[USA UNDER-20 MEN]The USA opens play at the Under-20 World Cup Friday against Spain with close to the same team that qualified with a string of four straight wins followed by an overtime loss to Mexico in the Concacaf U-20 final. On the eve of the tournament, Coach Tab Ramos talked to the media about two key additions to the team.
“At this point, we’ve obviously gotten to know each other a little bit better," said Ramos. "There are young players that we are dealing with and some of them have more experience. We feel good about the fact that [DeAndre] Yedlin has been added to the roster and he’s someone who has a lot of professional experience the last couple of months since the World Cup qualifiers, which he was not involved in. We feel good about the level of play of Juan Pablo Ocegueda on the left side and obviously Caleb Stanko, as well as Shane O’Neill. I think we’re a little bit more experienced than we were a couple months ago, and the fact that we’ve been together for a couple weeks is really going to help us.”
Yedlin won the starting job for the Seattle Sounders at right back at the start of the season and has kept it.
“There are a number of things he brings to the table," said Ramos. "with the No. 1 thing being his experience at this point. Having played a bunch of professional games over the past few months, and having trained in a professional environment where he has to earn his position every day is certainly great for us. In terms of what he brings specifically on the field – his speed, his ability to go forward, which is what we like, his ability to get back on defense quickly and to play the game with urgency, which is the way we like to play. He was one of those pieces that we didn’t have to speak to too much as far as trying to fit him into our roster.”
Texan Alonso Hernandez could start up front after joining the U.S. U-20s for their trip to France in May.
“Alonso is not someone that we had been tracking for the last few months," said Ramos. "He was someone that got onto our radar in April when he debuted in a Liga MX game between Monterrey and Santos. That’s the first time we’ve heard about him. Then we just followed him. For the next month I followed all his touches on the ball and was able to see every play he was involved in during the next four weeks. From there we decided to call him. We thought he did well enough to deserve a call. He plays for Monterrey, a great team with great players, and not only that but he plays for Coach[Victor Manuel] Vucetich, and because I played for him I know how demanding he is. I know in order for a young player to earn playing time for one of the best coaches the Mexican league has ever had, I think says a lot about the player. We called him in and I think he’s been nothing but a great find for us. He certainly fits in well with the team. He works hard and has been a great last-minute addition for us.”
The big question mark in the team concerns center back, where Ramos was never able to secure John Anthony Brooks' commitment to play in the U-20 World Cup and Will Packwood broke his leg playing for Birmingham City. On top of that, Shane O'Neill, who has been playing very well for the Colorado Rapids, is suspended for the Spain opener, having been red carded late in overtime of the Concacaf U-20 final.
“I’m a coach, and I’m concerned about all the positions every day," said Ramos. "Obviously, center backs have been the two most difficult positions for us. We’ve tried a number of players. Walker [Zimmerman] is a player played with us for the last time in October, didn’t play well for us and then got injured right after that and spent months without playing. I know that about a month ago I spoke with Walker and he was just coming back from an injury and starting to get back in rosters, and now he’s been in and out of the roster. It’s not a player that has been constantly playing a lot, but we felt like we’ve tried to solidify the center back position. The biggest issue we have at this point is that Shane O’Neill is out for the first game. That’s something we’ve been trying to manage. We’ve decided to go with Eric Miller as sort of a backup center back as a third option for us in this game on Friday. It has not been easy, and to be honest it has not been any center backs other than Will Packwood who have stood out to us as guys that hands down deserve to play.”
U.S. U-20 Roster:
GOALKEEPERS (3):1-Cody Cropper (Southampton/ENG), 12-Kendall McIntosh (Santa Clara Univ.), 21-Zach Steffen (FC Delco)
DEFENDERS (7):13-Eric Miller (Creighton Univ.), 3-Juan Pablo Ocegueda (Guadalajara/MEX), 5-Shane O’Neill (Colorado Rapids), 18-Oscar Sorto (LA Galaxy), 4-Caleb Stanko (Freiburg/GER), 14-Javan Torre (UCLA), 2-DeAndre Yedlin (Seattle Sounders)
MIDFIELDERS (5):16-Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas), 10-Luis Gil (Real Salt Lake), 8-Benji Joya (Santos/MEX), 15-Mikey Lopez (Sporting KC), 6-Wil Trapp (Columbus Crew)
FORWARDS (6): 20-Daniel Cuevas (Santos/MEX), 17-Danny Garcia (Univ. of North Carolina), 7-Victor Pineda (Chicago Fire), 19-Alonso Hernandez (Monterrey/MEX), 9-Mario Rodriguez (Kaiserslautern/GER), 11-Jose Villarreal (LA Galaxy).