USMNT 2019 Gold Cup Preview

The USMNT start their Gold Cup defense against Guyana on June 18th, followed by a long-awaited rematch against the dreaded Trinidad & Tobago on June 22nd, and rounding out the group stage against recent World Cup debutantes Panama on June 26th. All games will be in English of the Fox Channels and in Spanish on the Univision channels.

Berhalter named a 40-man roster and then a 23-man roster. Now that the 23-man roster has been announced, only injury related changes can be made. Any player switched into the 23-man roster must come from the 40 man roster and the switch must be made at least 24 hours before the first game (so before June 17th at 10 PM for the US).

The 40-man roster was mostly expected. There are the young stars (Pulisic, Adams, McKennie, Sargent, Steffen), some members of the Old Guard (Bradley, Altidore, Omar Gonzalez, Guzan), some Berhalter favorites (Trapp, Zardes, Lima, Lewis), some players forged in MLS (Long, Zimmerman, Roldan, M. Robinson, Baird) a few European journeyman (Ream, Miazga, CCV, Holmes, A. Robinson, Horvath) and some curious call-ups (Fossey, Gutman, Gyau, Boyd, Amon). Check out the full list here. Notable absences include Brooks and Yedlin (both injured), Weah (who is with the U-20’s at the U-20 World Cup), and lastly, Novakovich, Wood, K. Accosta, Delgado, Hamid, and Fabian Johnson (presumably not in the plans for Berhalter).

Then Berhalter named a “Summer Training Camp” roster which mixed some fringe senior team players and some U-23 eligible players (The Olympics is a U-23 competition, and the US has not qualified in the last two cycles). Then Berhalter named a 29-man roster of players who would train for a friendly against Jamaica. This friendly was essentially used as a tryout for the final 23-man Gold Cup roster which came the next day.

Before I breakdown the final 23-man roster, I want note the odd “Summer Training Camp” roster. I believe this camp served two purposes: 1. Introduce the Berhalter system to some players who have yet to play in it, and 2. Provide an opportunity for U-23 players to train with senior national team players. I like the idea of U-23 players getting tested against some older guys, and I like the idea of some older guys getting more reps with Berhalter. All in all, I’m about this summer camp. Since then, there is a U-23 roster training in Utah while the senior team bounces around the country in the Gold Cup. Definitely like the U-23 team getting together early and often to learn Berhalter’s systems.

Now to the official Gold Cup Roster (Club;Caps/Goals):

Players replaced due to injury are crossed out

GOALKEEPERS (3): 12-Sean Johnson (New York City FC; 7/0), 22-Tyler Miller (LAFC; 0/0), 1-Zack Steffen (Columbus Crew SC; 10/0)

DEFENDERS (8): 14-Tyler Adams (RB Leipzig/GER; 10/1) [Replaced by Reggie Cannon], 3-Omar Gonzalez (Toronto FC/CAN; 50/3), 2-Nick Lima (San Jose Earthquakes; 4/0), 23-Aaron Long (New York Red Bulls; 6/0), 16-Daniel Lovitz (Montreal Impact/CAN; 5/0), 19-Matt Miazga (Chelsea/ENG; 14/1),
13-Tim Ream (Fulham/ENG; 30/1), 5-Walker Zimmerman (LAFC; 7/2)

MIDFIELDERS (6): 4-Michael Bradley (Toronto FC/CAN; 145/17), 20-Duane Holmes (Derby County/ENG; 2/0) [Replaced by Djorde Mihailovic], 8-Weston McKennie (Schalke/GER; 9/1), 10-Christian Pulisic (Chelsea/ENG; 25/10), 15-Cristian Roldan (Seattle Sounders FC; 11/0), 6-Wil Trapp (Columbus Crew SC; 17/0)

FORWARDS (6): 17-Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC/CAN; 111/41), 7-Paul Arriola (D.C. United; 23/3), 21-Tyler Boyd (Vitória Guimãres/POR; 1/0), 18-Jonathan Lewis (Colorado Rapids; 4/0), 11-Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders FC; 28/5), 9-Gyasi Zardes (Columbus Crew SC; 45/7)

The internet believes the most notable omission here is Josh Sargent. Berhalter defended his decision saying he like Zardes more than Sargent right now and that Sargent could gain more from getting a full preseason in with Werder Bremen. I don’t love Sargent being left off but I’m not outraged by it either. I think Amon also had a good shot at making this team which is relatively thin on quality wingers.

