Here is a statement that is very rarely used when talking about the United States youth national teams: they met expectations this week. After years of stunning losses and early exits from international tournaments it finally appears that the USMNT may have developed under-20 and under-23 teams that can live up to the hype.
The good fortunes began on Wednesday night. When most of the North American footballing world were watching the CONCACAF Champions League Final USA and Mexico were squaring off in U-23 friendly in Los Angeles, California. While Mexico certainly had plenty of opportunities, USMNT goalkeeper Cody Cropper would keep them off the scoresheet, making 7 saves.
The USA would take the lead in the second-half with forward Mario Rodriguez finishing off a cross by midfielder Luis Gil. His goal in the 48th minute was his first at the U-23 level. USA would add two more in the second-half with strikes by forward Jordan Morris and defender Christian Dean giving the USA the 3-0 victory.
For the U-23’s this match was a significant step in their preparation for qualification for the 2016 Olympics. CONCACAF will hold a tournament in October to determine what two teams will represent them in Rio de Janeiro. The United States has not qualified for the Olympics for men’s soccer since the Beijing games of 2008.
The USMNT U-23’s will have one more tournament to get themselves ready for qualification. In July, coach Andi Herzog’s side will participate in the Toulon Tournament in France along with France, Netherlands, Costa Rica, and Qatar.
While the U-23s still have some more time to earn roster spots, time seems to be out for the USMNT U-20s. With the U-20 World Cup set begin in New Zealand in just shortly over a month, players have run out of friendlies to prove their value to coach Tab Ramos. Friday’s 1-0 victory over Croatia represented the last friendly for the side.
If Friday was their last opportunity to shine, the U-20’s certainly made the most of their opportunity. On the road against one of the tournament favorites the USA played a tactically efficient match, making skilled challenges and opting for a balanced approach on the attack.
Columbus Crew SC forward Romain Gall would net the game-winner in the 64th minute. The late sub would finish off his chance after just coming on two minutes prior. Gall was a key contributor for the USA at the CONCACAF U-20 Championship in January, scoring three goals.
USA will begin World Cup play on May the 30th when they take on Myanmar. The USA’s group will also include New Zealand and the Ukraine. The top teams in the Group will advance to the knockout stage.
Although the importance of friendlies can be at times a bit overstated these two victories seem to be different. Positive results seem to be hard to come by for the USA beyond the senior level and more often than not teams at the U-17, U-20, and U-23 level never fulfill their promise.
It may be a bit unfair to put any pressure on players so young. But soccer is a young person’s sport and if the United States ever wants to be considered a power in international soccer then its youth teams need to perform better in international friendlies and tournaments. Perhaps this week’s results are a sign of things to come.