After finishing last in a tough group at the 2013 FIFA U-20 World Cup, the U-20 United States Men's National Team looks to bounce back in the 2015 tournament with their first game on Saturday. Coach Tab Ramos leads a squad rich with talent, that includes players such as Emerson Hyndman, Gedion Zelalem, Rubio Rubin, Matt Miazga and 17-year-old Cameron Carter-Vickers.
The roster features eight MLS players including the Red Bulls' very own Miazga. While the roster certainly contains talented players there are questions about the defense.
Youngster Carter-Vickers is expected to partner with Matt Miazga at center-back, and while Carter-Vickers is a talented and physically-gifted player, he is very inexperienced. Unlike many other players on the roster, he has yet to make a first-team appearance with his club (Tottenham); he made 10 appearances this past season for the Tottenham U-21 team. Carter-Vickers' inexperience might be the weak link at the back in this team. New outside back Desevio Payne will likely replace either John Requejo or Shaquell Moore in the starting lineup. Payne has made only one appearance for the team and will have to quickly learn how to play with his teammates.
GOALKEEPERS: Jeff Caldwell (University of Virginia; Todd, N.C.), Thomas Olsen (University of San Diego; Las Vegas, Nev.), Zack Steffen (Freiburg; Downingtown, Pa.)
DEFENDERS: Cameron Carter-Vickers (Tottenham Hotspur; Westcliff on Sea, England), Matthew Miazga (New York Red Bulls; Clifton, N.J.), Shaquell Moore (Valencia Huracan; Powder Springs, Ga.), Erik Palmer-Brown (Sporting Kansas City; Lee's Summit, Mo.), Desevio Payne (FC Groningen; Greenwood, S.C.), John Requejo (Club Tijuana; Carpinteria, Calif.), Conor Donovan (Orlando City SC; Fuquay-Varina, NC.)
MIDFIELDERS: Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas; Plano, Texas), Paul Arriola (Club Tijuana; Chula Vista, Calif.), Marco Delgado (Toronto FC; Glendora, Calif.), Emerson Hyndman (Fulham; Dallas, Texas), Joel Soñora (Boca Juniors; Buenos Aires, Argentina), Gedion Zelalem (Arsenal; Montgomery County, Md.)
FORWARDS: Jordan Allen (Real Salt Lake; Rochester, N.Y.), Bradford Jamieson IV (LA Galaxy; Los Angeles, Calif.), Rubio Rubin (Utrecht; Beaverton, Ore.), Maki Tall (Red Star; Washington, D.C.), Tommy Thompson (San Jose Earthquakes; Loomis, Calif.)
Projected Lineup: 4-4-2. Zack Steffen GK. Shaquell Moore RB. Cameron Carter-Vickers CB. Matt Miazga CB. Desevio Payne LB. Kellyn Acosta CDM. Jordan Allen RM. Emerson Hyndman CM. Gedion Zelalem LM. Rubio Rubin RF. Bradford Jamieson IV LF.
Players to Watch:
Matt Miazga: The New York Red Bulls' 6'3'' center back is expected to anchor the backline. Miazga has played very well for the Red Bulls and Coach Tab Ramos is surely hoping that club form carries over to the World Cup. Miazga's partnership with the talented, but inexperienced Cameron Carter-Vickers will have a large influence on the success of the team.
Emerson Hyndman: Grandson of former FC Dallas Coach Schellas Hyndman and captain of the team, Emerson Hyndman is a vital cog in the U.S. midfield. He is a talented central midfielder with excellent passing ability.
Rubio Rubin: Forward Rubio Rubin will be key to the offense's success. He is the only player on the roster who has featured for the senior USMNT (3 appearances) and received regular minutes for FC Utrecht in the Dutch Eredivisie this past season.
X-Factor: Gedion Zelalem is undoubtedly a talented player, but there is no guarantee he will perform well at the World Cup. He was just cleared by FIFA to play for the U.S. on May 13th and has played a mere 31 minutes with this team. If Zelalem integrates with the team quickly and plays up to his potential then U.S. could make a deep run in the tournament.
Unlike the team's defense which is surrounded by questions, the offense has drawn great praise. This potent offensive unit of midfielders and forwards will be expected to outscore most opponents. Forward Bradford Jamieson IV possess blistering pace and has just begun to show his talent with LA Galaxy. Poacher Rubio Rubin has already featured for the senior National Team and could be posed for a breakout tournament. Playmaking central midfielder Emerson Hyndman will help to create great chances for the forwards and can unlock defenses with his passing. Arsenal prodigy Zelalem might be the most technically gifted player on the team and if he plays up to his potential he could elevate this offense to another level.
The U.S. is the clear favorite in Group A and will be expected to win a group that also features hosts New Zealand, Ukraine and Myanmar. Failing to advance from the group would be both shocking and disastrous. A reasonable expectation for the team would be that it advances to the quarter-finals. However, if the defense improves and Zelalem quickly develops chemistry with his teammates then the U.S. could advance past the quarter-finals and be one of the better teams in the competition.