An in-depth look at the U-20 team following a successful March camp in Argentina
March 30, 2022
UNITED STATES U-20 head coach Mikey Varas should feel pretty good about where his team stands after concluding the March camp with a 5-3 win over River Plate. That win came on the heels of a 2-2 draw with Argentina’s U-20 team on Saturday. Now after two successful camps to start 2022, the team has momentum heading into a massive qualifying tournament in June.
Over the past two windows, the U.S. team has drawn posted the following results:
- 0-0 draw vs. the New York Red Bulls
- 1-0 win vs. FC Dallas
- 2-2 draw with Argentina’s U-20 team
- 5-3 win vs. River Plate
The team is trending in the right direction and the win over River Plate saw the team rally from a 3-0 deficit for a 5-3 win. The U.S. goals came from a hat trick from Quinn Sullivan followed by tallies from Jack McGlynn and Obed Vargas. Sullivan did not even start this game and instead replaced Caden Clark who was forced off with an injury.
The previous draw against Argentina saw the U.S. team learn some painful lessons, despite an acceptable 2-2 result. With the game being watched by Lionel Messi, Angel Di Maria, and a number of Argentina’s top full internationals, the U.S. team had the better of chances throughout the game. It could have and should have scored more goal but was not able to hold onto a 2-1 lead late and conceded a late equalizer. The draw should have been a win.
In February, Varas told ASN that he hoped to have his core group for qualifying known at the end of this camp. The good news is that players responded with strong performances and the recent call-ups over the past two camps successful camps show who the core should be.
There might be an opportunity for another camp in the spring but there are no international windows left before the summer so the opportunity to have his top group together for another camp before final tournament preparations is limited.
The U.S. opens group play on June 18 against St. Kitts and Nevis. The entire tournament will take place in Honduras. The semifinalists will qualify for the 2023 U-20 World Cup in Indonesia and the two finalists will also qualify for the 2024 Olympics in France.
Here are some thoughts on the team after the last camp.
Quinn Sullivan is on a massive role right now with the United States U-20 team and it is becoming clear after this current camp that he is key to the team. Sullivan has now scored in three straight U-20 games (the win over Dallas, the draw with Argentina, and the win over River Plate) and has five goals from those three games.
Those are big time numbers and Sullivan is answering the call from Varas – who has challenged his players to raise their games and force their way into the team.
Sullivan has shown a lot of promise with the Philadelphia Union but the question for him has always been what is his position? He can play across the midfield in attacking roles and is comfortable on either wing.
This U.S. U-20 team has a number of wingers with Kevin Paredes, Dante Sealy, and Cade Cowell all showing promise, but the best bet as I see it is that Sullivan will settle into a wing position with this U-20 team. That will allow one of the other wingers to fit into the No. 9 position (playing out of position) since that is a weakness of this team.
Last month, Varas spoke to ASN about the Philadelphia Union players within his squad. His impressions were very favorable.
“I saw [Philadelphia's technical director] Ernst Tanner on the way out of the FC Dallas game,” Varas said. “I told him I'm always impressed with the Philadelphia Union players because I think the club does a good job identifying talent and they do an excellent job of creating players who are creative but also have a work ethic, that willingness to be just a grinder.”
“It's not easy to have creative players who also want to put in the work,” he added. “When you see Paxten's brother and how it translates to Europe, their model is very good. Creative, skillful players who also work really, really hard, run more than everybody else, are willing to be physical, do all the dirty work, but also have the ability on the ball. They're doing a great job.”
If Varas thought highly of the Union players in February, his impression of that segment of his team must be through the roof right now.
The U.S. team scored seven goals in the two games in Argentina and six were scored by Philadelphia Union players (four by Sullivan and one a piece from Paxten Aaronson and Jack McGlynn). Combined with the win over Dallas which also saw the game’s only goal from Sullivan, Union players have scored seven of the team’s last eight goals.
Right now, Sullivan, Aaronson, and McGlynn are firmly within the core. But then you add central defender Brandan Craig and you have a good chance the Union will have four players at the qualifying tournament. It is a huge testament to how well the team is developing players. The Union’s current footprint on the U.S. U-20 team and the U-17 team is an impressive sign.
The big question will be seeing how the team develops this season with the Union. Philadelphia is off to a nice start this season, but the veterans such as Daniel Gazdag and Alejandro Bedoya are playing well and making it hard to get the young players significant minutes. Philadelphia as 10 points from four games to start the season.
Head coach Jim Curtin is willing to play young players but the competition from the veterans is a good thing, for now. It raises the bar to get on the field – which I believe the U-20 players will do once they raise their game even higher.
