The U.S. U20 World Cup team prepare to take on the world when they face off against long shot Myanmar Saturday morning in New Zealand.
U.S. coach Tab Ramos takes his second shot at U20 glory following a tough go in 2013 when the young Yanks gained just a single point before being eliminated in group play.
Ramos’ charges could be excused for their performance two years ago in Turkey given the level of competition they faced. 4-1 losses to Spain and Ghana were sandwiched around an unlikely and impressive 1-1 draw with eventual champions France, who were led by Paul Pogba.
This year the ping pong balls bounced far more kindly for Ramos placing the Americans in a group with Ukraine, New Zealand and opening round opponents Myanmar.
Hardly the Group of Death, so Ramos will be expected to guide this squad at least as far as the knockout rounds. Ramos has put together the most experienced U.S. U20 roster yet, just the two backup keepers are college players, the rest are professionals.
Starting keeper Zack Steffan is one of those pros, the former U. of Maryland goalie is on the books at Freiburg, just demoted to the 2 Bundesliga.
Ramos is expected to rely on a number of players currently seeing time with their club teams. Players like New York Red Bull center back Matt Miazga, midfielders Emerson Hyndman, Fulham and Kellyn Acosta, FC Dallas should provide a solid defensive foundation.
Forward Rubio Rubin has established himself at Dutch club Utrecht, catching the eye of U.S. MNT coach Jurgen Klinsmann and earning three full national team caps.
L.A. Galaxy forward Bradford Jamieson IV has impressed at times this year, as has Real Salt Lake attacker Jordan Allen. Boca Juniors up and comer Joel Sonora will also be battling for minutes, so the U.S. could score some goals in New Zealand.
For the U.S. players, coaches and fans alike, the great unknown of this tournament has to be Gedion Zelalem. The massively hyped Arsenal prospect was recently granted a switch to the U.S. from his native Germany.
The wispy midfielder spent several years growing up in Maryland and decided to cast his lot with the Americans. U.S. MNT senior manager Jurgen Klinsmann is on record as saying that Zelalem is already good enough for the full national team.
If that is indeed the case then the U.S. has a real rising star on their hands. It would also bode well for the U.S. U20 teams success at the Cup.
GOALKEEPERS (3): Jeff Caldwell (University of Virginia; Todd, N.C.), Thomas Olsen (University of San Diego; Las Vegas, Nev.), Zack Steffen (Freiburg; Downingtown, Pa.)
DEFENDERS (6): Cameron Carter-Vickers (Tottenham Hotspur; Westcliff on Sea, England), Matthew Miazga (New York Red Bulls; Clifton, N.J.), Shaquell Moore (Valencia Huracan; Powder Springs, Ga.), Erik Palmer-Brown (Sporting Kansas City; Lee’s Summit, Mo.), Desevio Payne (FC Groningen; Greenwood, S.C.), John Requejo (Club Tijuana; Carpinteria, Calif.)
MIDFIELDERS (7): Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas; Plano, Texas), Paul Arriola (Club Tijuana; Chula Vista, Calif.), Russell Canouse* (Hoffenheim; Lancaster, Pa.), Marco Delgado (Toronto FC; Glendora, Calif.), Emerson Hyndman (Fulham; Dallas, Texas), Joel Soñora (Boca Juniors; Buenos Aires, Argentina), Gedion Zelalem (Arsenal; Montgomery County, Md.)
FORWARDS (5): Jordan Allen (Real Salt Lake; Rochester, N.Y.), Bradford Jamieson IV (LA Galaxy; Los Angeles, Calif.), Rubio Rubin (Utrecht; Beaverton, Ore.), Maki Tall Rubio Rubin has established hinself with Dutch club Utrect(Red Star; Washington, D.C.), Tommy Thompson (San Jose Earthquakes; Loomis, Calif.)
*Canouse was injured and he was replaced by Orlando City SC defender Conor Donovan.