to the U.S. from the other side of North London, Cameron Carter-Vickers seems on the cusp of a big breakthrough at Tottenham. While the Under-20s were fairly solid in the middle at the CONCACAF tournament, CCV’s introduction to the starting lineup should still be an upgrade, provided he’s fit and in form. The depth at center back is arguably the strongest position, and a player of Carter-Vickers’ experience (playing at the 2015 edition World Cup) and pedigree makes him a key piece to the squad.
It’s unclear what sort of role that Sargent will play at the upcoming World Cup, after taking the Under-17 CONCACAF competition by storm. Given the struggles that Jeremy Ebobisse and Emmanuel Sabbi both went through at U20 qualifying, it wouldn’t be a huge shock to see Sargent’s name in the starting lineup; on the other hand, if he plays zero minutes in South Korea, that also wouldn’t be a big surprise. Either outcome is a strong possibility for the youngster, as strange as that might sound for the No. 1 player from 2018 Boys IMG Academy Top 150.
Arguably the most important and impressive player for the U.S. during qualifying, Adams should slot back into a midfield role. Whether it’s as a box-to-box, marauding type or sitting in front of the back, Adams can do either to great effect. His ability to control play, cover ground and win midfield battles can provide the foundation on a successful run in the tournament. The one deviation Ramos might make is to move Adams to right back, given the recent release of Marlon Fossey back to his club due to injury. Whatever his role is, Adams is crucial to U.S. chances of coming away with a positive trip to South Korea.
Given the U.S. history in goal, it’s interesting to see the position as something of a question mark heading into the tournament. Klinsmann looks like he can do the job, and it would be surprising if Ramos doesn’t start him: he has the requisite size and at times, shows the ability to make game-changing saves. However, he is prone to the occasional gaffe or two, which isn’t a huge surprise in any young goalkeeper. The California(m) netminder will need to be a critical figure in order for the U.S. to put together a deep run.