Against Venezuela on Sunday, the team got smacked with a 3-0 loss. They were missing Bradley, Pulisic, and Adams while Altidore only played the second half. Those are 4 of the US’ 7 most important players (the others being Steffen, Brooks, and McKennie). Plus this was Aaron Long’s first game back from a month of injury. I’m not trying to make excuses for the US, as a 3-0 loss is unacceptable in most cases, but there are some reasons as to why the team might have under-performed. And luckily, none of the United States’ group stage opponents are ranked top-30 in the world like Venezuela currently is (Stu Holden, on the call for the USA v. VEN match, wasn’t giving that Venezuela team enough credit; they defeated Argentina earlier this year for a reason). I believe that the team will look a lot better after a full week of practice together.

Pulisic joined this group late, and did not play in the Venezuela warm-up game. Adams and Holmes, two of the more exciting prospects, left camp due to injuries. Since the first Gold Cup game is against minnows Guyana, I would not be shocked if a few starters on this team rest. So here is the team I expect Berhalter to play against T&T and Panama in the 2nd and 3rd games:

Altidore

Arriola – Pulisic – McKennie – Boyd

Bradley

Ream –  Miazga – Zimmerman – Lima

Steffen

I’m pretty convinced Bradley has to start over Trapp, and Altidore has to start over Zardes. We might see Long in for Zimmerman, if Long get’s up to speed. Otherwise I think this is Berhalter’s ideal starting XI for this tournamnet. Remember this is Berhalter’s special formation where Lima joins Bradley on the defensive midfield line in attack, and the wingers push high to the forward line with Altidore. Although, without Adams in that hybrid RB/CM position, we might see a totally different structure on the field.

I am interested to see how this group plays against some CONCACAF teams in official competition. However, I would like to see a similar line-up with a few tweaks in order to put out best players in their best positions. Given this roster, I want to see Pulisic pushed out wide, where he played regularly for Dortmund. Without Holmes or Lletget on the roster, I guess I’m putting Mihailovic or Roldan where Pulisic is currently. I’d also like to see McKennie play deeper in the midfield. I believe McKennie plays best when he is transitioning the ball from defense to attack. Playing him deeper in the midfield allows him to do that. Lastly, I would put Adams in the defensive midfield, where he has played for RB Leipzig, if he were healthy and on this roster. For now, Bradley will do.

A good time to try something new/different would be in the US’s first game against Guyana. I know we shouldn’t be experimenting in an official competition, but I think a slightly experimental lineup could still roll the Guyana team. Specifically this is a set-up I’d like Berhalter to try (if not in this tournament, at some point):

Altidore

Pulisic – Mihailovic/Roldan – Boyd

Bradley – McKennie

Lovitz –  Miazga – Zimmerman – Lima

Steffen

Notice I also swapped for Lovitz at LB because I see him as more of a natural LB than Ream, and in this set-up, I wouldn’t have Lima push up making the back-4 into a back-3. We might see some experimentation like this in the group stage. It’s hard to project who will play in the knockout round, as roster decisions will likely be based on form in the group stage. Maybe Tyler Boyd lights the world aflame, or Long comes back into form, or there’s some catastrophic injury that changes the whole set-up.

Come back after the Group Stage and the Final for reviews of the USMNT’s performance!

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Basketball needs a new villain

The curtain has come down on what proved to be an NBA season chock full of storylines. Kawhi Leonard delivered Toronto its first title, LeBron James missed the playoffs for the first time in over a decade, and Golden State missed out on the first 3-peat since a guy named Jordan did it in the 90s. Yet, as the dust settles, one key role has been left shockingly unfilled in the world of basketball. For the first time in quite a while, basketball does not have a villain.

Kobe Bryant
The Black Mamba won 5 titles spanning the course of 11 years. (Flikr)

This role, most recently portrayed by Kevin Durant, is one common to basketball for decades. Sometimes, it even manifested into teams. The “Bad Boys” were the clear villain in the NBA during the late 80s, led by Bill Laimbeer. The mantle was passed to Christian Laetner in the early 90s. The late 90s were owned by that Kobe kid. He likely held that title for quite a while, even giving his persona a name which struck fear into the heart of his opponents. Although JJ Reddick really challenged him for the crown during the mid 2000’s.

