A promising generation -- the U.S. 2017 U-20s

By Mike Woitalla

America’s biggest teenage star couldn’t get time off work to be part of the USA’s Concacaf U-20 Championship win last weekend. The 18-year-old Christian Pulisic, in Borussia Dortmund's 6-2 win on Saturday over Bayer Leverkusen in front 79,100, scored his fifth Bundesliga goal and made his fifth assist.

Pulisic was just one of several European-based players who didn't take part in the qualifying tournament for the 2017 U-20 World Cup, yet Coach Tab Ramos' team still lifted the U-20 Concacaf crown for the first time.

It clinched a World Cup berth with 2-1 win over El Salvador on Friday, and on Saturday won the final in a penalty-kick shootout win over Honduras after 0-0 tie. There was no overtime, and when they went to spot kicks, all five U.S. players converted. The first three Hondurans hit the net before Rembrandt Flores skied his attempt over the crossbar.

Brooks Lennon of Real Salt Lake led the USA in scoring with four goals in the six games of the U-20 World Cup qualifying campaign. Sporting Kansas City’s Erik Palmer-Brown, who captained Ramos’ team, marshaled a strong defense, playing in front of central defenders Justen Glad (Real Salt Lake) and Tommy Redding (Orlando City). Palmer-Brown also scored in a 1-0 win over Mexico, the USA’s first defeat of El Tri at the Concacaf U-20 level since 1986.

"I’m very proud of the team,” said Ramos, whose team opened with a 1-0 loss to Panama before the wins over Haiti (4-1), St. Kitts & Nevis (4-1), Mexico, El Salvador, and Honduras. “They ended up showing that we were the best team here.

“It’s not easy to do this. It’s not easy to be at a tournament this long and do well at the end. We came here to be champions and we’re leaving here as champions."

Pulisic is unlikely to be part of Ramos squad for the 2017 U-20 World Cup that takes place in South Korea May 20-June 11. The Bundesliga ends on May 20 and Pulisic has already played 11 games for the USA’s full national team, which has 2018 World Cup qualifiers against Trinidad & Tobago June 9 and at Mexico June 13.

The other U-20 eligible European-based players who weren’t part of qualifying are more likely to be available for the U-20 World Cup. They include 18-year-olds Haji Wright, Weston McKennie and Nick Taitague, who all started for Schalke 04’s U-19 team in a 2-0 win over Arminia Bielefeld on Sunday.

Cameron Carter-Vickers and Gedion Zelalem started for Ramos’ team that reached the quarterfinals of the 2015 U-20 World Cup. Both are eligible for the 2017 U-20 World Cup but weren’t released by their clubs for the qualifying tournament.

The 19-year-old Carter-Vickers has played in four first-team games Tottenham Hotspur, two each in the FA Cup and the English League Cup, and has been on the bench for 14 English Premier League games.

Zelalem, age 20, joined Dutch second division VVV-Venlo on loan for Arsenal in late January. On Monday, he made his fourth appearance in a 0-0 tie with Jong FC Utrecht.

There’s also 19-year-old Joshua Perez, who has made one Serie A appearance for Fiorentina and has scored seven goals this season in Italy’s Primavera A U-19 league, and 20-year-old Mukwelle Akale, who has scored three goals in four appearances for Villarreal’s B team in 2017.

Ramos will have a deep pool of players to consider when he names his 21-player World Cup roster in early May.

• From 1986 to 2007, Concacaf didn’t crown a single champion from its biennial U-20 World Cup qualifying tournament. In the 11 Concacaf U-20 Championships that had a final, the USA reached it four times, finishing runner-up to Mexico in 2013 (in Ramos' first cycle in charge), to Costa Rica in 2009, to Honduras in 1982, and to Mexico in 1980.

• Palmer-Brown won the Golden Ball as the tournament’s MVP.

Jonathan Klinsmann won the Golden Glove as best goalkeeper.

