In just over a month, the United States will embark on another U-20 World Cup with high hopes after winning the CONCACAF Championship for the first time ever in March. The tournament kicks off on May 20 in South Korea and the U.S. have drawn a sneaky tough group alongside Ecuador, Saudi Arabia, and Senegal. Tab Ramos has plenty of final roster decisions to make between now and then.
His most recent training camp in England may give us a few clues at who he’s considering, but it still didn’t consist of many stars of European clubs. Rather, the call-up list was a mix of players who established themselves in qualifying and other fringe players from the U-19 level. It’s still not 100 percent clear if big name players in the academies and first teams across Europe will be called up. However, one clue has been given to us in the form of Christian Pulisic. Grant Wahl reports that the American phenom has been named to the 35-man preliminary roster for this tournament.
Before you get your hopes up too much on Pulisic leading the U-20’s to glory, there’s almost no chance he’s going to play in this World Cup. Just under a year ago, Ramos told Brian Sciaretta that he “probably won’t” call up the 18-year-old unless he’s not featuring for the U.S. senior team by then. And well, let’s just say he’s featuring. Also, Tab and I belong to the same private Facebook group called “Cool guys with really short names” and he told me so (For the record: this is a bad joke and not true).
Arena said it's not likely that Pulisic will play in U-20 World Cup in May. Could send him if U.S. reaches the final. #usmnt.— Doug McIntyre (@DougMacESPN) April 13, 2017
But, what about the players who will get called in? It’s time for everyone’s favorite exercise of wildly incorrect roster predictions. For this, we’re going to assume that every top American youth star across Europe is eligible to be called in, considering the very top star is on the preliminary roster. Here’s my totally off-base prediction of Ramos’ 23-man roster:
Goalkeepers (3): Jonathan Klinsmann (University of California), JT Marcinkowski (Georgetown), Justin Vom Steeg (Fortuna Dusseldorf)
The top two pecking order seems set for the U.S. between the posts. Klinsmann was the starter in the CONCACAF Championship and was quite good. He’s been training around Europe lately and looks to be the sure starter heading in. I assume Marcinkowski would remain the preferred back-up like he was in February/March. Assuming a third goalkeeper is brought, I went with Vom Steeg because he’s the name I recognized from the latest call-up list. My deepest apologies to Brady Scott, I’m sure you’re a nice kid.
Defenders (8): Matthew Olosunde (Manchester United), Marlon Fossey (Fulham), John Nelson (Internationals SC), Tommy Redding (Orlando City), Erik Palmer-Brown (Sporting Kansas City), Cameron Carter-Vickers (Tottenham Hotspur), Justen Glad (Real Salt Lake), Danny Acosta (Real Salt Lake)
Fossey, Redding, Palmer-Brown, Glad, and Acosta all retain their places from qualifying. EPB is likely to remain the team’s captain as he was fantastic earlier this year and showed tremendous heart in the final to gut it out on an injured leg to get his team to the penalty shootout. Fossey was a revelation at right back. With Olosunde’s apparent switch to the left side for Manchester United, it could be very convenient for the Fulham man to slot in on the right.
The player who I’m least confident of on my list is John Nelson. He’s nearly 19 and still playing for a youth club. I’m not sure if he’s been injured or what. He was one of my favorites on the 2015 U-17 World Cup team and was called into the most recent camp. He’d be the only natural left back in the pool and would be a good option.
The rest is pretty self-explanatory. Carter-Vickers seems likely to retain his starting job from the previous U-20 World Cup. I’m not sure a lot of players in the world can say that.
Midfielders (8): Brooks Lennon (Real Salt Lake/Liverpool), Josh Perez (Fiorentina), Weston McKinnie (Schalke), Tyler Adams (New York Red Bulls), Eryk Williamson (Maryland), Mukwelle Akale (Villarreal), Luca de la Torre (Fulham), Nick Taitague (Schalke)
Without a doubt the most difficult group to narrow down for me. So many question marks about availability in the midfield. Lennon and Adams are your two locks. The rest is about the clubs being willing to release them and purely subjective choices. I believe there’s a good mix of wingers, holding midfielders, and attacking midfielders in this group. A couple of omissions I don’t feel particularly good about are Sebastian Saucedo and Jonathan Lewis. Both were good in qualifying and could easily replace Akale, de la Torre, or Taitague if they’re not available.
I think nearly everyone around U.S. Soccer, myself included, is hoping for a chance to see Weston McKinnie finally. So much has been talked about his star rising for Schalke in the No. 6 role. Him playing alongside Tyler Adams could be a helluva force in the American midfield.
Yes, I didn’t call in Gedion Zelalem. Fight me.
Forwards (4): Emmanuel Sabbi (Las Palmas), Jeremy Ebobisse (Portland Timbers), Haji Wright (Schalke), Isaiah Young (Werder Bremen)
For me, Emmanuel Sabbi was one of the more impressive players in the qualifying tournament. While Ebobisse is the team’s leading scorer in the cycle, Sabbi shined in his reserve role, causing havoc with his pace and shiftiness. Coming into the tournament he wasn’t even going to get called up according to Ramos until a late burst of form won him a spot. Hopefully the form we saw in March has carried over and he’s ready to make the same type of impact in South Korea.
Coming down to the final spot, it was between Isaiah Young and McKinzie Gaines. From the little I’ve seen the both of them, Young seems like a more out-and-out striker while Gaines is more of a speedy winger. With Lennon and Perez already manning the flanks, I didn’t see the need for another winger.
Finally, there’s everyone’s favorite highly-hyped prospect, Haji Wright. He’s been doing very good work at the U-19 Bundesliga level, still bullying players much smaller than he is. His physical attributes have never been in question. It’s always been his technique and decision making that’s been the issue. I’m very intrigued to see if playing in Germany has improved either of those facets of his game.