U.S. U-20 analysis
After an impressive start in Argentina, Gomez aims for deep U-20 World Cup run
May 23, 2023
THE UNITED STATES U-20 national team is off to a strong start at the World Cup after a big 1-0 win over Ecuador on Saturday followed by a shakey but sufficient 3-0 win over Fiji on Tuesday. The team holds ambitions of making a deep run in Argentina and Jonathan Gomez, the Man of the Match in the opener, is optimistic.
Gomez, 19, enjoyed a stand-out performance in the win over Ecuador. Obviously, he scored a dramatic and stunning winning goal in stoppage time to lift the U.S. team. But he also as solid throughout the entire 90 minutes and he did so play while playing in an unfamiliar role at right wingback when he typically is a left back. In the second game against Fiji, Gomez started again but this time at left back as the U.S. controlled the game and overcame weak finishing to eventually prevail. Over the first two games, he has played all 180 minutes.
U.S. U-20 head coach Mikey Varas has made some positive decisions so far and putting Gomez on the right in the opener was designed to allow him to cut into the middle of the field with his stronger left foot to create and finish opportunities. That is exactly what happened when Gomez saw the cross-field pass from Owen Wolff. So far, that has been the U.S. team's most important moment in Argentina.
“I saw the play developing on the right side,” Gomez said of the of the play. “Mikey asked us wingbacks to crash the box. I saw Owen get the ball and I saw him look up. I knew he was looking for me and I saw him hit it with his right. The left back was turning thinking I was going to go wide. I thought there would be space inside. I took my first touch with my chest, and I saw it was just bouncing. I was like - I'm going to hit this. I struck it well.”
Jonathan Gomez’s stunning winner. Assisted by Owen Wolff. Useful holdup play by Darren Yapi pic.twitter.com/fn3ofcp0Ob— Brian Sciaretta (@BrianSciaretta) May 20, 2023
With six points in hand from two games, the U.S. team will now set their sights on Slovakia on Friday with the opportunity to win Group B with a perfect nine points.
For Gomez, his involvement with the U.S. U-20 team has been a process as he had been spending times in both the setups of the U.S. and Mexico through 2022. As a native of North Richland Hills, Texas outside Ft. Worth, Gomez is eligible for Mexico through his Mexican-born parents.
In December 2021, Gomez made his debut for the full U.S. team in a friendly win over Bosnia and his shot eventually resulted in a rebound that was scored by Cole Bassett for a 1-0 win. But then in April 2022, Gomez played for Mexico’s full team in a friendly against Guatemala.
Two months later, he was on the provisional rosters for the U-20 teams of both Mexico and the United States. He was unable to play for either due to an injury and the U.S. team went on to qualify for the World Cup and the 2024 Olympics while Mexico qualified for neither.
Since then, Gomez has been entirely in the U.S. setup. He made his debut with the U.S. U-20 team at the 2022 Revelations Cup in September. Then he was with the full U.S. team at 2023 January camp. Now he is back with the U.S. U-20 team at the World Cup.
“I don't know if I would say a long process, but I just think that a player with that dual nationality, you kind of weigh both options,” Gomez explained. “You feel a sense of pride in both. I've tested both waters but as of right now, I'm here and I'm focused on the World Cup.”
“My first U-20 camp was the Revelations Cup in 2022,” he added. “From that camp to where we are now, I think we've made great strides in terms of on the field, obviously playing ability, and then off the field as well. I feel like we've become a band of brothers. You can just feel that everyone's ready.”
For Gomez, another benefit of playing with the U.S. U-20 team is that it has reunited him with Varas who also coached him at the youth levels at FC Dallas. Gomez has always enjoyed his relationship with Varas and it continued after Gomez elected to leave FC Dallas. It’s also something he expects to continue after the team returns from Dallas.
“I personally have known Mikey for years now as he coached me at Dallas. He's a great person, apart from being a great coach. He's great at building those personal relationships with all the players… Beyond this tournament, he's going to have our backs. That's something I remember he told me a few years back. He's had my back ever since. I've had his back and I'm pretty sure it's going to be like that with all his players.”
Assembling this U-20 team has been a difficult process for Varas and the federation. Several key players, based both domestically and abroad, were denied a release for the World Cup. Other players were allowed to go, but only after the group stage.
While Gomez is based abroad with Real Sociedad, he has primarily been with the club’s second team and was given a release. He misses the key players like Paxten Aaronson and Brian Gutierrez who were not released, but also believes that the shorthanded nature of the roster will serve as a galvanizing force within the group in Argentina.
“It's unfortunate for them, their clubs had their reasons to not release them,” Gomez said. :They're our brothers. We love them. We wish they were here. But right now, the 21 players here are our players… We might be a little bit short here, but however many we're going to have, we're going to be ready. That brotherhood we have is going to help us pull through and every player has to play their role - whether they play 0 minutes or play every single minute, everyone has to bring 100% effort on and off the field because that support coming in from the bench or wherever is going to be what makes a difference.”
Gomez has been considered one of the top American players of this age group for several years. A product of the FC Dallas youth system, he started his professional career in the USL Championship with Louisville City right before the COVID pandemic hit in 2020. In September 21, Louisville City announced that it had transferred Gomez to Real Sociedad in La Liga where he would begin playing for Real Sociedad B.
Thus far, Gomez has only appeared for the second team (last season in he second tier, this season in the third tier) but this season he has made the bench twice for the first team – which currently sits fourth in La Liga.
“Everything is a process,” Gomez explained. “I think my development at Sociedad has gone well. They have a plan for me, and I think that plan is going well. I've had plenty of opportunities to train with the first team, get in with them, even in a few preseason matches or I played in a few friendlies when the league resumed. I got to test out at that level… I think specifically a few things that I've gotten better - on my offensive side of the game, my crossing has as improved. On the defensive side, my defensive positioning, defensive clearances, and my 1v1 duels is something that we've been focusing on… Any chance to train or play with the first team, you obviously have got to take advantage of it.”
Like any player making the move abroad to Europe, there are difficult periods of adjustment both on and off the field. Gomez is fluent in Spanish, but occasionally struggled when his teammates would speak Basque. But there were also cultural issues such as meal scheduling that took time to understand.
But there is also the issue of loneliness that all players moving abroad must face. Gomez has made himself productive in his time away from soccer. He currently takes three online college business classes and is in frequent contact with his U-20 teammates, sometimes via PlayStation.
“I go to college online,” Gomez discussed. “That takes up some of my time as well. I'll play with some of my friends on the Playstation - some of these U-20 guys actually. We play together. I talked to them and for some of them it is: what do I do now? That's part of the challenge. All that free time you have and making it productive so you're not just sitting at home thinking. At the end of the day, if you just sit at home and think, you're just going to overthink things and then it can get tough.”
For now, Gomez is excited for the task ahead as the U.S. team looks to build off its strong start to the U-20 World Cup.
“For any kid, it's their dream of playing in a World Cup,” Gomez said. “Knowing this was coming up, it was on my calendar. I had it in my mind, but I just wanted to put in the work and play well this season to hopefully be called up. I was called up, so I'm very thankful for that. I'm ready to go. Everyone here thinks that we have the players and the team and the bond to win all three group stage games.”