What U-20 team could have looked like
Back in April, when the U.S. failed to qualify for the under-20 World Cup after a devastating loss on the road to Guatemala, some were inclined to write off a generation of American players. But even if they're not in Colombia for this month's tournament, this group of U-20s is still the most talented and deepest in the history of the American program.
Of course there are no what-ifs in soccer, but given the U-20 World Cup results as the semifinal round kicks off this week, it's clear the U.S. had the talent to do very well in Colombia. That ship sailed in Guatemala, taking the Americans' chances of a breakout performance with it, but there's still plenty of reason for fans to keep the faith in the young Americans.
During the cycle, Thomas Rongen's team matched up well with several countries that have advanced deep into the tournament, including semifinalists Mexico and France. (When the U.S., Mexico and World Cup quarterfinalist Colombia played a three-way tournament late last year, all three matches ended in 1-1 draws.)
More noteworthy, had the U.S. managed to qualify, the team headed to Colombia for the World Cup would have looked very different from the squad that was knocked out of the regional championship. Injuries and club commitments reduced that group to a shadow of its potential, to the point that if Rongen were picking a team today, he might even choose a completely different starting 11 than the one that took the field for that crucial qualifier in April.
For the sake of understanding what's coming down the pipeline for the U.S., let's envision a scenario in which the U.S. was competing in this week's U-20 World Cup semifinals. Here's what that team might look like, compared to that knockout loss to Guatemala in April:
To read more about the optimal roster for the U.S. under-20 team, and how they could have performed with that roster, you must an ESPN Insider.