With the 2015 FIFA U-20 World Cup Draw in the books, the entire focus of the U.S. Under-20 Men’s National Team is now on the preparation phase for the tournament.
The U-20 MNT reconvenes with a March 23-30 trip to London that will include matches against Tottenham’s U-21s and England’s U-20s. Following that camp, the U-20s travel to Austria for an April 18-26 session that will feature games against Qatar’s and Greece’s U-20 sides. Further game and roster details will be announced at later dates.
“Our preparation is going to be good,” U-20 MNT head coach Tab Ramos said. “It will be the right preparation for the teams we’re playing in the World Cup, so I’ve been very happy with our planning.”
Looking Ahead to U-20 World Cup Group Opponents:
On Tuesday, the USA was drawn into Group A against host New Zealand, Ukraine and first-time side Myanmar. The U.S. opens the tournament May 30 against Myanmar.
“I think the draw went very well, and it’s a draw where we can be successful if we play at the best level possible,” Ramos said. “These are teams who have eliminated other great teams to get here, and sometimes just reading the names doesn’t do fair justice.”
The June 2 game against host New Zealand certainly stands out as the All Whites look to make a strong run in front of their home base.
“New Zealand has been training together and should be very well prepared,” Ramos said. “They will want to do well at home since they will have the support of the home crowd. Soccer is an up-and-coming sport there, and they will have that weight on their shoulders to go along with the excitement of the tournament. All of that will make them a dangerous side.”
The USA caps off the group stage against Ukraine on June 5. Ukraine is the only side the USA has faced in the FIFA U-20 World Cup, tracing back to a 1-1 draw on June 23, 2001, on a goal by Bruce Arena’s son Kenny Arena in the first half.
“Ukraine consists of all professional players, and they’re similar to a Russia in terms of playing style,” Ramos said. “With the type of players they have, they are experienced in the world game in general.”
Myanmar is a different story as a virtual unknown at the moment but established its presence with a run to the semifinals of the 2014 Asian Football Confederation U-19 Championship to qualify for the World Cup. Myanmar clinched a spot with a 1-0 victory against United Arab Emirates on Oct. 17.
“I really don’t know much about Myanmar, and all you can really look at is the teams they have left behind,” Ramos said. “In the youth game, sometimes it only takes two or three really good players to make a difference in the team, which makes it different than senior teams. So we will focus and prepare for Myanmar in the same way we would prepare for a Germany.”
Reflecting on Qualifying Stage:
The USA is coming off a third-place performance at the 2015 CONCACAF U-20 Championship. After a slow start with a draw against Guatemala and a 1-0 loss to Group A winner and fellow FIFA U-20 World Cup participant Panama, the U.S. mounted a strong run with four consecutive shutout victories, capped off by a 2-0 win against El Salvador to book a spot to New Zealand.
“I feel good about how we defend with this team,” Ramos said. “Our center backs were excellent, and I think we have good complementary players all over the field. I think that gives us some liberty to attack with a lot of players. We led the tournament in shots, so we feel secure in the back to be able to take more chances. I like taking chances, but we also have to improve on our finishing.”
That was Ramos’ main talking point following the tournament as the USA looks to have a balanced attack to coincide with the defensive play.
“I told them that it was important that we are good in front of the goal, because at the World Cup you won’t have as many chances as we did in qualifying,” Ramos said. “We have to get better, and I asked all of our players to go back to their clubs to focus on this. It’s important for their future.”