The USA's U-20 World Cup roster is set. Well, almost. One spot remains undecided as we wait for Gedion Zelalem's situation to be resolved by FIFA. For the sake of this exercise, we'll go under the assumption that will not be available. Regardless of that last domino waiting to fall, the roster is extremely deep. So much so, that several surprising and controversial cuts had to be made by Tab Ramos and his staff. In this piece we will analyze the different positional groups and discuss what roster decisions surprised us.
The major omission from this roster was Junior Flores. The highly touted midfielder from Borussia Dortmund's youth system struggled in World Cup qualifying and never regained his standing in the squad. Playing for the youth teams of a prestigious club can sometimes be a curse more than a blessing. Unneeded expectations are forced on a player when they should be made to earn their status naturally. Ramos offered this explanation for the decision:
"Junior came to the last camp and he wasn't bad, but we expected more for the position," Ramos added. "So he's fighting for a position with, say, Emerson Hyndman and Joel Sonora, and now Jordan Allen comes in the picture and does well and [Zach] Pfeffer comes in the picture and he's playing everyday and is sharp and physically ready. It's tough. You're competing with different guys that you weren't competing with four months ago."
A few other players, who unlike Flores, offered vital contributions during qualifying were also left off the roster. Romain Gall was the joint top goal scorer in the tournament, but was deemed a surplus to the team's needs. A severe lack of playing time with the Columbus Crew hurt his chances dearly. Ben Spencer scored the goal that sent the USA to the World Cup and he also is nowhere to be found. Granted, several of his competitors were unable to play in qualifying due to not being released by their clubs.
Apart from the flat out snubs, there were also a few surprising decisions made. Before the MLS season Allen was virtually an unknown to the majority of us. His involvement with the U-20 team had been minimal. But after a promising start to his rookie season with Real Salt Lake, he's found his way on the World Cup roster. Allen's versatility must have been one deciding factor for his inclusion as the 19-year-old has the ability to play fullback, midfielder and as a winger.
Another player surprisingly not on the roster was Andrija Novakovich. However this decision was not made by Ramos. Reading FC refused to release him for the tournament, which is their right as clubs are not obligated to do so. Novakovich was a favorite of many experts to make the roster as a target striker. His exclusion while detrimental, is not a huge difference maker. Ramos chose to take the high road and look at the positive:
Ramos took the high road on Reading. He said club has historically been great to American players. Happy to see they rate Novakovich highly— Brian Sciaretta (@BrianSciaretta) May 7, 2015
The clear starting keeper for the USA is Zack Steffen. He has been a stalwart between the posts for this U-20 team. Steffen recently left the University of Maryland to sign with Bundesliga side Frieburg SC. There's a solid chance he will play every minute in this World Cup barring injury or disciplinary action. Jeff Caldwell and Ethan Horvath will be Steffen's backups. I hope they have a nice trip and enjoy the view.
Unlike U-20 teams of past, the center back depth chart is strong both literally and figuratively. Cameron Carter-Vickers is a 17-year-old manchild who plays for the Tottenham Hotspur U-21 team. Both physically imposing and tactically aware, he would not look out of place playing in a full international game. With a good performance in this tournament don't be surprised to see his name mentioned in senior USMNT discussions soon.
The other center back spot will be fought over by Matt Miazga and Erik Palmer-Brown. Miazga is an experienced defender who regularly plays for the New York Red Bulls in MLS. He's tall and strong, but has a tendency to worry you with his touches in tight spaces. Palmer-Brown is less experienced, but has a much higher upside. Italian giants Juventus have been continually rumored to be after his signature. He is more mobile and better technically than Miazga. The battle for the starting spot will go down to the wire.
The three fullbacks on the roster are right back Shaquell Moore, left back John Requejo Jr., and all-purpose defender Desevio Payne. Moore has been inexplicably been without a club team for a very long period of time. Despite his lack of playing time, he has been a constant starter at right back for Ramos. He is a speedy fullback who lacks any resemblance of a first touch and sometimes gets caught out of position defensively. Requejo plays regularly for Club Tijuana's U-20 team. He's a consistent performer who possesses good technical ability and above-average defensive awareness. Payne who plays for FC Groningen of the Eredivisie could challenge for either spot. His preferred position is right back, but played significant minutes at left back in a time of need for his club.
The biggest strength of this squad is undoubtedly its midfield depth. Not even considering the possibility of Zelalem joining, the midfielders are extremely talented. Most notable of the bunch is Fulham FC prodigy Emerson Hyndman. The grandson of former FC Dallas coach Schellas Hyndman broke through to the Fulham first team this season. He was a fixture on their gameday rosters until he suffered a broken collarbone with the U-20's during qualifying. The diminutive playmaker will be counted on to create chances and be a calming influence in the center of the field.
Two players battling for the chance to join Hyndman are Russell Canouse and Kellyn Acosta. Canouse is your average lumbering defensive midfielder. What he lacks in technical ability he makes up for in brute strength. Acosta is a more technical player who relies on intelligence and positioning to cut out attacks. The choice of who starts in that spot will likely depend on the situation at hand. Marky Delgado can also fill a holding role if needed, but he looks to be last in the pecking order.
This roster includes a few attacking midfielder options. The only true no. 10 of the group is Boca Juniors prospect Joel Sonora. Sonora missed qualifying due to injury, but is highly rated. His creativity and technical ability will be sorely needed to unlock opposing defenses. Other options include Club Tijuana speedster Paul Arriola and utility man Allen. Both of these players can play a multitude of positions and will likely have to.
The crown jewel of this U-20 pool is Rubio Rubin. The 19-year-old made his pro debut with FC Utrecht this season and has three goals in twenty-two appearances. He has the ability to play as a striker, a winger, or an attacking midfielder. Rubin is technically gifted and has brilliant off-the-ball movement. No matter which position he starts at, he will be expected to carry the offensive load for this team. A World Cup at any level is the moment for the best players to make a name for themselves and this will be Rubin's time to shine.
LA Galaxy forward Bradford Jamieson IV took part in the World Cup qualifying tournament in January. A lot of hype has surrounded him in the last year, but he didn't perform well in that tournament. This is not to say he's a bad player. A lot of factors could have been at fault for his poor touches. The fields in Jamaica for were very low quality causing many mistakes. We're giving him the benefit of doubt, especially considering the terrific start he's gotten off to this season. Due to injuries to key players, he's gotten several chances with the LA first team and capitalized on it with his first MLS goal.
Rounding out the forward pool are Tommy Thompson and Maki Tall. Thompson is another MLS youngster who has garnered a lot of hype. Unfortunately his 2015 hasn't been as positive as Jamieson's. He has been buried on the Earthquakes' bench with little sign of digging his way out. However, he is an extremely talented player with extraordinary technical ability. Maki Tall just made his debut for the U-20's in April. He is eligible for the Ivory Coast and France, and has played in both youth systems.
Preferred Starting Lineup