The 2018 CONCACAF Men’s U-20 Championship kicked off on November 1. This edition of the tournament has an ambitious new format: no subsidiary qualifying competition. If you’re in CONCACAF, you’re in the regional men’s U-20 championship - if you want to be. Thirty-four teams responded to that invitation, which makes for a somewhat bloated tournament but credit the region’s soccer administrators for designing a competition that befits its mandate to boost the sport around the whole of North America, Central America, and the Caribbean.
For fans of the New York Red Bulls, the tournament may be worth a glance. Not because of any particular connection to RBNY - unusually for a regional youth soccer competition, the Red Bulls don’t have great representation at this tourney. But RBNY does have an ongoing interest in younger players: the sort of players the club seeks out to develop into quality RalfBallers. CONCACAF’s decision to throw the doors of the regional men’s U-20 championship open to all comers has created something of a bonanza for scouts - particularly for American clubs, since the tournament is being played at the IMG Academy in Florida.
For the price of a couple of weeks in Bradenton, a team’s scouts can get a snapshot of almost the entirety of CONCACAF’s U-20 talent pool: fair to assume RBNY has eyes on the competition. And RBNY fans can watch whatever parts of it they fancy without going anywhere (though this is a pleasant time of year to be in Florida), as CONCACAF is promoting its new streaming service - CONCACAF Go - by screening most of the games through that channel.
There’s no guarantee that any of the players in this tournament will ever play a minute for RBNY. But it’s a near-certainty that RBNY is watching the competition with a view to deciding for itself whether the current crop of CONCACAF U-20 national-teamers includes a future Red Bull or two.
How it works
The 34 teams were divided into six groups - A through F. Thirty-four does not divide evenly into six, so there are four groups of six teams and two five-team groups. Each group plays the usual round-robin format mini-tournament, with the winner advancing to the “Qualification Stage”.
The six group winners that advance to the Qualification Stage will be split into two groups of three. The top two teams from each of those groups will be CONCACAF’s four-team delegation at the 2019 U-20 World Cup. The winner of each of those groups will advance to the final to decide the winner of the regional U-20 title.
The schedule for the tournament is brutal. In the Group Stage, teams must play four or five games (depending on the size of their group) in nine days. The Qualification Stage kicks off about four days after the conclusion of the Group Stage - and that will add another two games inside six days to the schedules of those squads that make the cut. The Championship Final - on November 21 - is two days after the conclusion of the Qualification Stage. The finalists will head home having played seven or eight games of international U-20 soccer in three weeks.
The Group Stage
This guide is late and tournament is in full swing. Here’s a look at the standings in each group at the time of publication.
Group A: USA, Trinidad and Tobago, Suriname, Puerto Rico, St Vincent and the Grenadines, US Virgin Islands
The USA is running away with Group A - as most observers would have predicted prior to the tournament. There will be tougher opponents waiting for the young Americans in the next round, but the evidence of the Group Stage so far suggests the USA will be considered the team to beat as the competition progresses.
2018 CONCACAF Men’s U-20 Championship - Group A (11/7/18)
|Trinidad and Tobago||4||2||0||2||9||11||-2||6|
|Saint Vincent and the Grenadines||4||1||0||3||6||11||-5||3|
|US Virgin Islands||4||0||0||4||2||37||-35||0|
The USA won its first CONCACAF Men’s U-20 title just last year, and has been frozen out of the top four of this tournament just once in the last 11 editions. The relatively quick-turnaround between this iteration of the regional U-20 championship and the last means there has perhaps been less opportunity for this group to make a name for itself than in the build-up to tournaments of years past. Indeed, the bigger names from the USA squad that contested the 2017 U-17 World Cup - a roster that might reasonably be expected to contribute significantly to the current U-20 cycle - have arguably got too big for the game at this level: the likes of Josh Sargent and Tim Weah are eyeing senior USMNT roster spots these days, not hoping for U-20 call-ups.
Still, the US squad for this tournament does include a few familiar names from the 2017 U-17 cohort, including Chris Gloster, formerly of the New York Red Bulls Academy.
As a group, the US team is among the more experienced at this tournament - in terms of exposure to the professional game. Anything less than U-20 World Cup qualification would constitute failure for this USA squad. It was the prohibitive favorite to win Group A before the competition began, and it has walloped every opponent it has faced to date in group.