In 2010, LeBron James announced he would be taking up the role until further notice when he created the first modern era super team. When he stepped down, as his character arc brought him back to hero status, Grayson Allen stepped up to bring back the Duke hate. That led us into Durant’s reign when he signed with Golden State.

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The King became the league’s best villain ever with his move to South Beach. (Wikimedia Commons)

There is no doubt though that Durant is done with the role, after attempting to play through injury in the finals before rupturing his Achillies, as the Warriors ultimately succumbed to injuries and the might of Kawhi Leonard. That kind of grit and determination won over a lot of the haters. Golden State already seemed to be losing steam as the league’s big bad. With Durant set to miss most or all of next season, Grayson Allen wasting away in Utah and LeBron looking like a business mogul in L.A., it is safe to say basketball will be holding auditions to replace him as its antagonist.

It is hard to know where to look for the next villain of basketball. The men’s college game didn’t produce any worthy candidates. It’s best player was one of the nicest people on the planet. The women’s college game didn’t even come close to manufacturing a leading lady, as Sabrina Ionescu (basically) felled every triple-double record ever known. The closest thing the WNBA might have is Brittney Griner, but she doesn’t seem to command the same level of animosity she did in college.

The NBA seems like the best bet to unearth the next great basketball antihero. With free agency looming and the Lakers acquisition of Anthony Davis, could Los Angeles once again become the home of the sport’s evil empire? This is Hollywood after all. They produce great villains all the time.

LeBron’s Lakers feel like the only remaining hope for a true villain right now in basketball. There is the potential college basketball will suddenly find a worthy contender, but no one seems ideally placed to take on the role. In the NBA, none of the current superstars feel all that hateable. Leonard is way too soft spoken. Giannis Antetokounmpo feels way too lovable. The closest thing the Association currently has to a new villain is Drake. In order for him to truly vault into that position, the Raptors would need to be a consistent contender. That is far from guaranteed. It also feels pretty lame if the villain is not even a player.

I just feel lost right now in terms of who to hate. After so many years of great villains, I can’t buy into hating the Lakers yet. I now feel bad for Durant and the Warriors. I dislike James Harden, but that hardly elevates him to villain status. Basketball just looks like a villain-less wasteland.

No, basketball must truly return to the drawing board and craft up a new character to lord over the sport, inspiring hate in all of our social media diatribes. The NBA capped its incredible storytelling with a masterstroke of having the unsuspecting Raptors vanquish the mighty Warriors, but it came at the cost of its best villain in years.

Where Do the U-20 World Cup Players Go Next?

The US Under-20 team lost to Ecuador in the quarterfinal of the U-20 World Cup on Saturday. The Baby Yanks put up a decent fight but the South American champions were made of sterner stuff. In all honesty, this was the only game I watched, so I cannot speak in-depth towards many of the overall tournament performances. However, I feel confident that I can asses where the players from this tournament will fit into future national teams.

2021 U-20 World Cup Cycle

Every year Tab Ramos is sure to include at least a few players in his U-20 squad who are age eligible for the subsequent U-20 World Cup Cycle. This year there were four players:

Ulyses Llanez – Llanez played well with his few minutes in this year’s tournament. He recently joined Wolfsburg and might struggle to crack their lineup for regular minutes in the ’19/’20 season. He has a better chance in ’20/’21 leading up to the next U-20 World Cup. Wouldn’t be shocked if he’s breaking into the senior team at that point ala players like Tyler Adams who skip playing the U-20 tournament a second time.

David Ochoa – Plays for RSL 2nd team in the USL Championship. Might be able to play for RSL if 39 year old Nick Rimmando retires soon. Definitely won’t be in the conversation for U-23 or senior team at this age. Very few GK’s would be.

Julian Araujo – Currently starting with LA Galaxy in MLS. He has a chance to play with the U-23 team in this Olympic cycle but would have to beat out the likes of Reggie Cannon, Serginio Dest, and Kyle Duncan who are all playing at a similar level. Also might skip out on the 2021 U-20 WC if he’s breaking the senior team roster.

Konrad de la Fuente – Play’s for Barcelona’s U19 team and occasionally appears for Barcelona B. Hopefully he continues that trajectory and is starting to crack Barcelona’s first team in 2021 (unlikely, but I’ll keep my fingers crossed). Again, could also be cracking the senior team roster by 2021 if everything goes right.

