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
1981 (15th place/16 teams)
1983 (11th place/16)
1987 (11th place/16)
1989 (4th place/16)
1993 (8th place/16)
1997 (15th place/16)
1999 (11th place/24 teams)
2005 (11th place/24)
2001 (13th place/24)
2003 (5th place/24)
2007 (7th place/24)
2009 (17th place/24)
2013 (17th place/24)
2015 (7th place/24)
2017 (6th place/24)