That leaves the other five teams in the group playing for second. Pre-tournament seeding marked Trinidad and Tobago as the best of the rest in the group, but the TTFA’s preparations for this tournament have been some distance from adequate. Suriname and Puerto Rico head into the final round of group-stage games with a shot at taking the runner-up position in Group A.
Group A players to watch:
Chris Gloster - USA
Fair warning: this is a guide for New York Red Bulls fans, so its interests skew toward what might be relevant to RBNY. Gloster is a full back and unlikely to garner many headlines or highlights during this tournament, but he is perhaps the player nearest and dearest to RBNY’s heart at this championship. He was one of the Red Bull Academy’s top prospects until he slipped away to Hannover earlier this year. If things don’t work out in Germany and his thoughts turn to playing soccer at home again, expect RBNY to be at the head of the queue of clubs seeking to welcome him to MLS.
Until or unless that happens, however, he’s just another RBNY Academy product trying to make a soccer career for himself. He was at the U-17 World Cup with the USA last year, and can have strong hope of being on his country’s roster for the 2019 edition of the U-20 World Cup - as long as he and his team do what is required at this CONCACAF championship.
Best of luck, Chris.
Alvaro Verwey - Suriname
Verwey’s Wikipedia page says he’s “the first native-born Surinamese youth player to sign for a European club directly from Suriname” - and OaM is not qualified to argue that matter. That European team was Denmark’s Vejle Boldklub, but Verwey has since returned to Suriname. Wikipedia also says the 19-year-old forward has had brief acquaintances with the development arms of such storied clubs as Chelsea and Boca Juniors.
He also reportedly has a rare knack for scoring on his debut: for Surinamese club SV Walking Boyz Company; for the Suriname senior men’s national team; and for the men’s U-20s in the current CONCACAF championship. Indeed, four goals in his first three games of the present tournament have put Verwey among the competition’s top scorers. Suriname will play the US in the final game of Group A, in what should be Verwey’s best chance to coax an opportunity or two out of North America’s pro clubs.
Gidson Francis - St Vincent and the Grenadines
Francis scored twice against T&T to very nearly give St Vincent and the Grenadines an unexpected opening-game win in Group A.
Daniel Arce - Puerto Rico
When not shopping their Academy and regional youth national teams for talent, the New York Red Bulls are quite fond of cherry-picking local college sides. Puerto Rican defender Daniel Arce is thought to be lined up to play for St Francis College, Brooklyn: current Red Bull Vincent Bezecourt’s former team.
Group B: Mexico, Jamaica, Aruba, Nicaragua, Grenada, Saint Martin
Another group with a prohibitive favorite: Mexico is historically dominant team at this level - winner of 13 CONCACAF Men’s U-20 titles. But El Tri’s journey to the Qualification Stage hit an unexpected obstacle in the third round of games in Group B: Jamaica stood up to the region’s U-20 heavyweight and emerged with a 2-2 tie.
That result sets up a sprint finish in Group B. Both Mexico and Jamaica are expected to win their remaining games; assuming they finish level on points, the group winner will be the team with the best overall group difference. Mexico has a substantial goal difference advantage over Jamaica after the first three games of the group, and looks to have superior attacking power within its squad. But the Jamaicans have made their presence in the tournament felt and they know what they have to do to advance: win the rest of their games and score a lot more goals than Mexico.
2018 CONCACAF Men’s U-20 Championship - Group B (11/7/18)
Group B players to watch:
Diego Lainez - Mexico
The 18-year-old attacker was the player of the tournament at this year’s Toulon Tournament, and also made his first senior men’s national team appearances for Mexico in 2018. He was held out of last year’s CONCACAF U-17 championship because he was getting time with his club, America - so it counts as a surprise that he’s been permitted to join the U-20 squad when his star is no less on the rise than it was when he was in the U-17 player pool.
Lainez might be the most exciting North American teenage soccer player still based in North America.
Kaheem Parris - Jamaica
Parris is arguably the most highly-rated Jamaican player in his age group, which perhaps explains why he isn’t at this tournament at all. The attacking player is on a three-month trial with Swedish club Djurgardens IF. But he was named in the squad for the competition. If he does interrupt his trial to play for his country in Florida, his presence should pique the interest of attending scouts. And if that is to happen at all, it would seem it will require Jamaica to get out of its group (teams are permitted to swap out up to six players between the Group Stage and Qualification Stage) - which would mean the Reggae Boyz had bounced Mexico out of the competition.
