Best XI of the U-20 MNT
A monthly column about the State of U.S. Soccer that takes a hard look at everything from the performance of the U.S. National Teams to pro soccer in the good ‘ole U-S-of-A. If you’re looking for a viewpoint that you won’t see in a generic, nuts-and-bolts U.S. Soccer press release, you’ve come to the right place.
After missing out on half of the first ten World Youth Championships, the U.S. has made a habit of getting to the final tournament over the past decade. The USA’s easy pass through qualifying earlier this month marked the fifth consecutive time that our “coming of age” teens made the final cut, and equaled Mexico’s tournament qualifying total at 10. Here is our all-time best U.S. Under-20 Men’s National Team along with honorable mention selections listed in alphabetical order by position:
Kasey Keller ( (‘89): One of the keys to the U.S. claiming its best ever finish at a U-20 world championship was an impressive youngster in goal that kept his cool in front of the largest crowds in the tournament’s history against powers like Brazil, East Germany and Nigeria. He was so impressive that he not only grabbed top goalkeeper honors, but became the first U.S. player (male or female) to earn one of the top three individual awards when he was honored with the Silver Ball as the tournament’s second most valuable player. As the mullet gave way to the comb-over across the ‘90s, Kasey developed into arguably the best goalkeeper that the U.S. has ever produced and is currently the all-time U.S. leader in wins and shutouts, while still playing at the top of his game 15 years later.
Jeff Cassar (’93): As one person on that trip said, Cassar was “out of his skull” (see also: “standing on his head” or “from Mars”) in Australia as his shot-blocking helped the U.S. make it out of the opening round for just the second time at the U-20 level.
Steve Cronin (’03): Finally out of D.J. Countess’ sizeable Youth National Team shadow, Cronin made some big-time saves to help the U.S. get by the likes of Paraguay and keep them in tough games against Korea Republic, Ivory Coast and Argentina.
Jeff Agoos (‘87): Defense is what got the ‘87s to Chile for the world championship, led by the young man we now know as “Goose.” The stingy U.S. “D” gave up just one goal in four opening round games, and only surrendered a pair in the final qualifying round, finishing second to Canada in Trinidad. Once in South America, the U.S. only gave up a goal per game, but the offense sputtered and the U-20s’ hopes were ended with a 2-1 loss to eventual runner-up West Germany. “Goose” went on to compete for every major U.S. Men’s National Team in his remarkable career, and the only to appear in a world championship at each level, from Chile ’87 to Sydney 2000 to Korea/Japan 2002 (and that includes Futsal in ’92, sorry Landon).
Gregg Berhalter (’93): After the U.S. followed their best U-20 finish in 1987 by missing out on the tournament completely in 1991, Berhalter was the one that led the U.S. back to the event as they easily qualified in Canada in ’92, where he came forward to score two goals, and then finished an impressive eighth place in Australia. The U-20 captain played in every minute of every game at the world championship, helping the U.S. shut out Turkey 6-0, narrowly fall 0-1 to England then tie Korea Republic 2-2 before falling to eventual champion Brazil 0-3 in the second round. The Tenafly, N.J., native went on to captain the U-23s at the ’95 Pan Am Games in Argentina but had to sit out the ’96 Olympics after breaking his foot. After making his debut for the full MNT in ’94, he went on to compete as a regular and was a member of the 2002 World Cup Team that finished in eighth place in Korea/Japan.The rugged bulldog of every team he’s ever played for, Dayak also provided a welcome scoring punch at Saudi Arabia ‘89, scoring the game-winning goal in a 2-0 win over East Germany and scoring the lone goal in a 1-3 loss to Brazil. Dayak had only a brief stint with the full team, appearing in nine games across 1990-91, but he did become one of the more consistently solid defenders in Major League Soccer across the league’s first five years.
Troy Dayak (‘89):
Wade Barrett (’95): The U.S. failed to qualify for Qatar ’95, but it wasn’t from lack of effort from Barrett, who scored four goals in three qualifying games in Honduras in ’94.