Need More Minutes with Their Club

This group likely won’t be in any immediate plans on either the U-23 team or the senior team, but they may figure into the picture eventually if they play well for their club team:

CJ Dos Santos – Plays for Benfica’s U19s currently and recently signed an extension with the club through 2023 so he’ll be there for a good while. Also not in the U-23 or senior team convo.

Chris Durkin – Durkin will get minutes where he can behind Russell Canouse at DC United. There were rumors he might be on the move this summer before this U-20 World Cup but I have a feeling his price has dropped after his poor performance at the tournament. He might figure into the U-23 picture because we are shallow at defensive midfield in that age group. However, after this tournament I am not looking forward to more Durkin in a US shirt.

Brandon Servania – Playing for FC Dallas’ 2nd team in USL League 1. Honestly I hope another MLS team trades for him because he needs to play at a higher level in the coming years. At Dallas he’s behind someone at the depth chart …

Edwin Cerrillo – Despite not playing in this tournament, Cerillo has started for Dallas to start the 2019 season. Hopefully that continues and Jason Kreis likes him a little more than Tab Ramos did. If so he might make the U-23 roster (as might Durkin or Servania because our U-23’s might be shallow at defensive midfield).

Matt Real – Currently on Phildelphia’s depth chart at fullback but not getting many minutes. I don’t see Real figuring into any national team picture much in the future.

Aboubakar Keita – Playing with the Richmond Kickers in USL League 1. I also do not expect much from Keita in the near future at the international level.

Justin Rennicks – Perhaps Bruce Arena will take a liking to Rennicks’ never-say-die fighter mentality. I bet New England is going to undergo an overhaul and that might be a ripe opportunity for Rennicks. But he won’t figure for the U-23’s or senior team any time soon, barring a meteoric rise.

Brady Scott – Was playing for Koln’s U-19 side until he was injured earlier this year. Whether he gets back into the groove or not I doubt he’ll figure into the U-23 or senior team in the near future.

U-23 Olympic Team

Olympic Qualifying starts in late 2019/early 2020 and the US should definitely draw from this pool of players to stock that roster.

Serginio Dest – Currently plays for Ajax’s 2nd team in the Dutch 2nd division but he has already signed a first team contract. We have options at right back at the U-23 level, as mentioned above, but I don’t think any of them are necessarily better than Dest at this point.

Alex Mendez – Mendez’s stock surprisingly went down this tournament. He’s been playing for Freiburg’s U-19’s in Germany and I think he needs to get first team minutes soon or else he’s going to fall behind his peers physically. If he does get those minutes, he has a chance to compete for one of those 8/10 spots in the U-23 team.

Richie Ledezma – First things first, Ledezma has to stay healthy as he has been injured for PSV’s youth teams for most of the last year. He would be competing with Mendez for an 8/10 spot in the U-23 team. Remember both McKennie, and Pulisic are U-23 eligible so they probably own the starting spots there. And someone later on this list might be ahead of Ledezma and Mendez …

Mark McKenzie – McKenzie fell out of favor this season at Philadelphia so he needs to earn his spot back there first. His teammate Trusty is also U-23 eligible and they will be competing with each other for the CB4 spot on the U-23 roster behind Cameron Carter-Vickers, Miles Robinson, and Chris Richards (spoiler).

Sebastian Soto – Soto saw a few minutes for Hanover at the end of this Bundesliga season. With Hanover dropping to the second division, I would expect Soto to enter the regular rotation at striker. If he performs well, he might surpass Jeremy Ebobisse on the U-23 striker depth chart. It’ll be tough for him to surpass Sargent who will hopefully (likely?) be playing a good chunk of minutes in the league above Soto. Although, I think those two players are more comparable than most people would like to admit.

Senior National Team

These are players who might start getting call-up for the senior team as soon as our CONCACAF Nations League games in the fall.

Chris Gloster – Since the USMNT hasn’t had a good LB in a decade, Gloster could get fast-tracked right to the senior team as he was one of the most complete players for the US at the U-20 WC. I also think he’ll definitely be involved with the U-23’s

Paxton Pomykal – So if Pulisic and McKennie are the first choice 8/10’s I think Pomykal has a good argument for the 3rd spot behind them. Although, Holmes may prove me wrong at the Gold Cup in the coming weeks. Holmes isn’t U-23 eligible so I fully expect Pomykal to be on that roster.

