U-20 World Cup: USA Falls in Egypt

One good result (a 4-1 win over Cameroon) couldn't make up for two horrendous performances (3-0 losses to Germany and South Korea), and the USA exited the Under-20 World Cup in Egypt, marking the first time since 1987 that the Americans didn't make it out of the first round.

Players like Dilly Duka and Tony Taylor, not previously part of the national youth team program, had their moments, as did Bryan Arguez and Jared Jeffrey, particularly in the game against a very weak Cameroon.

Not much was expected of the '09 U-20s, who lacked a genuine star or a core of experienced pros, but brutal performances against Germany and South Korea put Coach Thomas Rongen's job in jeopardy. And the players hardly helped their cause for landing prized European jobs.

Ike Opara was projected to be a top five pick in the 2009 MLS SuperDraft if he had come out, but he chose to return to Wake Forest this fall for his junior season and endured a nightmare in Egypt, conceding penalties against Cameroon and South Korea and getting sent off against South Korea. Sheanon Williams had left North Carolina after one season but also disappointed.

Since the USA failed to reach the knockout phase at Chile '87 with a team that included future national team stars Tony Meola, Marcelo Balboa and Jeff Agoos, it had advanced at every under-20 world championship in which it participated, most notably two years later when Silver Ball winner Kasey Keller helped the USA to fourth place in Saudi Arabia.

Rongen guided the USA to the quarterfinals in 2003 in the UAE (with Clint Dempsey and Ricardo Clark) and 2007 in Canada (with Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley), but he couldn't lead the U-20s to the round of 16 in Egypt.

As all the future national team stars who played for Rongen in 2003 and 2007 indicate, the under-20 program has been an important building block over the last decade.

Eleven of the 13 players who started in the World Cup qualifying wins over El Salvador and Trinidad & Tobago in September had represented the USA at the Under-20 World Cup in the last decade, and a 12th player, Charlie Davies, played for the USA in qualifying for the 2005 Under-20 World Cup. (The lone exception: Jonathan Bornstein.)

It was hard to project any of the U.S. U-20s on display in Suez this fall being future national team starters any time soon.

(This article originally appeared in the November 2009 issue of Soccer America magazine.) 




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