After five matches, the U-20 USMNT's time in New Zealand is over. Despite being out-played in the quarterfinal match against Serbia, the U.S. was unlucky to lose in a penalty shootout. Goalkeeper Zach Steffen made impressive saves throughout the shootout and if the U.S. penalty takers hadn't been so poor the team certainly could have advanced to face Mali. The team had a respectable World Cup run and if things had turned out a little different it could have progressed even further.
Before the tournament even began, the U.S. squad was hampered by injuries. Defensive Midfielder Russell Canouse certainly would have been a starter for this team, but he was forced to withdraw from the squad after suffering an ankle injury. After losing Canouse, U.S. striker Maki Tall then suffered a broken toe in the opening game of the World Cup. The injuries kept coming, as forward Bradford Jamieson IV suffered an apparent head injury in the Round of 16 game against Colombia and was not able to play against Serbia. Injuries to these important players certainly made things more difficult for Tab Ramos and each game he had to go deeper into his bench to simply put out a starting lineup.
Beginning with Canouse's injury and throughout the tournament the U.S. was just unlucky. Losing three talented players devastated the squad and certainly was unexpected. The squad's bad luck continued with defender Kellyn Acosta red-carded late against Colombia, resulting in his suspension for the match against Serbia. During the game against Serbia, the U.S. was abysmal in the penalty shootout. While Serbia was clearly the better team, the USMNT was unfortunate to fail to convert four penalties. Some luck is certainly required in order to win a shootout; for the U.S., luck was nowhere to be found.
While Tab Ramos certainly should not be blamed for the U.S.'s quarterfinal exit, one of his roster decisions before the tournament was highly questionable. Ramos's decision to omit Romain Gall from the roster was and still is shocking. Gall led the team in scoring during the U-20 CONCACAF Championship (which serves as a qualifying tournament for the World Cup) and Ramos claimed Gall missed out on making the squad due to a lack of playing time with the Columbus Crew. This explanation makes little sense as defender Shaquell Moore made the roster without being under contract to a professional club and having never played a single minute of professional soccer (he signed with Huracan Valencia a couple of days after the call-up for New Zealand).
Overall, the U.S. had a respectable showing at the U-20 World Cup. They made it to the quarterfinals despite facing great adversity and at times demonstrated the great potential of this team's players. Now these players will return to their clubs and likely turn their sights to being part of the Olympic Qualifying team. For them the most important thing is playing regularly, whether at their clubs or on loan, to help further their development.