The U.S. U-20s finished top of their group and have a relatively easy opponent in New Zealand to kick things off, which is great. The U.S. will also be without Cameron Carter-Vickers, Derrick Jones, and Aaron Herrera thanks to an extremely card-happy ref in their last group stage game against Saudi Arabia, which is not great. A knockout round game without 3 starter unequivocally sucks. The degree of difficult of the opponent and pieces the U.S. already has in place should make things just a bit easier, however.
The Wild Card - Aaron Herrera
Of the three people missing, Aaron Herrera is most definitely the weak link, but he’s also the most difficult to replace. He’s only starting in this tournament because Marlon Fossey bowed out due to injury just before the tournament started. Fossey, a Fulham product, was named to CONCACAF’s U-20 Best XI after the qualifying tournament, and the drop in quality between him and Herrera has been fairly evident. The main problem Ramos faces here is that he has no other natural right backs on the roster, which mean’s someone is definitely getting played out of position. Tyler Adams has played the position before and might be the safest bet, but he’s also been the best player in a U.S. shirt for their last two games, and taking him out of the midfield my do more harm to the high-energy nature of Ramos’s style than any good his adaptability to the right back position would bring about. You could try bringing Brooks Lennon back and hope New Zealand’s offense is weak enough that a one-sided wing back could do the trick. The most likely option outside of Adams is shuffling a center back over. Justen Glad, Auston Trusty, and Tommy Redding could all feasibly be called into action on the right hand side. Regardless, how Ramos replaces Herrera will inform how he replaces his other two missing players as well.
The Shield - Derrick Jones
Derrick Jones has had himself a great tournament covering the U.S. back line and allowing other midfielders named Tyler Adams to do their best work pressing opposing defenses and generally running around everywhere. His loss stings, but there’s much more straight-forward solutions to his absence than Herrera’s. Erik Palmer-Brown played as a defensive midfielder in Jones’s absence during qualifying, with Tommy Redding and Justen Glad forming a solid partnership behind him. EPB is best as a center back, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him back in the midfield as a like-for-like swap. Ramos could also simply opt for the pairing of Eryk Williamson and Tyler Adams to play as holding midfielders, but neither is a true 6 and that plan already didn’t work out very well against Ecuador.
The Rock - Cameron Carter-Vickers
If there’s one thing this team is not in short supply of, it’s center backs. Cameron Carter-Vickers is, in my estimation, the best center back on this team right now, or at least as good as Erik Palmer-Brown. But behind them are Justen Glad and Tommy Redding, starting center backs during qualifying, and Auston Trusty. With such a large bank of central defenders to choose from, the question isn’t who will replace CCV. It’s who replaces Aaron Herrera, who replaces Derrick Jones, and who’s left to choose from for the back line.
Here’s how I think Tab Ramos lines the squad up against New Zealand:
Some of the positions here my swap around, such as the relative positioning of Adam and Williamson, or the possibility of swapping Acosta and Trusty to get Trusty onto his left foot, but I think this is the personnel Ramos runs out against New Zealand. The kings of Oceania shouldn’t represent any bigger threat than most CONCACAF teams, and I’m confident Glad and Redding can get the job done in the middle with Erik Palmer-Brown in front of them.
How would you set the U-20s against New Zealand? Let us know in the comments!