The United States under-20 team will face host nation New Zealand, Ukraine and Myanmar in the 2015 U-20 World Cup. Ahead of the tournament this summer, FIFA held the final draw on Monday night Eastern Time (or Tuesday evening New Zealand Time).
The top two teams in each of the six groups and the top four third-placed teams advance to the round of 16. The U.S.’ best showing at the U-20 World Cup came in 1989, as a teenaged Kasey Keller, Curt Onalfo, Troy Dayak and Chris Henderson led the team to a fourth-place overall finish in Saudi Arabia.
Here are three thoughts on the New Zealand 2015 draw and the U.S.’ participation in the tournament:
• A first-place finish in the group should be the goal for the U.S.
That would almost certainly ensure the Americans avoid Argentina in the round of 16 and pass through to the quarterfinals without too many problems. Or at least, that’s how it should go. As Tab Ramos’ team showed in the CONCACAF tournament in Jamaica, the label of being a favorite can be burdensome.
If the U.S. does win Group A, its path to the final would include a matchup against a third-placed team in the round of 16, a quarterfinal against one of two second-placed teams and a possible semifinal against Colombia or Portugal. The permutations and scenarios are nearly endless at this point, but U.S. fans should expect their team to make a deep run based on the draw.
• Mexico drew the toughest group, with Uruguay, Serbia and an unknown African nation.
El Tri won’t know its first group-stage opponent until the African U-20 Championship finishes at the end of March, but it won’t be the winner of that confederation. The previous youth Mexican generation was strong, earning third place at the 2011 U-20 World Cup before a group containing four of the same players won the 2012 Summer Olympics gold medal. The current U-20s won the CONCACAF tournament without a loss and while conceding just four goals in January.
Germany should march through easily, and Group F contains the biggest potential for lopsided scores. Fiji, Uzbekistan and Honduras will all be fighting for the second-place slot in the group and to avoid humiliation by the younger version of last summer’s World Cup champion. Along with Argentina, Germany will head to New Zealand as a favorite to win it all.
• The U.S. could have a solid group of players with senior national team experience at the tournament.
Julian Green, who scored with his first touch at the 2014 World Cup, is age-eligible by six months. Rubio Rubín and Emerson Hyndman, young debutants in the new senior cycle, should also be available. Arsenal midfielder Gedion Zelalem, who recently declared his intention to play for the U.S., should make his U.S. debut.
[Editor's Note: According to U.S. Soccer, it would appear that Green is not eligible to play in this summer's competition because he played for Germany in the preliminary rounds of the 2014 UEFA U-19 championship, which served as the qualifier for the U-20 World Cup. Green's participation with Germany happened in October 2013.]
Major League Soccer franchises also have a positive track record of sending important players to the competition. In 2013, DeAndre Yedlin, Luis Gil, Wil Trapp and Shane O’Neill all traveled to Turkey in the midst of their domestic seasons. It was Yedlin’s first exposure to the world stage and helped him earn a European move.