With a place in the 2017 U20 World Cup the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow the U.S. begins the CONCACAF Championship/World Cup Qualifiers Saturday afternoon in Saprissa, Costa Rica against Panama.
Coach Tab Ramos’ 20 man group will be expected to advance from Group B play and to go on to claim one of four World Cup spots on offer to qualify for the age group World Cup this May and June in the Korea Republic.
Ramos took the U.S. to the quarterfinals of the 2015 U20 Cup where the team fell to eventual champions Serbia on penalty kicks. That team was one of the few youth soccer “successes” under Jurgen Klinsmann’s tenure as U.S. MNT coach and Technical Director. Klinsmann successor Bruce Arena does not have responsibility for the youth teams leaving the spotlight to Ramos as the former U.S. MNT star attempts to burnish his credentials to succeed Arena.
Panama figures to the toughest test of the opening round for the U.S although Haiti can be tricky. Much of the U.S. roster comes from MLS with Sporting Kansas City man Erik Palmer-Brown leading the squad as team captain.
Palmer-Brown is back with SKC this year after a productive loan spell in Portugal spent with Porto FC’s B team. The 19 year old is known as a center back but Ramos has options there in Justen Glad and Tommy Redding, so Palmer-Brown may step up into the midfield.
Glad started 27 of his 28 games for Real Salt Lake last season and Redding also saw plenty of action with 16 of of 18 appearances for Orlando SC coming from the opening whistle, so Ramos has reason to expect solid play from his central defenders.
Although he is the second youngest player on the U.S roster, only Jonathan Gonzalez is younger, New York Red Bulls midfielder Tyler Adams is looked at as a rising star and will be expected to join Palmer-Brown in the midfield, assuming Ramos does use EPB in an advanced role. Fulham product Luca De la Torre also figures to see plenty of time in the American midfield while his fellow junior Cottager, fullback Marlon Fossey, is one of the more intriguing prospects in this group.
The forwards show plenty of speed and promise and it will be up to Ramos to settle on his selections. Liverpool’s Brooks Lennon has just signed a one year loan deal with Real Salt Lake. Jonathan Lewis (NYCFC) and Jeremy Ebobisse (Minnesota UFC) were selected third and fourth in January’s MLS Superdraft, Coy Craft has a handful of appearances with FC Dallas since turning pro in 2014 and will be looking to impress as will Emmanuel Sabbi, a rare U.S. international on the books of La Liga with his club UD Las Palmas.
GOALKEEPERS (2): Jonathan Klinsmann (University of California; Newport Beach, Calif.), JT Marcinkowski (Georgetown; Alamo, Calif.)
DEFENDERS (7): Danny Acosta (Real Salt Lake; Salt Lake City, Utah), Marlon Fossey (Fulham F.C.; Surbiton, England), Justen Glad (Real Salt Lake; Tucson, Ariz.), Aaron Herrera (New Mexico; Casa Grande, Ariz.), Erik Palmer-Brown (Sporting Kansas City; Lee’s Summit, Mo.), Tommy Redding (Orlando City SC; Oviedo, Fla.), Auston Trusty (Philadelphia Union; Media, Pa.)
MIDFIELDERS (6): Tyler Adams (New York Red Bulls; Wappingers Falls, N.Y), Luca de la Torre (Fulham F.C.; San Diego, Calif.), Jonathan Gonzalez (CF Monterrey; Santa Rosa, Calif.), Jeremiah Gutjahr (Indiana University; Bloomington, Ind.), Sebastian Saucedo (Real Salt Lake; Park City, Utah), Eryk Williamson (University of Maryland; Alexandria, Va.)
FORWARDS (5): Coy Craft (FC Dallas; Frisco, Texas), Jeremy Ebobisse (Portland Timbers; Bethesda, Md.), Brooks Lennon (Real Salt Lake; Paradise Valley, Ariz.), Jonathan Lewis (New York City FC; Plantation, Fla.), Emmanuel Sabbi (UD Las Palmas; Libertyville, Ill.)
U.S Group schedule.
U.S. vs. Panama at 4 p.m. ET on Feb. 18
U.S. vs. Haiti at 5:30 p.m. ET on Feb. 21
U.S. vs. Saint Kitts and Nevis at 5:30 p.m. ET on Feb. 24.
All three of the USA’s matches will be broadcast in the United States on Univision networks.
The 2017 CONCACAF Men’s U20 Championship runs from February 17 – March 5, with the new competition format divided into two stages. From the first stage, 12 nations are divided into three round-robin groups, with two nations from each group to advance.
Group A – Mexico, Antigua & Barbuda, Honduras, Canada
Group B – USA, Panama, St. Kitts & Nevis, Haiti
Group C – Costa Rica, El Salvador, Bermuda, Trinidad and Tobago
Following the opening round the six nations will be divided into two groups, as determined by the draw and the corresponding placements in the opening round. From these final groups, The top two nations advance from these final groups to qualify for the FIFA U20 World Cup in Korea Republic 2017. The two group winners will also play in the Championship match on Sunday 5 March at Estadio Nacional in San Jose, Costa Rica.
Group D – Group B 2nd Place; Group A 1st Place; Group C 1st Place
Group E – Group B 1st Place; Group A 2nd Place; Group C 2nd Place