2023 U20 World Cup Roster Analysis
The United States U20 team is heading to Argentina for the U20 World Cup. They earned their place by winning the Concacaf U20 Championship last summer in Honduras. They dominated the tournament with six wins, one tie and no losses — outscoring their opponents 29 to 2.
The young Americans will play in Group B alongside Ecuador, Fiji and Slovakia. The group stage will kick off on Saturday, May 20th against Ecuador and will follow with Fiji on Tuesday, May 23rd and Slovakia on Friday, May 26th.
There are 24 teams in the tournament and 16 teams advance to the knockout stage. This means that the top two teams from each group, on will advance. Four teams that finish third in the group will advance based on which third place teams earn the most points in their respective groups.
21 players are selected to the final roster, three of which must be goalkeepers.
The dream 21
I am going to live in fantasy land for a second and paint a picture of what the ideal United Statues U20 World Cup roster could have looked like if every U.S. eligible player was available. This is my preferred 21, not what Mikey would likely do if he had everyone at his disposal. In this hypothetical situation there are no release issues, no injuries and nobody is cap-tied to another country.
Gabriel Slonina (Chelsea), Chris Brady (Chicago Fire), Antonio Carrera (FC Dallas)
Caleb Wiley (Atlanta United), Justin Che (Hoffenheim), Kayden Pierre (Sporting KC)
Bryan Okoh (RB Salzburg), Jalen Neal (LA Galaxy), Josh Wynder (Louisville City)
Center / Defensive-Mids
Rokas Pukstas (Hajduk Split), Noel Buck (New England Revolution), Jack McGlynn (Philadelphia Union), Owen Wolff (Austin FC), Alex Alvarado (Vizela)
Attacking-Mids / Wingers
Attacking-mids / wingers: Brian Gutierrez (Chicago Fire), Paxten Aaronson (Frankfurt), Caden Clark (RB Leipzig), Kevin Paredes (Wolfsburg), Cade Cowell (San Jose Earthquakes), Quinn Sullivan (Philadelphia Union)
Center-forward: Ricardo Pepi (Groningen)
Who is out and why?
Nine of the 21 players from my ideal squad will not be in Argentina for the U20 World Cup. Here is why:
Not released by their club
Chris Brady, Noel Buck, Brian Gutierrez, Jalen Neal and Paxten Aaronson
Injured or not fit
Kayden Pierre (also may not have been selected), Bryan Okoh (also may not have accepted if selected)
Not selected / Not asked / Did not accept
Caden Clark, Ricardo Pepi, Alex Alvarado
The final 21
12 of my ideal 21 have made the final roster for the U20 World Cup and only 11 players return from the Concacaf U20 Championship tournament. Here is the final group:
GK, Gabriel Slonina, Chelsea (2004)
GK, Antonio Carrera, FC Dallas (2004)
GK, Alex Borto, Fulham (2003)
LB/WING, Caleb Wiley, Atlanta United (2004)
LB, Jonathan Gomez, Real Sociedad (2003)
RB/RCB, Justin Che, Hoffenheim (2003)
RB, Michael Halliday, Orlando City (2003) injury replacement for Mauricio Cuevas
RCB, Brandan Craig, Philadelphia Union (2004)
RCB, Josh Wynder, Louisville City (2005)
RCB, Marcus Ferkranus, LA Galaxy (2003)
Defensive / Center-Mids
DM, Daniel Edelman, New York Red Bulls (2003)
DM, Obed Vargas, Seattle Sounders (2005)
CM, Owen Wolff, Austin FC (2004)
CM, Jack McGlynn, Philadelphia Union (2003)
CM, Rokas Pukstas, Hajduk Split (2004)
Attacking-Mids / Wingers
AM, Niko Tsakiris, San Jose Earthquakes (2005)
AM, Diego Luna, Real Salt Lake (2003)
WING, Kevin Paredes, Wolfsburg (2003)
WING, Cade Cowell, San Jose Earthquakes (2003)
WING, Quinn Sullivan, Philadelphia Union (2004)
CF, Darren Yapi, Colorado Rapids (2004)
Roster analysis and expectations
This roster is not too far from an ideal 21, but it is still missing some big names. Overall it's a solid team with high level talent up and down the roster. 11 of the 21 players that won the Concacaf U20 Championship are on this roster. There are a few upgrades from that roster and a few downgrades, but overall I think the squad has improved from the Concacaf roster.
The big surprises for me are Rokas Pukstas being released when it was reported that he wouldn't. It's possible he joins later in the tournament. Niko Tsakiris was also reportedly not back from injury, but he also joins the group, givin them an attacking boost in midfield, but you wonder how rusty he will be. Caden Clark and Alex Alvarado are the biggest surprises in terms of not being selected — both were key players in the Concacaf tournament.
The team will have a new starting goalkeeper in Gabriel Slonina. Slonina is a positive upgrade over Brady, but not much, Chris Brady is a great young keeper and played well in the Concacaf Championship.
The full-back group may get the biggest boost of all the position groups. They add Wiley, Gomez and Che who are all upgrades over the group that went Honduras for the Concacaf Championship. Wiley can and will also play on the wing. The only player to return is Michael Halliday who is an injury replacement for Mauricio Cuevas.
The only change at center-back is Josh Wynder in place of Jalen Neal. Right now, Neal is probably a more mature option right now, but Wynder is my top rated 2005
born player and has a ton of talent, so there shouldn't be a massive drop off here.
At the defensive and central midfield positions, Alex Alvarado was dropped for Owen Wolff and Obed Vargas is added to the group. This allows Pukstas to play in a more natural free 8 role instead of as a 6. This group has more depth and positional flexibility than the Concacaf group.
The winger and attacking midfielder group gains a top prospects in Kevin Paredes, who can play both wings and left-back in. The team lost Concacaf Championship golden-boot winner Paxten Aaronson, which is a big loss. They opted to not bring in attacking-mid Caden Clark. and they also replaced Jackson Hopkins with high tier prospect — Caleb Wiley — who will play left-back and wing.
The last addition is a true center-forward in Darren Yapi. The Concacaf Championship team primarily played Paxten Aaronson at striker and many others deputized out of their natural position. From a pure roster spot perspective, Yapi replaces Tyler Wolff and I consider Yapi a significant upgrade on this roster.
There are some disappointing absences from this group, but the expectation for this team should still be to make it through the group. Beyond the group stage, expectations should be tempered based on who the United States plays in the knockout stage.