The USMNT roster for the 2019 Under-20 World Cup was released earlier this week and I’m here to break it down for you! The U20’s start play against Ukraine on May 24th on FS1, followed by games against Nigeria on May 27th (also FS1), and Qatar on May 30th (FS2). Below is the roster head coach Tab Ramos called in for the competition:
2019 FIFA U-20 World Cup Roster by Position (Club; Hometown; U-20 Caps/Goals)
GOALKEEPERS (3): CJ Dos Santos (Benfica/POR; Foxchase, Pa.; 2/0), David Ochoa (Real Salt Lake; Oxnard, Calif.; 4/0), Brady Scott (Köln/GER; Petaluma, Calif.; 9/0)
DEFENDERS (6): Sergino Dest (Ajax/NED; Almere-Stad, Netherlands; 8/1), Chris Gloster (Hannover 96/GER; Montclair, N.J.; 11/0), Aboubacar Keita (Richmond Kickers; Columbus, Ohio; 2/0), Mark McKenzie (Philadelphia Union; Bear, Del.; 10/3), Matthew Real (Philadelphia Union; Drexel Hill, Pa.; 10/0), Chris Richards (Bayern Munich/GER; Birmingham, Ala.; 8/0)
MIDFIELDERS (6): Edwin Cerrillo (FC Dallas; Frisco, Texas; 0/0), Chris Durkin (D.C. United; Glen Allen, Va.; 2/0), Richard Ledezma (PSV Eindhoven/NED; Phoenix, Ariz.; 4/0), Alex Mendez (Freiburg/GER; Los Angeles, Calif.; 15/8), Paxton Pomykal (FC Dallas; Highland Village, Texas; 9/3), Brandon Servania (FC Dallas; Dallas, Texas; 8/2)
FORWARDS (6): Ayo Akinola (Toronto FC/CAN; Brampton, Ont.; 12/9), Konrad De La Fuente (Barcelona/ESP; Miami, Fla.; 2/1), Ulysses Llanez (Wolfsburg/GER; Lynwood, Calif.; 11/7), Justin Rennicks (New England Revolution; South Hamilton, Mass.; 13/6), Sebastian Soto (Hannover 96/GER; San Diego, Calif.; 5/2), Tim Weah (Celtic FC/SCO; Rosedale, N.Y.; 0/0)
The big news of this roster is that Timothy Weah is playing with the U20 side and not the senior national team at this summer’s Gold Cup. There have been reports that Weah wanted to play in the U20 World Cup, perhaps seeing it as an opportunity to see the field more. Weah is a PSG youngster who spent the second half of this season loaned out to Celtic of the Scottish Premiere League. Celtic won the league while Weah contributed 4 goals and 1 assist through 17 appearances across all competitions. He also already has 8 caps and 1 goal for the senior national team. While those numbers may not jump off the page, you have to remember that this is a youth competition; many of the players Weah will be going up against have never played a professional minute of soccer and have only played at the youth levels.
Players who have already made their professional debuts do not play in these youth competitions. For example, Tyler Adams has played in 8 games for Bundesliga side Red Bull Leipzig since joining the team in January, he has 10 caps for the senior national team, and he was not called into this roster despite being age-eligible. This is usually because the parent club won’t release the player, the player does not want to play at that level, or they are already contributing to the senior team. I fully expect Adams to be in this summer’s Gold Cup roster. Josh Sargent and Jonathan Amon might be in a similar boat to Adams but I do not feel as confident in their inclusion in Berhalter’s Gold Cup roster, but that’s an article for another day. The above is also why this is Weah’s first appearance for the U20’s this cycle.
Outside of headliner Timothy Weah, there is still a LOT of talent on this roster. Personally, I’m super excited about Mendez, Dest, Pomykal, Llanez, and Servania (even though Servania might be the third choice defensive midfielder on this roster). Mendez is the centerpiece of this team. He is the engine in the midfield who can pass up, over, around, and through teams. Pomykal was deployed mostly as a winger in qualifying but has played more centrally for FC Dallas as he’s experienced a breakout season in 2019. Pomykal is a great ‘connective tissue’ kind of player who allows other players to look good while also having some flashes of brilliance on his own. Llanez is a dynamic, speedey left winger who can beat defenders with his pace and with his ball skills. Dest is a no-nonsense defender who is great at stopping an attack before it starts. he also provides some silky passes up the right side. Lastly Servania is the defensive midfielder you want when you’re dominating a game. He has some defensive bite and his real asset comes in attack where he can unlock a defense with one line-splitting pass. Those were the players who really impressed me in the CONCACAF U20 Championship where the US dominated almost every team they faced.
