What's the yardstick for World Cup-bound U.S. U-20s?

By Mike Woitalla

It's difficult to predict how youth World Cups will unfold, because the history of the tournament is not a reliable indicator. Serbia beat Brazil, 2-1, in the final of the 2015 U-20 World Cup. But neither team qualified for the 2017 U-20 World Cup, which kicks off on Saturday.

In 2015, USA fell to Serbia in the quarterfinals in a penalty-kick shootout after a scoreless tie after beating Colombia, 1-0, in the round of 16. The USA, under Coach Tab Ramos for a third World Cup, begins Group F play on Monday against Ecuador, which hosted the South American qualifying campaign and finished runner-up to Uruguay.

US U-20s on TV: Fox Sports 1
Monday, May 22, 4 a.m ET, vs. Ecuador
Thursday, May 25, 7 a.m. ET vs Senegal
Sunday, May 28, 5 a.m ET vs. Saudi Arabia

"In the World Cup, any team can beat you," said Ramos. "Certainly by getting the runner-up team in South America as the first team that we play, we already start with a final. So in this tournament we cannot afford to gradually get better. ... Ecuador has a very potent attack, they can counter really well and so our pressure, if it gets broken at different times, they could create some difficult opportunities for us, just like they did when they beat Argentina 3-0 and when they tied Brazil [2-2]. They are extremely dangerous up front, but I think this will be a great experience for us and it's a game that we have to come out and that we feel that we have to win."

The USA, which beat Mexico in qualifying, arrives as Concacaf champion for the first time in history and earned a seed.

"Normally, we like to play the underdog role, and in this case, we remain underdogs but we go there as champions," Ramos said. "I hope that we can really take this new experience as a good one and that this becomes more the norm rather than the exception."

Sixteen of the 24 teams from six groups reach the knockout stage, which means the four third-place finishers join group winners and runners-up in the knockout stage, which the USA has achieved nine times in 14 appearances. But the USA pulled off wins in the second round only four times:

1989: 4th place (2-3-1) Coach Bob Gansler
2003: 5th place (3-2-0) Coach Thomas Rongen
2015: 7th place (3-1-1) Coach Tab Ramos
2007: 7th place (3-1-1) Coach Thomas Rongen
(PK shootout games are considered ties.)

The 1989 team that finished fourth in Saudi Arabia was comprised of high school seniors and collegians. Goalkeeper Kasey Keller was the tournament Silver Ball winner -- the MVP runner-up. Steve Snow scored three goals -- tied for second in the tournament behind the USSR’s Oleg Salenko, who also won the Golden Shoe playing for Russia at the 1994 World Cup.

1989 U-20 World Cup -- Back row: Dario Brose, Curt Onalfo, Kasey Keller, Ben Crawley, Steve Snow; Front row: Neil Covone, Mike Burns, Troy Dayak, Cam Rast, Chris Henderson, Bryan Thompson.

Since the U-20 World Cup expanded from 16 to 24 teams in 1997, the USA reached the quarterfinals three times, twice under Coach Thomas Rongen, in 2003 and in 2007, and under Ramos in 2015.

The U-20 national team program's success is, of course, also measured -- perhaps mainly -- on how it feeds into the full national team. From the 2007 team that beat both Brazil (with David Luiz, MarceloWillian and Alexandre Pato) and Uruguay (with Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani), eight of the U.S. players earned full national team caps, but only four earned more than 10 caps: Robbie Rogers, Freddy Adu, Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley, and only Altidore and Bradley played in a senior World Cup.

A significant number U-20 World Cup alums have stocked senior U.S. World Cup teams, although the number dipped in 2014, when Coach Jurgen Klinsmann's squad included seven foreign-raised players.

1990 -- 6
1994 -- 6
1998 -- 5
2002 -- 8
2006 -- 15
2010 -- 13
2014 -- 7

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U-20 alums who reached the senior World Cup

So far, 35 U.S. players, including current U.S. U-20 coach Tab Ramos, made the jump from a U-20 World Cup squad to the big show. Ramos, who at age 16 was the youngest member of the 1983 U-20 World Cup squad, played at the 1990, 1994 and 1998 World Cups.

The most recent U-20 World Cup alum to appear on the biggest stage was DeAndre Yedlin, who played for Ramos’ team in 2013 and for Coach Jurgen Klinsmann at the 2014 World Cup.