Jamoi Topey - Jamaica
In Parris’ apparent absence from the Jamaica squad, defender Topey has been his team’s most productive attacking threat, scoring two of the six goals his side has produced in its first three games of the tournament. Topey’s height makes him a consistent and effective threat from set pieces at this level.
Group C: Honduras, Cuba, Antigua and Barbuda, Dominican Republic, Belize, Sint Maarten
The top seed in Group C, Honduras, is sitting pretty at the top of the table. Los Catrachos were almost tripped up by Cuba in the third round of Group Stage games, but two late goals saw the favorites close out a 3-1 win and preserve their perfect start to the tournament. No further hindrance is expected to Honduras’ anticipated smooth passage into the Qualification Stage of the competition.
2018 CONCACAF Men’s U-20 Championship - Group C (11/7/18)
|Antigua and Barbuda||4||2||0||2||7||7||0||6|
Group C players to watch:
Carlos Mejia - Honduras
As one of his country’s top U-17 prospects, Mejia once attracted Manchester City’s attention, but he’s still based in Honduras - for now.
Zayn Hakeem - Antigua and Barbuda
Hakeem is attached to English League Two outfit Mansfield Town. The 19-year-old forward bagged a hat-trick in Antigua and Barbuda’s group stage opener, a 6-1 win over Sint Maarten.
Gerard Lavergne - Dominican Republic
Goal-scoring midfielder (he has scored three times in the tournament so far) and Dominican Republic’s captain for this tournament.
Group D: Panama, Canada, St Kitts and Nevis, Guadeloupe, Dominica, Martinique
Group D looks to have been settled by Panama’s 2-1 win over Canada. Los Canaleros are the top seed in the group, and will be expected to run the table from here.
2018 CONCACAF Men’s U-20 Championship - Group D (11/7/18)
|St Kitts and Nevis||3||0||0||3||4||7||-3||0|
Group D players to watch:
Noble Okello - Canada
Canada’s top-scorer in the tournament to date with three goals from the team’s opening three games, Okello is on Toronto FC’s books for now.
Saed Diaz - Panama
Ismael Diaz was one of the more exciting prospects in the Panama squad that was sent to the 2015 U-20 World Cup. Saed is his brother, now seeking to follow Ismael’s example and help bring another emerging generation of Panamanian players to a global audience.
Jamie Parillon - Dominica
Dominica has risen to third in Group D, which is perhaps unexpected for a team that was in the fifth tier of contenders at the draw for this tournament. After being shutout and soundly beaten, 4-0, by Canada in the opening game, Dominica has bounced back with wins over St Kitts and Nevis and Martinique. The team has scored five goals in those two games, and Parillon bagged four of them.
Group E: Costa Rica, Haiti, Bermuda, Saint Lucia, Barbados
This guide is so late that Haiti has already played its last game of the tournament. Barring a massive upset (St Lucia beating Costa Rica in the last round of the group stage), Haiti won’t play again this competition.
Costa Rica’s 1-0 win over Les Grenadiers should have settled the question of which team will win Group E. Los Ticos will focus on finishing off the group stage on a high with a positive result against St Lucia (or at least getting the point they need to top the group), before facing sterner tests in the Qualification Stage.
2018 CONCACAF Men’s U-20 Championship - Group E (11/7/18)
Group E players to watch:
Walter Cortes - Costa Rica
The Saprissa prospect was the only Costa Rican player named to the Best XI of the 2017 CONCACAF Men’s U-17 Championship.
Vino Barclett - St Lucia
St Lucia has only conceded two goals to date in the tournament. Captain and goalkeeper Barclett can expect to be busy in his team’s group stage finale against Costa Rica, but he’s handled himself well in the competition so far.
Group F: El Salvador, Guatemala, Curacao, Guyana, Cayman Islands
Top seed El Salvador has had some challenges in Group F, but has emerged with a perfect record after three games. The Salvadorans are not expected to be quite as troubled by Guyana - their remaining opponent in the Group Stage - as they were by Curacao and Guatemala. And a win or tie for El Salvador against Guyana in the very last game of this group will see the top seed through to the next round of the tournament.
2018 CONCACAF Men’s U-20 Championship - Group F (11/7/18)
Group F players to watch:
Saliazar Henriquez - El Salvador
He scored both goals in his team’s crucial win over Guatemala, showcasing his ability as a defender who is a set-piece threat with his left foot and his head.
Rudy Barrientos - Guatemala
The midfielder is Guatemala’s leading scorer at the tournament. He and his team will look to sign off from the competition on a high note with a big win over Cayman Islands on November 8.