Another youth World Cup has come and gone for the United States. Another exit from the quarterfinals, especially against a tremendously talented Venezuela team, is nothing to scoff at. Obviously it would’ve been nice to get further, but there are plenty of positives to take away from the overall performance.
In a tournament like this, the more important aspect to focus on is how the individuals did and what the prospects for future injections into the first team could potentially be. There were several players who had good tournaments. Here are five that particularly stood out to me:
The first and most obvious is the 17-year-old St. Louis Sensation (TM). The youngest player in the group looked much more mature and wise than any kid his age should look at this level of competition. Without adding too much undue pressure on him, Sargent looked the part of a true No. 9 striker that you can build a team around. His off-the-ball movement was a revelation. His hold-up play, exceptional. His finishing, clinical.
With four goals in five matches, he tied the American record for most goals scored at a U-20 World Cup. Heading into the fateful quarterfinal he was the joint-leading scorer of the tournament. Without any professional experience under his belt yet, his ability to adapt to the circumstances surrounding him was quite impressive. You could just tell that every attack for the U.S. was focused on how they could get him space to do his magic. Whether it was Brooks Lennon, Tyler Adams or Luca de la Torre, they all were hoping to find the Ginger Goalmachine (TM).
With European clubs surrounding his services like a pack of chained rottweilers around a piece of steak, he’ll have his choice of destinations when he turns 18 in February. If he continues to put up the type of performances he has in both the U-20 World Cup and U-17 CONCACAF Championship, the senior team might not be too distant in his future.
There was no player the early turnaround from Round of 16 to Quarterfinal hurt more than Tyler Adams. His motor was constantly set on “ultra-supersonic” for the first four matches. He was everything he was advertised to be. A complete and utter nuisance to the opposing team with his high pressing and ball-winning skills. He was calm and confident in possession. He even got a few chances to score by putting himself in good positions and making smart runs (we’ll avoid talking about his finishing).
Adams is the complete package for a box-to-box midfielder. His energy and relentlessness trying to get the ball for his team is usually second-to-none whenever he’s on the field. The technical ability he possesses cannot be overlooked either. When talking about possible graduates to the U.S. national team, his name could possibly be at the top of the list for this squad. At just 18, he’s eligible to play in the next U-20 World Cup. It should be fascinating to see where his career takes him come that time.
Coming into this tournament, everyone knew of Cameron Carter-Vickers, and the Spurs product didn’t disappoint. He performed admirably across the U.S. backline. His absence on this list isn’t an indictment on him but more a delight at how well Erik Palmer-Brown played.
The Sporting Kansas City defender and U.S. U-20 captain was a rock in the back for the majority of his minutes. In pressure-packed situations he held his nerve well when defending (lets not talk about him in front of goal, please). He showed a nice ability to play the ball out of the back calmly and accurately even under pressure, something a lot of American defenders struggle with. His partnership with CCV (henceforth known as “The Law Firm”) was exceptional up until the quarterfinal massacre. Whether it’s at center back or defensive midfielder, the future looks bright for EPB. Let’s just hope SKC and Peter Vermes give him a chance in MLS.
This one is sure to split some opinion. Derrick Jones had a rough match against Venezuela. He was probably the one more effected by their superior athleticism. Blocking that whole match out of our judgment process was a necessity for this exercise as no one covered themselves in glory for that atrocity. When judging his whole body of work, though, Jones was superb in the middle of the field along side Adams.
It began with him coming on for an injured Gedion Zelalem down 2-0. He changed that match and helped earn the U.S. a vital point. His physical presence in the midfield was easily noticeable. He was able to break pressure on several occasions by bodying guys off, keeping possession and driving forward with his long strides.
Maybe I’m being a little foolish in my assessment of his performance because it’s more about the potential he showed than the actual final product. Aside from Sargent, I’m not sure there’s someone with a higher upside than Jones. He’s got the physical make-up to be a force in the midfield. He needs to work on his decision-making first and foremost. That was the one aspect of his game that was a little bit lacking. If that improves, he could be one helluva prospect going forward for the USA.
Luca de la Torre
As I’m typing up this post, Luca de la Torre has dribbled past 25 more defenders and created two more scoring chances. The Fulham youngster was a revelation in this tournament with his silky ball control in tight areas and his knack for getting in and out of tight spaces and keeping possession for his side.
His game-tying stoppage time goal in the group opener against Ecuador was as clutch as they come. He was undoubtedly the Man of the Match for that hard-fought draw. When it looked like the U.S. were out of ideas in the final third, he would blow by two, three, sometimes even four players to open up space and get the ball into dangerous areas.
Who knows what the future holds for him as young attacking Americans in England don’t have the greatest of track records. Hopefully playing time at Fulham is coming soon as he proved in this tournament that he possesses buckets of potential and the ability to make plays.
That’s my list. There were more than five impressive players but I’m lazy. Let me know in the comments who I missed or if you disagree with my picks at all. I enjoyed covering this tournament. See you fellow soccer nerds in November for the U-17 World Cup.