Player U-20 World Cup/World Cup
John Stollmeyer 1981/1990
Paul Caligiuri 1983/1990, 1994
Tab Ramos 1983/1990, 1994, 1998
Hugo Perez 1983/1994

Tab Ramos played in the 1983 World Cup at age 16.
Tony Meola 1987/1990, 1994, 2002
Jeff Agoos 1987/1998, 2002
Marcelo Balboa 1987/1990, 1994, 1998
Kasey Keller 1987/1990, 1998, 2002, 2006
Mike Burns 1989/1994, 1998
Covone, Neil 1989/1990
Chris Henderson 1989/1990
Kasey Keller 1989/1990, 1998, 2002, 2006

Kasey Keller was Tony Meola's backup at the 1987 U-20 World Cup and won the Bronze Ball in 1989.
Gregg Berhalter 1993/2002, 2006
John O’Brien 1997/2002, 2006
Ben Olsen 1997/2006
Josh Wolff 1997/2002, 2006
Nick Rimando 1999/2014
Steve Cherundolo 1999/2002, 2006, 2010
Chris Albright 1999/2006
Carlos Bocanegra 1999/2006, 2010
Tim Howard 1999/2006, 2010, 2014
Oguchi Onyewu 2001/2006, 2010
DaMarcus Beasley 2001/2002, 2006, 2010, 2014
Brad Davis 2001/2014
Landon Donovan 2001/2002, 2006, 2010
Bobby Convey 2001/2006
Edson Buddle 2001/2010
Bobby Convey 2003/2006
Eddie Johnson 2003/2006
Ricardo Clark 2003/2010
Clint Dempsey 2003/2006, 2010, 2014
Jonathan Spector 2005/2010
Benny Feilhaber 2005/2010
Michael Bradley 2007/2010, 2014
Jozy Altidore 2007/2010, 2014
Mix Diskerud 2009/2014
DeAndre Yedlin 2013/2014


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USA 2017 U-20 World Cup foes

Previous appearances: 2001 (round of 16), 2011 (round of 16).
2015 U-20 World Cup: did not qualify
Qualifying: Finished runner-up as host to Uruguay. Its nine games included two wins over Colombia (4-3 and 3-0), a 3-0 rout of Argentina and a 2-2 draw with Brazil. As host, Ecuador had an edge by playing its games at high-altitude venues.
Key player: Midfielder Bryan Cabezas moved to Italy's Atalanta last year after making 68 appearances for Independiente del Valle, for which he played in the 2016 Copa Libertadores final. It finished runner-up to Colombia's Atletico Nacional.

Previous appearances: 2015 (semifinals).
2015 U-20 World Cup: Finished third in Group C with a loss to Portugal (3-0), a tie with Colombia (1-1) and a win over Qatar (2-1). Beat Ukraine on PKs in the round of 16 after a 1-1 tie, beat Uzbekistan, 1-0, in the quarterfinals, and fell to eventual runner-up Brazil, 5-0, in the semifinals.
Qualifying: Fell to host Zambia, 2-0, in the final after wins over Guinea, Cameroon, South Africa and a tie with Sudan.
Key player:  Midfielder Krepin Diatta, who was Man of the Match in two qualifying games, signed with Norwegian Tippeligaen club  Sarpsborg 08 FF last month.

Saudi Arabia
Previous appearances: 1985 (group stage), 1987 (group stage), 1989 (group stage), 1993 (group stage), 1999 (group stage), 2003 (group stage), 2011 (round of 16).
2015 U-20 World Cup: did not qualify.
Qualifying: Fell in the final of the Bahrain-hosted Asian championship to Japan on PKs after a scoreless tie. Beat South Korea, Iraq and Iran en route to the final.
Key player:  Captain Sami Al Naji, who has made seven appearance for his club Al Nassr in the Saudi top flight league, was the leading scorer at the Asian championship with four goals.

Complete 2017 U-20 World Cup Schedule

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The USA U-20 World Cup Roster

GOALKEEPERS (3): Jonathan Klinsmann (Univ. of California; Newport Beach, Calif.), J.T. Marcinkowski (Georgetown Univ.; Alamo, Calif.), Brady Scott (De Anza Force; Petaluma, Calif.).
DEFENDERS (7): Danny Acosta (Real Salt Lake; Salt Lake City, Utah), Cameron Carter-Vickers (Tottenham/ENG; Westcliff-on-Sea, England), Justen Glad (Real Salt Lake; Tucson, Ariz.), Aaron Herrera (Univ. of New Mexico; Las Cruces, N.M.), Erik Palmer-Brown (Sporting Kansas City; Lee's Summit, Mo.), Tommy Redding (Orlando City SC; Oviedo, Fla.), Auston Trusty (Philadelphia Union; Media, Pa.).
MIDFIELDERS (5): Tyler Adams (New York Red Bulls; Wappingers Falls, N.Y.), Luca De La Torre (Fulham FC; San Diego, Calif.), Derrick Jones (Philadelphia Union; Philadelphia, Pa.), Eryk Williamson (Univ. of Maryland; Alexandria, Va.), Gedion Zelalem (Arsenal FC; Bethesda, Md.).
FORWARDS (6): Jeremy Ebobisse (Portland Timbers; Bethesda, Md.), Lagos Kunga (Atlanta United FC Academy; Tucker, Ga.) Brooks Lennon (Real Salt Lake; Paradise Valley, Ariz.), Emmanuel Sabbi (Unattached; Columbus, Ohio), Josh Sargent (St. Louis Scott Gallagher Missouri; O'Fallon, Mo.), Sebastian Saucedo (Real Salt Lake; Park City, Utah).
15 comments about "What's the yardstick for World Cup-bound U.S. U-20s?".
  1. Fire Paul Gardner Now, May 19, 2017 at 5:12 p.m.