Chris Richards – Richards is going to play with Bayern Munich II in the German 3rd division next season. He has trained with the first team sporadically, and I am interested to see if that becomes more frequent. He’ll be in the U-23 picture for sure, and might get a few senior team call-ups before that.

Timothy Weah –  Has already appeared for the senior team and definitely fills a need for a dangerous winger. He is still a PSG player but I would expect him to either get sold or loaned somewhere else for this season.

Come back for more USMNT news!

Celtics win the Anthony Davis lottery

Anthony Davis
Anthony Davis demanded a trade back in January. (Flikr)

Tuesday night’s chaos has led to some legitimate reshaping of the NBA landscape in a matter of minutes. The New Orleans Pelicans, who entered with the 7th-best odds to land the top pick, actually won the NBA Draft lottery. I would argue though, that based on how the rest of the lottery shook out, the Celtics actually won the night.

There is no question the Pelicans are in a much better place than they were prior to the those ping pong balls bouncing their way on Tuesday. The opportunity to (most likely) select Zion Williamson in June could be a franchise-altering moment. However, it sounds like their current superstar Anthony Davis still wants out of New Orleans.

It sounds like the Pelicans will still need to move the former Kentucky star this offseason, even if they hope to convince him otherwise. There have been some landing spots bandied about over the past few months, but with the Pelicans already in possession of the top pick, it changes a lot. And it all shook out in the Celtics’ favor.

For one, the Knicks don’t have the top pick, significantly hurting their ability to pry Davis from NOLA. RJ Barrett would be a nice piece to add, but if that is the piece that headlines the trade deal for Davis, there is a lot less to be excited about considering the Pelicans are already in line for the best prospect in the draft.

While the Lakers jumped into the top 4, there is reason to be skeptical a deal will get done between these two franchises. Los Angeles started this whole Davis sweepstakes and New Orleans accused LA of tampering as well. Part of me believes the Pelicans will remain spiteful and refuse to deal Davis to the Lakers. The package of Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart, Kyle Kuzma and the fourth pick, probably DeAndre Hunter or Jarrett Culver, is much more enticing than anything the Knicks could offer.

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Jayson Tatum is only 21 years old and average 15 points and six rebounds this year in Boston. (Wikimedia Commons)

With the Knicks in a much worse position and the Lakers still viewed as the enemy, that leaves the Celtics. Boston landed the 14th overall pick, which is what most expected, but that pick could have gone to the 76ers if the Kings had won the lottery (the NBA is complicated sometimes). So hanging onto the pick was good for Boston, either to add another young player or as ammo in a trade for Davis.

What Danny Ainge has that no one else does is a budding star to offer in return in the form of Jayson Tatum. Boston could send Tatum, Gordon Hayward, Marcus Smart and that 14th pick to New Orleans in return for Anthony Davis. They can offer a better package than anyone else in the NBA. Hayward is included to balance out the money being swapped, but that also means the Celtics could keep a max contract slot open this offseason to attract, say, Kevin Durant. Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant and Anthony Davis would present Boston with its best big three since, well just 2010 actually, but you get the idea. The key would be locking up Davis to a long-term deal, but that is a core more than capable of winning a title in Beantown.

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A trade for Tatum could pair Zion Williamson with another former Duke star. (Wikimedia Commons)

The reason why I like the Celtics to land Davis is because of what the Pelicans feel they can build in return. A team boasting Jayson Tatum, Marcus Smart, Gordon Hayward, Zion Williamson and Jrue Holiday has a lot of potential to be great. It would give them a good mix of cost controlled deals and max contracts to build a true contender, something New Orleans seemed intent on doing with Davis after hiring former Cleveland general manager David Griffin as executive vice president of basketball operations.

It is a rare situation where both franchises get exactly what they are looking for. The Celtics add a superstar to keep Kyrie in town and make it the most popular free agent destination in the league, while still hanging onto young talent like Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier. With two other first round picks, they can still add new rookie contracts or acquire another veteran via trade. The Pelicans go through an accelerated rebuild and create one of the most exciting young teams in the league pretty much overnight.

After months of feeling like AD was headed for Los Angeles or New York, the Pelicans are back in control and can listen to the best offer available. That will definitely come from Boston, who is desperate to win a title very soon.

It is all speculation at this point, but Tuesday night was a very good night for the Boston Celtics.

USMNT 2019 U-20 World Cup Roster Reaction

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

Scott

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!