By Mike Woitalla
The stats don’t look good, do they? The USA was outscored 9-3 in three games at the U-20 World Cup and exited with two losses and a tie.
No, it wasn’t.
First of all, the most significant criteria in judging a youth national team is how many players end up becoming key contributors to the full national team. So on that the jury will be out for half a decade.
Coach Tab Ramos’ U-20 team did better than the last, which failed to qualify for the 2011 World Cup.
The 2009 U.S. U-20s didn’t reach the World Cup knockout stage. Only goalkeeper Sean Johnson and Brek Shea from that squad seem to have a chance with Jurgen Klinsmann.
From the 2007 U-20 World Cup squad, famous for beating Brazil and reaching the quarterfinals, came Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore, both of whom were more established pro players than any of Ramos’ 2013 roster members and Bradley had already played for the full national team. The Brazil team the USA beat included David Luiz and Alexandre Pato.
The USA in 2007 beat Uruguay, 2-1, in the round of 16 and Freddy Adu scored more goals in the tournament than Luis Suarez or Edinson Cavani, and where are they now?
What really makes it difficult to pass judgment on how Ramos’ team performed in Turkey was that it was drawn into a group that pitted it against three opponents that were each favorites to win the tournament.
The U.S. U-20 World Cup team of 2001 that had DaMarcus Beasley, Edson Buddle, Bobby Convey, Landon Donovan, Oguchi Onyewu and Brad Davis reached the second round by beating Chile and tying Ukraine despite losing to China, and it lost to Egypt in the round of 16.
Ramos’ team was eliminated by Ghana -- the country that knocked the USA out of the last two senior World Cups and which won the 2009 U-20 World Cup.
Before the loss to Ghana, Ramos’ U-20s tied 1-1 with France, which includes in its roster some of Europe's brightest young talents with the likes of Paul Pogba, Geoffrey Kondogbia, Yaya Sanogo and Lucas Digne. Pogba starts for Juventus in Italy’s Serie A.
In its opener, Ramos sent his team out to beat European champion Spain -- whose team included forwards on the verge of breaking into Barcelona and Real Madrid’s first teams -- instead of setting up a bunker.
The USA had 51 percent of possession in the first half -- against a team that usually doesn't let the opponent have the ball for more than a few seconds at a time. The Americans got burned on counterattacks, so they lost 4-1 instead of 1-0, a losing scoreline that most coaches would be satisfied with because then they could say they came close against the world’s best.
Ramos took the risky, bold and right approach. Trying to ball pass out of the back, keep possession, attack, play in the other team's half -- even if it meant that his team would be susceptible to heavy losses that they indeed suffered.
It would have been good to see how Ramos’ team fared if they faced weaker teams. Because the draw didn’t afford that, we’ll have to wait a few years to judge this team by how many of the players end up on the full national team.
But one thing’s for sure, trying to play real soccer instead of being scared of losing is what American teams should be doing.