• Lennon finished tournament tied for second in goals with Panama’s Ricardo Avila, behind Golden Boot winner Ronaldo Cisneros of Mexico (6 goals).

• Concacaf qualifiers USA, Honduras, Mexico and Costa Rica complete the 24-team 2017 U-20 World Cup field, joining host South Korea; Asia’s Iran, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam; Africa’s Guinea, Senegal, South Africa, Zambia; South America’s Argentina, Ecuador, Uruguay, Venezuela; Oceania’s New Zealand, Vanuatu; and Europe’s England, France, Germany, Italy, Portugal.

2017 Concacaf U-20 Championship final
March 5 in San Jose, Costa Rica
USA 0 Honduras 0. (USA wins 5-3 on penalty kicks)
Spot kicks: USA -- Lennon (goal), Craft (goal), Sabbi (goal), De La Torre (goal), Acosta (goal); Honduras -- Alvarez (goal), Martínez (goal), Grant (goal), Flores (miss).
USA — Klinsmann; Fossey, Redding, Glad (Trusty, 47), Acosta; Adams, Palmer-Brown, Williamson (Sabbi, 26); Lennon, Ebobisse (Craft, 79), De La Torre
Honduras — Delgado; Maldonado, Decas, Andrade, García; Pineda, Grant, Vuelto, Álvarez; Rodríguez (Flores, 72), Martínez.
Referee: Henry Bejarano (Costa Rica)

Stats: USA/Honduras
Shots: 12/11
Shots on target: 3/3
Possession: 60%/40%
Saves: 3/3
Corner Kicks: 8/2
Fouls: 12/22
Offside: 0/4

USA at 2017 Concacaf U-20 Championship
Panama 1 USA 0
USA 4 Haiti 1
USA 4 St. Kitts & Nevis 1
USA 1 Mexico 0
USA 2 El Salvador 1
USA 0 Honduras 0 (PKs, 5-3)

USA Scorers
4 Brooks Lennon (Real Salt Lake)
2 Sebastian Saucedo (Real Salt Lake)
1 Erik Palmer-Brown (Sporting Kansas City)
1 Jonathan Lewis (New York City FC
1 Emmanuel Sabbi (Las Palmas/ESP)
1 Luca de la Torre (Fulham/ENG)
1 Eryk Williamson (Univ. of Maryland)

33 comments about "A promising generation -- the U.S. 2017 U-20s".
  1. Quarterback TD, March 6, 2017 at 8:36 p.m.

    We need to give Christian space he will come through for us when we need him most-- in Senior Men's Team

  2. Bob Ashpole, March 6, 2017 at 10:13 p.m.

    Good write up. Thanks.

  3. Mario Cesarone, March 7, 2017 at 9:09 a.m.

    Interesting to see that we were more technically skilled than the opposing teams. Honduras played a very physical game, something US teams usually adopted. Clearly we are growing as a soccer nation.

  4. Fire Paul Gardner Now, March 7, 2017 at 10:10 a.m.

    More of these guys need to make the leap to the first team like Pulisic has done as well as some of the MLS guys. MLS teams need to be willing to give youth a chance. The format of MLS (no relegation, too many teams making playoffs) should encourage this.

  5. Bob Ashpole replied, March 7, 2017 at 3:02 p.m.

    Probably because no MLS teams have no chance at the playoffs in the first week of the season.

  6. Fire Paul Gardner Now replied, March 7, 2017 at 5:02 p.m.

    The players have to be good enough to deserve a chance though. As a RBNY fan, I'm looking forward to seeing Tyler Adams out there quite a bit this season and he just turned 18. Miazga was a regular at age 20 before moving abroad. Some of the guys on the U-20 team play regularly in MLS (Glad, Redding etc.) It takes time but it's starting to happen.

  7. don Lamb replied, March 7, 2017 at 5:59 p.m.

