US U-20 World Cup Grades (Part 4): Didn't Make The Grade
It all ended in heartbreak, with the US U-20 national team falling to Serbia in the World Cup Quarterfinals. But there's a lot we can take away from this tournament, and if you're a US fan, a lot to be excited about.
The Stars and Stripes opened up with a shaky performance against minnows Myanmar, pulling it together later in the match to win it 2-1. Then they cruised by host New Zealand, thoroughly out-classing them en route to a 4-0 victory. Having already qualified for the knockout stage, they stumbled badly in the second half against Ukraine, shipping three goals in the loss without scoring any of their own. In the round of 16, they struggled a bit with a talented Colombia midfield, but survived a red card and a penalty to advance 1-0. Finally, a rugged battle with Serbia (pun only slightly intended) ground to a 0-0 draw after 120 minutes, after which the US lost in the 9th frame of penalties. Serbia, for its part, would go on to defeat heavy-favorites Brazil in the final to win the U-20 World Cup.
In this five-part series, I'll be publishing my grades of their performances, grouped into four buckets of descending quality and capped with a fifth piece for overall thoughts and a few "incompletes." Today, we'll take a look the boys that I thought didn't make the grade, in other words, players who didn't demonstrate clear senior-team potential and would have to develop significantly to get there.
Shaquell Moore (Huracán Valencia)
Moore just signed on with a third-tier Spanish side (if you're unfamiliar with Spanish soccer, the third tier is actually really huge so don't think of it as of the quality that English League One is, for example), and I don't really get him as a player. He seems to be a decent athlete with some defensive frailty and technical deficiencies. He was beaten by trickery more than once, and was miles behind Desevio Payne's refinement going forward. It's not an accident that once Ramos dialed up his number against Ukraine after a lengthy stay on the sidelines, his defense shipped two more goals in one half than the rest of the team did the entire rest of the tournament.
As far as I can tell, this guy has a long way to go developmentally, and just happened to be in the picture at the right time at a position of need. That being said, he's in Spain, and is plenty athletic to do the job, so while I'd consider his development to a senior-team guy surprising, I wouldn't consider it impossible. The upside is high enough, but the road to get there is long.
Jordan Allen (Real Salt Lake)
Jordan Allen was a late, somewhat surprising addition to the team after emerging as a youngster for Real Salt Lake. He's got jump-off-the-tape levels of speed, and has already made a difference at the MLS level. However, in this tournament, "ineffectual" would be putting it politely. He didn't seem to contribute much beyond pace, with average ball control, below average interplay and goalscoring, and very little defensive contribution beyond passive tracking back. Beyond skillset, it just didn't seem like he knew what he was doing on the field, so his runs were too naive and simple to trouble any defense he faced.
He's way, way too raw to get anywhere near the Olympic team, and I think his likely ceiling is more likely to be a fun pacey MLS starter than a USMNT contributor. The counterpoint here is that he's an excellent athlete who has missed out on quite a lot of developmental time with a long recovery from microfracture surgery. I think that points to a longer developmental cycle, making him more comparable to a 17 or 18 year old than a 19 or 20 year old. As such, while there is a lot to work on, the senior-team upside still exists, even if the potential remains remote.
Joel Soñora (Boca Juniors)
When there's an American kid in the Boca Juniors academy, you naturally get excited at such an exotic prospect at such a storied club. Soñora didn't quite match that image, however, appearing to be just a bit below this level in every single one of his many appearances. He can dribble (a bit) and looked ok on the ball, but otherwise did little to dictate play with his passing or convincingly go for goal. He's also purely an attacker, so offered nothing defensively. I was surprised at how unrefined his overall offensive skills looked, given his pedigree, and it definitely appeared as though he wasn't ready for this particular stage. Both of those problems are addressable through more game time at a senior level.
He also faces a bit of the Tommy Thompson problem, which is that I'm not entirely sure what his best position is. He played through the middle like Zelalem and Hyndman at times, he played in the hole, and he played out wide. His skillset left him with a limitation at all three roles, and therefore he imposed himself from none of them. Like Thompson, then, I'm looking for him to lock into a particular position and get time at it with a club (any club) to figure out how to impose himself at the club senior level. Until then, I think he's a long shot for the Olympic team and a fairly long way away from the senior US side.
John Requejo (Club Tijuana)
Requejo wasn't bad at all. This grade is more a reflection of the limited upside he showed beyond a decent Liga MX player, and even that is a few years down the road. Essentially, while he's adequate for this level, I didn't see anything that screamed senior-team potential to me. That being said, Club Tijuana did get rid of the left back in front of him which may mean they have some amount of faith in the player. And he was one of the better performers in U-20 CONCACAF qualifying, though this group struggled a bit in that tournament.
He has size and athleticism that is adequate, but not elite. He's left-footed, somewhat unusual for this player pool, giving him usefulness as a sub to provide width on the left. However, none of his defensive instincts, technique, aggression, skill going forward, or anything else jump off the page. He was planted firmly behind Kellyn Acosta on the depth chart, and his most memorable contribution was unfortunately a missed penalty against Serbia in what would become a fatal shootout. He only started that game, of course, due to Acosta's suspension, and his overall contribution in the quarterfinal was a net positive, but he did have Cameron Carter-Vickers on his right hip while defending.
Sure-Fire: Emerson Hyndman, Zack Steffen, Cameron Carter-Vickers, Rubio Rubin
Excellent, With Reservations: Matt Miazga, Gedion Zelalem, Paul Arriola, Desevio Payne
Jury Still Out: Maki Tall, Bradford Jamieson IV, Tommy Thompson, Marky Delgado, Kellyn Acosta
Didn't Make The Grade: Jordan Allen, Shaquell Moore, John Requejo, Joel Soñora