What's next for U.S. U-20s? The hard part begins

Now that the USA is out of the Under-20 World Cup, exiting for the third straight tournament in the quarterfinals, the 21 players -- all pros -- return to their day jobs.

Ten players will return to their MLS clubs, which are in mid-season, or the USL clubs where they are playing on loan from their MLS clubs. The other 11 players will get short vacations before they return to their European clubs for pre-season training.

What these 11 European-based players do in the next year will tell us a lot about whether this age group U-20 head coach Tab Ramos nurtured does indeed have the potential to be a "golden generation" for American soccer.

The 1999-2001 birth-year age group is further along in their professional development in terms of international experience -- the group also includes U.S. internationals Tyler Adams, Josh Sargent and Jonathan Amon, who didn't go to Poland -- first-team playing time and placement on big-time clubs -- the 2019 Dutch, French, German and Spanish league champions, among others -- but the team Ramos took to Poland was every young, the youngest he's ever taken.

Six U-20 players left MLS academies to sign with European clubs -- five as free agents, plus Chris Richards, whom FC Dallas sold to Bayern Munich -- but only Richards has already turned 19. Only three were registered for the full season.

We'll get an early sign about how just high the 11 European-based U-20s are viewed by their clubs when we know how many of them get invited to first-team training, which starts for some of their current clubs in as soon as less than three weeks.

For now, they are all still prospects. Only two of the 11 European-based players have played for their first teams -- Tim Weah at Paris St. Germain and Sebastian Soto at Hannover 96 -- but their status is up in the air for next season. Weah spent the second half of the 2018-19 season on loan to Celtic -- his situation at PSG is complicated because it just disbanded its reserve team program -- while Hannover 96, which was relegated, has to decide whether to sign Soto to a contract extension or sell him.

The recent history of U.S. U-20s in Europe and Latin America, though, is a cautionary tale about the odds these players face. Of the 30 players on Ramos' previous three U-20 World Cup teams who spent time in Europe or Latin America, only 18 have ever played in foreign first divisions. (Most on the 2013 U-20s are already out of pro soccer altogether.)

Only eight of those 18 played in foreign first divisions in 2018-19 and only two of them -- Emmanuel Sabbi and Adams -- finished the season as starters at the clubs who owned their contracts. (DeAndre Yedlin lost his starting job late in the season and was then injured.)

2013 U-20 World Cup team (12 players)
Foreign first-division minutes (2018-19 in parentheses) ...
8,128 (2,475)
DeAndre Yedlin (Tottenham, *Sunderland, Newcastle United)
1,869 (0) Caleb Stanko (Freiburg, *Vaduz)
504 (0) Luis Gil  (Queretaro)
148 (0) Alonso Hernandez (Monterrey)
130 (0) Benji Joya (Santos Laguna)
1 (0) Shane O'Neill (Excelsior)
0 Cody Cropper
Daniel Cuevas
0 Juan Pablo Ocegueda
Mario Rodriguez
0 Javan Torre
Jose Villarreal
Note: Zack Steffen will join Manchester City in July.

2015 U-20 World Cup team (12 players)
Foreign first-division minutes (2018-19 in parentheses) ...
5,289 (720)
Matt Miazga (Chelsea, *Vitesse, *Nantes)
3,277 (0)
Paul Arriola (Tijuana)
3,035 (0) Rubio Rubin (Utrecht, Silkeborg, Stabaek, Tijuana)
2,202 (1,576) Erik Palmer-Brown (*Kortrijk, *NAC Breda)
1,963 (877) Emerson Hyndman (Bournemouth, *Rangers, *Hibernian)
1,186 (0) Desevio Payne (Groningen, Excelsior)
649 (649) Joel Sonora (Tallares)
425 (0) Shaq Moore (Levante)
(0) John Requejo (Tijuana)
Cameron Carter-Vickers
0 Maki Tall
0 Gedion Zelalem
Note: Zack Steffen will join Manchester City in July.

2017 U-20 World Cup team (9 players)
Foreign first-division minutes (2018-19 in parentheses) ...
2,635 (2,040)
Emmanuel Sabbi (Hobro)
2,202 (1,576) Erik Palmer-Brown (*Kortrijk, *NAC Breda)
721 (721) Tyler Adams (RB Leipzig)
204 (204) Josh Sargent (Werder Bremen)
0 Cameron Carter-Vickers
Luca de la Torre
Jonathan Klinsmann
Gedion Zelalem
Brady Scott
Note: Palmer-Brown, Carter-Vickers, Zelalem also played on 2015 team.
*On loan.

Photo: DeFodi/Imago/Icon Sportswire

2 comments about "What's next for U.S. U-20s? The hard part begins".
  1. R2 Dad, June 9, 2019 at 9:19 a.m.

    Well, it’s a good thing the geniuses in Chicago have a master plan that is beyond all our comprehension. Otherwise, I would suggest following the lead if the English over the past 5 years. Humbled by decades of mediocrity and pushing their youth stars to the full men’s team too soon, they finally allowed their starlets to age up with their peers, and started winning things. OK, it’s more involved than that, but England started getting better once they stopped doing what they had always been doing ie changed their program at the youth level into something more coherent. But all our suggestions are unnecessary—I’m sure quite soon we’ll be playing semifinals in all the boys/men’s tourneys.  /S

  2. Eamon Kavanagh, June 10, 2019 at 9:25 a.m.

    ever thought about spell/grammar check?

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