    There were numerous young players playing big roles in MLS this weekend. 2017 is a watershed year in terms of youth getting chances in the league. This trend should only get stronger and stronger now that academies are just starting to produce and MLS has the cache to actually attract some really good young talent. Davies, Etienne, Thompson, Morris, Roldan, Rusnak, Allen, Asad, Villalba, Vincent, L. Acosta, K. Acosta, Gruezo, Elis, Harrison, Matarrita, Muyl, Jones, Steffen, Rivas, etc. are all 22 or younger and played big roles for their team on opening weekend. There is tons of talent that we will have the fortune of seeing develop and break in over the next couple of seasons.

  8. Bob Ashpole replied, March 8, 2017 at 12:55 a.m.

    Don, I was thinking about the things you said earlier while reading this article.

  9. Bob Ashpole, March 8, 2017 at 12:57 a.m.

    I trust my eyes more than somebody's numbers and percentages.

  10. don Lamb replied, March 8, 2017 at 10:32 a.m.

    Trusting stats is pretty much taking another person word for it. You could find stats to support just about any argument. It's much more powerful to pay attention and reach your own conclusions. All of the evidence points to what I, Bob, K, and many others are clearly noticing. From the individual players, to the rules and policies being put in place, to the activity of foreign clubs scouting our talent, to the success of our youth national teams, it's all there for you to either see or ignore.

  11. don Lamb replied, March 8, 2017 at 11:09 a.m.

    What??? The system on the boys and girls sides is very different in this country. That is a humongous reason the DA was so so important on the women's side. Boys development is driven largely by MLS, but the women's league does not have anywhere near the infrastructure or reach that it would take to set up the systems to develop female players. As far as comparing our success in developing players now to previous generations, if the data is so easy to find, then please be my guest and do the research. You will find that we are much more talented at the younger ages than we have ever been. This is not just a top end talent thing because depth is a key part of this equation.

  12. Bob Ashpole replied, March 8, 2017 at 1:38 p.m.

    "Factual stats?" Of course but the problem is that statistical analysis and metrics are constantly misused. These types of analysis are helpful when examining objective things, something capable of being measured by some means. Too often they are used to disguise subjective judgments as objective facts. Other times the data is falsified or simply inaccurate. Other times the analysis of good data is flawed, often intentionally to support a desired conclusion. So in soccer I prefer to rely on my own eyes for most things.

  13. don Lamb replied, March 8, 2017 at 3:07 p.m.

    I'm not going down this rabbit hole, Steve. Let's stick to the topic.

  14. Bob Ashpole replied, March 8, 2017 at 7:04 p.m.

    Steve you can be flippant but I spent my entire career sorting through conflicting analyses, including some by the leading experts in their field.

  15. Bob Ashpole replied, March 9, 2017 at 2:16 a.m.

    What I am trying to explain is that statistics don't work when you don't have reliable objective quantitative data. It doesn't help with qualitative information, i.e., is a player in a good position or using good technique. It will help if you want to study something like minutes played in relationship to player age. Data analysis also helps in looking for tendencies, like where a player places penalty shots.

  16. Bob Ashpole replied, March 9, 2017 at 2:18 a.m.

    It also doesn't work when you compare apples to oranges.

  17. don Lamb replied, March 9, 2017 at 1:56 p.m.

    The research would show that we have many more teenagers who are pros than we had 5 years ago, 10 years ago, 15 years ago... I do not know how to quickly get those numbers, but as I mentioned above, if you look at youth national team rosters, that would be a good place to start and would indicate progress as college players are becoming more and more rare.

  18. K Michael, March 8, 2017 at 9:43 a.m.

    The development has been logarithmic! These u-17/20’s are the first of a growing wave of organic, homegrown, raised-with-soccer kids. European clubs are now actively scouting and poaching our DA prospects more than ever; USSF/MLS better wake up and plug in to the solidarity system as this talent wave rises. The straw that broke the camel’s back, IMO, was the Weston McKennie move/poach to Schalke – FCD got nada for 8 or so years of development. Since then, homegrown signings have picked up bigtime, as well as the recent roster expansion exclusively for the homegrowns. Believe me, if this talent wave weren’t there, none of the above would be happening. Folks, the virtuous circle has begun. By World Cup 2026, we’ll have a roster of Pulisics. Growth is like that – it’s never linear. Double a penny every day for a month – you wind up a millionaire. Substitute talented kids for the penny, you get a legion of talented kids in your player pool.

