MIKE WOITALLA: The under-20 magic

If American fans have missed some of the most exciting moments in U.S. soccer history, it's because many of them occurred during U-20 World Cups. In 1983, the U.S. won only once, against the Ivory Coast, but a team that included Tab Ramos, Paul Caligiuri and Hugo Perez gave a thrilling performance in a 3-2 loss to Uruguay that forebode the potential of that generation. The 1987 team, with six players now active in MLS, was eliminated by eventual runner-up West Germany in the first round. Its coach, Berti Vogts, said he wished goalkeeper Tony Meola had a German passport. Kasey Keller served as Meola's backup in Chile '87, but started in 1989 on a Bob Gansler-coached team that finished fourth -- the best showing in an outdoor world championship since the 1930 World Cup. In Saudi Arabia, the U.S. tied Mali, beat East Germany and Iraq before losing to Nigeria in a semifinal thriller. Brazil, coached by Rene Simoes -- who would lead Jamaica to France '98 -- beat the Americans, 2-0, for third place. The second goal was scored by Leonardo, who played in the France '98 final. In 1993, the U.S. trounced European champion Turkey, 6-0. in its opener before falling to Brazil in the second round. The 1997 performance in Malaysia was somewhat disappointing as the U.S. won only once, against China, but managed to reach the second round as a third-place team. However, the experience proved valuable, judging by the players who have gone on to MLS careers. Now, the U.S. is off to Nigeria. The young Americans players will be tested against the world's future stars. They'll face world championship pressure and the scrutiny of international scouts. Win or lose, they'll come back better players. U.S. U-20 VETERANS IN MLS Mexico '83 -- Paul Caligiuri (Los Angeles), Tab Ramos (MetroStars). Chile '87 -- Jeff Agoos (D.C. United), Marcelo Balboa (Colorado), Henry Gutierrez (Miami), Tony Meola (Kansas City), Danny Pena (Los Angeles), Mark Santel (Dallas). Saudi Arabia '89 -- Dario Brose (San Jose), Mike Burns (New England), Chris Henderson (Kansas City), Curt Onalfo (D.C. United). Australia '93 -- Jeff Cassar (Miami), Brandon Pollard (Dallas), Brian Kelly (MetroStars), Rob Smith (Columbus), Nelson Vargas (Miami), Imad Baba (New England), Matt McKeon (Colorado), Miles Joseph (MetroStars). Malaysia '97 -- Andy Kirk (Tampa Bay), Matt Napoleon (Columbus), Chad McCarty (Tampa Bay), Brian Dunseth (New England), Matt Chulis (Columbus), Carlos Parra (Miami), Ramiro Corrales (MetroStars), Ben Olsen (D.C. United), Esmundo Rodriguez (San Jose), Joe DiGiamarino (Colorado), Brian West (Columbus), Josh Wolff (Chicago). ò Players who were on U.S. rosters for a U-20 World Cup.
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