Why U-20 World Cup is must-see for American soccer fans

Gregg Berhalter captained the USA’s 1993 U-20 World Cup team. Tab Ramos  starred on the USA's 1983 U-20 World Cup team. Berhalter is now, of course, the U.S. national team coach. Ramos is head coach of the U.S. team that faces Ukraine on Friday in its 2019 U-20 World Cup opener.

FIFA launched the biennial U-20 World Cup in 1977, and in 1979 the tournament famously introduced Diego Maradona to the world. Other U-20 World Cup Golden Ball MVP winners include Lionel Messi (2005), Sergio Aguero (2007) and Paul Pogba (2013).

(Messi and Pogba have in common that they led their teams to the U-20 title but failed to beat the USA. In Messi’s case, the Sigi Schmid-coached USA won its opener against Argentina, 1-0. The Ramos-coached USA tied France with Pogba, 1-1.)

Internationally, the stars of U-20 World Cups also include Thierry Henry, Xavi, Arjen Robben, Andres Iniesta and James Rodriguez.

From American U-20 history, there’s a long list of players who went on to play in the senior World Cup, besides Berhalter (2002) and Ramos (1990, 1994, 1998).

Paul Caligiuri, who scored the goal in 1989 that ended the USA’s 40-year World Cup qualifying drought, was a teammate of Hugo Perez and Ramos, who was only 16, on the 1983 U-20 squad.

To name just a few more U.S. U-20 World Cup alums: Marcelo Balboa, Tony Meola, John O’Brien, Tim Howard, Carlos Bocanegra, Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan.

DeAndre Yedlin played in the 2014 World Cup just a year after playing Ramos’ U-20 World Cup team.

And there’s Kasey Keller, the goalkeeper who won the Silver Ball at the 1989 U-20 World Cup. The USA, under Coach Bob Gansler, finished fourth 30 years ago, which remains the USA’s best finish at the tournament.

Reaching the final four at this U-20 World Cup in Poland is a reasonable goal for the USA, which under Ramos reached the quarterfinals in 2015 and 2017.

By all accounts, American U-20 talent is more impressive than ever. Bundesliga-based Tyler Adams and Josh Sargent, who played for Ramos in the 2017 U-20 World Cup, have already moved up to the full national team and won’t be going to Poland. So deep is the pool that MLS No. 1 draft pick Frankie Amaya, who helped the USA beat Mexico in the Concacaf U-20 Championship final, and 18-year-old Brenden Aaronson, who has started 10 games for MLS Eastern Conference first-place Philadelphia Union, didn’t make the cut.

“There are many potential 10-year national team players in this group and that is exciting,” says Ramos.

At the very least, this U-20 World Cup will offer a glimpse of young players we'll see more of in the future. But for American fans, who had to watch a World Cup last summer from Russia that the USA didn’t take part in, it's especially intriguing. Because it could deliver a much needed dose of optimism.

USA U-20 World Cup Coaching History
Walter Chyzowych
1981 (15th place/16 teams)
Angus McAlpine
1983 (11th place/16)
Derek Armstrong
1987 (11th place/16)
Bob Gansler
1989 (4th place/16)
Bobby Howe
1993 (8th place/16)
Jay Hoffmann
1997 (15th place/16)
Sigi Schmid
1999 (11th place/24 teams)
2005 (11th place/24)
Wolfgang Suhnholz
2001 (13th place/24)
Thomas Rongen
2003 (5th place/24)
2007 (7th place/24)
2009 (17th place/24)
Tab Ramos
2013 (17th place/24)
2015 (7th place/24)
2017 (6th place/24)
2019  --

3 comments about "Why U-20 World Cup is must-see for American soccer fans".
  1. beautiful game, May 23, 2019 at 1 p.m.

    Until a player demonstrates consistency, efficacy, and brings energy (CCE) to the team table; I could care less about the potential until it's achieved. I personally saw American Giuseppe Rossi's potential in the 1990s and he didn't disappoint with CEE until injuries cut short his career in La Liga and Calcio.

  2. Robert Biondolillo, May 24, 2019 at 1:33 p.m.

    Not only is it must-see, its arguably more intetesting and exciting than the gold cup might be.  This is a team of young pros in a deep pool unlike any other time in US soccer.  I think the U17s will equally validate what the 20s do as not just a specisl year group, but a shift entirely.  Certainly more exciting than half of the USMNT roster might be.  Non-casual, far-sighted fans should flock to this.  Big stories, huge implications, star-making for some and fun to watch.  Great stuff.

  3. R2 Dad replied, May 24, 2019 at 2:17 p.m.

    Would love to, but neither Fox Soccer Match Pass nor B/R Live are carrying these matches. How will you be watching?

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