    The group isn't that difficult so certainly advancing from that should be the bare minimum we expect. I think another QF place would be a good result.

  2. R2 Dad, May 19, 2017 at 5:58 p.m.

    Nice mullet Kasey Keller!

  3. Jay Wall, May 19, 2017 at 6:29 p.m.

    Underdogs almost always do the things that help their opponents win. They may on occasion get out of the qualifying round but rarely go beyond that. >> Even in qualifying the players did simple things by habit that helped their opponents. And the higher the level of play of their opponents the more lethal these errors are. >> As Johan Cruyff observed when he played in the World Cup Final with the Netherlands "Our goal was to make it to the Championship game so we had already achieved our goal by getting there. Our goal had never been to win the World Cup. >> We have players who always try to receive with the same foot and then turn that way directly into a smart marking opponent. We have players repetitively doing the same things in matches giving the ball to opponents. We have some players too quick to get back to defend withdrawing attacking support from their attacking teammates on turnovers. And we have players slower to defend on transitions. >> We also have a lot of video that needs to be reviewed frame by frame to correct bad habits, to get all players on the same page and to deny opponents the chance we will otherwise give them. But most important we need to ask every coach and player to do a simple exercise that will make sure we win win the World Cup. Everyone needs to list the 3 to 5 things they see that help opponents that if corrected denies opportunities to opponents and will make the team Champions. >> Work and expect to become Champions by correcting the weaknesses that keep you from being the next World Cup Champions.

  4. Bob Ashpole, May 19, 2017 at 10:34 p.m.

    U20 and other youth competitions are tough to predict in part because the teams may significantly change between qualifying and the finals. I think the yardstick is hinted at in the article--looking back 10 years from now will we see some of these players contributing to the senior team.

  5. Quarterback TD, May 20, 2017 at 9:55 a.m.

    England looked extremely good but USA should win this. They are very experience and play well as a team. What bothers me is the European teams like Germany and England who played today use all pro players and yet they refuse to release some of our pro players. Regardless we will win it all.

  6. Fire Paul Gardner Now replied, May 20, 2017 at 1:28 p.m.


  7. don Lamb replied, May 20, 2017 at 6:35 p.m.


  8. Quarterback TD replied, May 22, 2017 at 9:25 a.m.

    Don't worry when US wins this you will have more of me to put up with.. Who laughs last last best..

  9. frank schoon, May 21, 2017 at 10:48 a.m.

    I just watched Argentina-Usa. WOW. This is the kind of game the losing coach could say 'why even bother practicing intelligent and sophisticated play, building up an attack with nice passes and employing nice first touch on the ball, quick-handling ball handling skills, beautiful change in tempo, play well under pressure, when you still can beat by a bunch of clod-hoppers who have difficulty stringing two passes together". This has got to be frustrating!! But this is all meaningless, for I were a manager looking to buy young players that can actual play "football", I would look at the players of the Argentinian team, and if I'm looking for beer and popcorn vendors for the stadium I would look at the English players . What is more SCARY is that you have to ask yourself what is more reflective and comes closest to the coaching and training the American kids are receiving from the DA that reflect best one of these teams.. OH BOY........

  10. frank schoon replied, May 21, 2017 at 11:17 a.m.

    I meant Argentina-England...

  11. Fire Paul Gardner Now replied, May 21, 2017 at 11:45 a.m.

    I have no clue what this comment is supposed to mean. In any event, England won 3-0 so they did something right.

  12. R2 Dad, May 21, 2017 at 2:50 p.m.

    where is the england/argentina replay available?

  13. frank schoon replied, May 21, 2017 at 3:09 p.m.

    It was shown at 9am on FS1. I just happen to notice it as I was trying to watch the Uruguay-italy game. Try checking on FS2 or Fubo, neither of which I have.
    I like Uruguay. I was impressed with Argentina, the score is a joke ,it is one of those in Soccer that happens. In the first 20 min. England didn't even get past the midline, maybe once.

  14. frank schoon replied, May 21, 2017 at 3:21 p.m.

    R2 , USA is playing tomorrow at 4am FS1

  15. Peter Skouras, May 21, 2017 at 4:06 p.m.

    Hello, Soccer America...! Ah yes...the United States 1980 Selection. Most of us if not "all" of us gave our heart and soul to this quest!!!!

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