The U.S. U-20 team has been tough to predict. The first camp of the cycle was in Mexico back in November. It is tough to put too much stock into the performances and results there since Varas was hired just a day before the team left and the players were completely unfamiliar with each other. Still, at the Revelations Cup the team conceded seven goals over three games while scoring just twice.
Then in January, the team scored just once but conceded no goals over two games. This past camp, the team scored seven goals over two games but still conceded five.
There were two big concerns over this team heading into the cycle. The biggest concern was the lack of a No. 9 center forward. When Ricardo Pepi moved up to the senior national team, there haven’t been enough players at that position.
The good news for the U.S. U-20 team on this front is that a few players can play the No. 9 position as a secondary position. Also, the team can still score goals without a big-impact No. 9 as well.
The other concern was central defense. Mikey Varas told ASN in February he believed that the team made progress in central defense in the improvement defensively from November to January. But five goals conceded over two games in March might be evidence that January’s impressive display offered a false sense of security.
The U.S. U-20 team has been successful in the 2015, 2017, and 2019 cycles and central defense has always been a cornerstone of success (Chris Richards, Mark McKenzie, Cameron Carter-Vickers, Erik Palmer-Brown, Matt Miazga, and Justin Glad were some of the team’s alumni during these cycles). It’s tough to succeed at this level without solid central defense. There are not many American central defenders from the 2003 and 2004 birth years playing consistent first-team minutes yet – an no one seems to be terribly close either.
It will be telling to see what Varas has learned from the March camp and how he adjusts his team’s approach with the qualifying tournament now only two and a half months away.
Predicted qualifying roster
If Varas wanted to have a good idea over the core and direction of his team after this camp, he should feel pleased. Yes, he has to work on defense, but the team is still playing well overall.
Here is my predicted 20-player roster for U-20 World Cup/Olympic qualifying.
1) Gaga Slonina (Chicago Fire)
2) Chris Brady (Chicago Fire)
3) Mauricio Cuevas (Club Brugge)
4) Justin Che (Hoffenheim)
5) Kobi Henry (Orange County SC)
6) Brandan Craig (Philadelphia Union)
7) Jalen Neal (LA Galaxy)
8) Caleb Wiley (Atlanta United)
9) Jonathan Gomez (Real Sociedad)
10) Daniel Edelman (New York Red Bulls)
11) Obed Vargas (Seattle Sounders)
12) Jack McGlynn (Philadelphia Union)
13) Caden Clark (New York Red Bulls)
14) Paxten Aaronson (Philadelphia Union)
15) Diego Luna (El Paso Locomotive)
16) Kevin Paredes (VfL Wolfsburg)
17) Cade Cowell (San Jose Earthquakes)
18) Dante Sealy (Jong PSV Eindhoven)
19) Quinn Sullivan (Philadelphia Union)
20) Brian Gutierrez (Chicago Fire)
In the Mix
Rokas Pukstas (midfielder, Hajduk Split), Danny Leyva (midfielder, Seattle Sounders), Moses Nyeman (midfielder, DC United), Marcus Ferkranus (defender, LA Galaxy), Alexander Borto (goalkeeper, Fulham), Kristian Fletcher (midfielder/forward, unattached but rumored Borussia Dortmund), Noah Allen (defender, Inter Miami), Antonio Carrera (goalkeeper, FC Dallas), Michael Halliday (defender, Orlando City), Malick Sanogo (forward, Union Berlin), Patrick Bohui (forward, Vejle Boldklub), Esmir Bajraktarevic (forward, New England Revolution), Kayden Pierre (defender, Sporting Kansas City), Jacob Greene (defender, D.C. United), Jeff Dewsnup (goalkeeper, Real Salt Lake)
It is a strong team with a few holes. Central defense is a bit thin and it could change if any of the defenders in the pool get hot or fade. Chris Brady is a very good goalkeeper but Chicago might not release him if they release Gaga Slonina instead – thereby leaving the Fire short two goalkeepers.
There also is no real set No. 9 and as opposed to forcing the issue, it seems like the approach from Varas will be not to take a true No 9. The March camp revealed that Varas was comfortable not taking one and the team still scored seven goals from the two games. None of the team’s goals during the three camps of this cycle have been scored by a true No. 9.
But the team is very strong on the wings and in central/attacking midfield. Combined with the goalkeeping position, the team should be able to compete well in the qualifying tournament this summer. If the team is successful there, it would only be natural to expect plenty of more changes over the ensuring year as the form of young players can change dramatically over a calendar year.