  19. don Lamb replied, March 8, 2017 at 10:34 a.m.

    Yep. 2022 should be very interesting and exciting. 2026 should be full of serious expectations.

  20. Fire Paul Gardner Now, March 8, 2017 at 11:37 a.m.

    This article has some of the figures we are looking for:

    The numbers show that MLS could do better in providing opportunities to young players but I think they will as the academy system becomes more established. On this front some teams (RBNY, Dallas) are doing better than others.

  21. Fire Paul Gardner Now replied, March 8, 2017 at 11:38 a.m.

    Also, these numbers aren't wildly out of line with other leagues around the world.

  22. don Lamb replied, March 8, 2017 at 1:23 p.m.

    That article is also from the end of last season. There seems to be an even greater emphasis on youth now than there was even just last season.

  23. Bob Ashpole replied, March 8, 2017 at 1:57 p.m.

    Let me give you an example of what I was talking about. In the ESPN article they are comparing MLS numbers with EPL numbers. EPL is a mature league. MLS is expanding. I suspect the expansion raises demand for players, creating more opportunity for US players to play. So as MLS contracted and expanded over the years it also creates a question as to the accuracy of comparing stats for those years in the same league.

  24. Fire Paul Gardner Now replied, March 8, 2017 at 3:16 p.m.

    You both make good points but those are the most recent numbers we have for MLS. I think there will be more young players given opportunities going forward which is exactly what we need.

  25. Daniel Clifton, March 9, 2017 at 10:36 a.m.

    Dallas won the Supporter's Shield and the US Cup last year and they have built their team through youth development. An MLS example of developing youth and getting it right.

  26. Brian McLindsay replied, March 9, 2017 at 12:12 p.m.

    I'm not sure it is the primary catalyst (Dallas), however the Dynamo have made a significant change by beginning a youth club consolidation in the Houston. I would say we are at the beginning of a much more focused youth development effort by the Dynamo group, than we have seen in the past. The Dynamo group deserves a lot of credit for understanding the need to have a local supply of players that can start coming in thru the homegrown process.

  27. Fire Paul Gardner Now, March 10, 2017 at 9:47 a.m.

    Wow, now Steve Run has been deleted?! True, his comments were foolish but I'm surprised he was banned.

  28. don Lamb replied, March 10, 2017 at 11:28 a.m.

    Steve got run. Obviously the same guy who continually gets deleted, so the editors probably did it this time based on his previous comments under a different name. Unfortunate because his opinions lead to some interesting conversation even if it gets ridiculous at times.

  29. Bob Ashpole replied, March 10, 2017 at 12:04 p.m.

    I don't think it is obvious, but I have suspicions along the same line.

  30. Fire Paul Gardner Now replied, March 10, 2017 at 2:31 p.m.

    Yes most likely the same guy posting pro Rapinoe comments on the national anthem article. His comments here had a similar tone and structure.

  31. Bob Ashpole, March 10, 2017 at 12:09 p.m.

    When considering the impact of intemperate remarks, think of the SA readers that lose interest in the forum rather than the fact that you persevere through it.

  32. Bob Ashpole replied, March 10, 2017 at 11:24 p.m.

    If I recall correctly to use the forum you have to be registered as a SA member. If someone newly registered comes to their attention, it is a simple matter to match information to another account. True, different individuals may be sharing the same computer, but for the purpose of protecting the forum that would not matter.

  33. Bob Ashpole replied, March 10, 2017 at 11:26 p.m.

    I count 9 different posters to this thread.

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