Other players who I have not seen play as much, but have a lot of hype around them are Durkin, Ledezma, Richards, Soto, Cerrillo, and De La Fuente. Remember, any professional minutes for guys at this age is huge. With that said, Durkin started for DC United for the first half of the last year (1500 mins on the season) before Canouse came back from injury. He’s played ~400 mins so far this season. Cerrilo has surpassed Servania on FC Dallas’ depth chart and has played 592 minutes so far this season. Soto got his first pro minutes a few weeks back making 2 late substitute appearances for Hannover 96 in the Bundesliga. The rest are on the cusp of getting professional minutes. Richards is an FC Dallas product who was sold to Bayern Munich for a little over $1 million last December. He has trained with the first team, but has only played for the reserve teams. De La Fuente comes from the Barcelona Academy and has only played for Barca’s U19 squad to this point. Lastly, Ledezma plays in the PSV youth system but hasn’t played much due to injury. I don’t know what to expect from him since he’s only just recovered enough to practice. I will be content if he is the impact sub for this team.
The rest of the field players (McKenzie, Real, Keita, Gloster, Rennicks, and Akinola) are varying levels of solid. From what I’ve seen McKenzie, Real, Keita, and Gloster can all handle the U-20 level well, but to be honest none have been tested that hard by the opposition they’ve played. This tournament will likely separate the boys from the men in that group. Akinola has the physicality to play at the pro level (he’s played 230 mins for Toronto so far this season), but needs to develop the skills, i.e. touch on the ball, finishing, and passing ability. If we run out of ideas in attack, I’d expect us to start lumping up long balls to Akinola’s head. Rennicks on the other hand had a great CONCACAF U20 Championship where he sometimes looked better than the more-often-hyped Soto. However, Rennicks has struggled to find playing time on a bad New England Revolution team (the Revs are a MESS so that might not be his fault, but I digress). If any of these guys have a big tournament, and the above players play as expected, the US will be in really good shape.
Lastly, goalkeeper is a bit of a question mark going into this U20 World Cup. Brady Scott would be the assumed starter, as he was for the CONCACAF tournament, however he has just returned from injury. Ochoa has been getting regular minutes with Real Salt Lakes B team in USL, and CJ Dos Santos is the starter for the U17 team (Tab always likes to take a U17 ‘keeper for the experience). I would expect Scott to start as long as he is healthy for the sake of chemistry.
With that, here is the starting lineup I expect Tab to go with (4-3-3:
Llanez – Weah – De La Fuente
Pomykal – Durkin – Mendez
Gloster – McKenzie – Richards – Dest
For me, Llanez, Weah, Pomykal, Mendez, Richards, Dest, and Gloster’s names are written in ink. You could talk me into Cerrillo getting the start over Durkin since he and Pomykal have chemistry from playing this season in Dallas together. McKenzie and Scott have both been nursing injuries so perhaps they aren’t ready in game one. And Akinola is a favorite of Tab’s so I wouldn’t be shocked in he starts him over De La Fuente despite Akinola being the less skilled player.
Off the bench, Ledezma is the impact sub for Mendez/Pomykal, Akinola is there if we need more physicality, Cerillo, and Servania are CDM depth, and Keita is CB depth. Having Soto and Rennicks feels redundant, since Tab only plays a one striker system, and I’m not sure either work well on the wing. Also worth noting is that natural LB Matt Real is our only fullback depth on the roster. If Dest get’s injured, perhaps Real plays RB or maybe one of Cerrillo/Durkin/Servania get’s shoehorned in there.
After dominating the CONCACAF Qualifying tournament, Tab Ramos’ side have some high expectations for this year’s U20 World Cup. The 2017 squad made it to the quarterfinals of the competition, losing to eventual runners-up Venezuela. That’s where the bar is set. Anything less than that would be a decided disappointment, equaling that would be unsatisfactory, and surpassing it is the goal.
Come back for a reaction to the group stage games in a few weeks!