Steve Cherundolo (’99): Cherundolo was the heart of the team and the best of a talented back line that also included Carlos Bocanegra and Danny Califf, helping the U.S. to a respectable 11th place finish at Nigeria ’99. One thing of note is that despite being injured during the tournament and not starting in the final group match against Cameroon, Cherundolo came on as a substitute and instantly swung the momentum in the U.S. favor, setting up the game-winning goal.
Chad Marshall (’03): Marshall was the strong, silent rock in the middle of the back line that led the U.S. to within seconds of a spot in the semifinals before falling to Argentina after a 95th minute PK equalizer and overtime goal that left the team in tears.
DaMarcus Beasley (‘01): Already a legend at the U-17 level, Beasley continued to have a huge impact with the U-20s, leading the U.S. through qualifying almost single-handedly with an amazing three goals and four assists in three matches, which earned him Most Outstanding Player honors in Trinidad. At the main event in Argentina, Beasley did his part, with two goals and an assist in a 4-1 win over Chile, but the U.S. team flamed out with a 13th place finish. As we all know, Beasley is just a few years into his full MNT career and already has the makings of a superstar, playing an ever-increasing role for the U.S. since his role in the team’s historic quarterfinal run at the 2002 World Cup.
Bobby Convey (‘01/‘03): Convey played a big role in qualifying for a pair of FIFA World Youth Championships, scoring three goals (including a double in the opener) down in Trinidad before competing with the team at Argentina 2001. In late 2002, Bobby captained the U-20s to the next level with three assists in three matches in Charleston, S.C. Almost a full year later, Convey continued his playmaking role at the United Arab Emirates, scoring a goal and adding two assists to help the U.S. to its best finish since Saudi Arabia ’89. In January of 2004, the always busy Convey put the U-23s on his back and scored four goals across a pair of big opening round wins but the U.S. failed to qualify for the Olympics in Athens. The 21-year-old recently moved back into defense in order to find regular time with the full team, where he made nine appearances in ’04 and looks to be a fullback of the future.
Ricky Davis (’77):
Hugo Perez (’83): The Salvadorian-American midfielder had plenty of motivation to help the U.S. qualify for the ’83 World Championship: a chance to shine in a trip to the country of his ancestry. As the team’s offensive catalyst, he scored three goals and was a part of many more as the U.S. navigated through to the next level. Once in “mey-he-co,” his goal in the U.S. opener almost brought the team back in a 2-3 loss, but a 0-2 loss to Poland sent the U.S. on a short plane ride home sooner than they wished. After ’83, Perez graduated to the full team, where he proceeded to earn 73 caps, score 13 goals and add eight assists across his nine-year MNT career.
Tab Ramos (‘83/’85): Like Convey (and possibly Adu later this year) that came after him, Ramos was the rare player that was both young enough and talented enough to make an impact as part of back-to-back U-20 classes. Ramos chipped in for a pair of goals as the U.S. qualified in Guatemala City in August 1982 before the big stage in Mexico. Almost exactly two years later, Ramos was the leader of a team that posted a 3-2-2 record in qualifying in T&T but failed to qualify for USSR 1985. Ramos went on to be one of the most important players of his generation, earning 81 caps, scoring eight goals and providing 14 assists for the U.S. MNT from 1988-2000 and helping jumpstart the popularity of MLS in 1996.
Ben Olsen (’97): Olsen’s tireless work rate, rugged determination, and speedy flank play were cast into his midfielder makeup as far back as his U-20 career, when he scored a goal in each of a pair of opening wins that helped the U.S. qualify for Malaysia, where they stumbled to a 15th place finish.
Ed Johnson (’03): After a stellar U-17 career, Johnson picked up where he left off at the next age level, putting the team on his back and scoring regularly. He scored a pair of goals to help the U.S. qualify in Charleston in Nov. ’93, then helped the U.S. start well in the WYC with a goal and assist in a 3-1 opening win over Paraguay. EJ went on to add three more goals (all penalties, I know, but the kid was on fire) to earn Golden Boot honors and help the U.S. to a well-deserved fifth place finish. His career U-20 numbers from 2002-03 were 18 goals in overall matches, including 12 in international matches. While Ed missed out on Olympic glory last year with the U-23s, he looks to be destined for stardom after setting full MNT records with five goals in his first three matches, including the quickest hat trick in the program’s history.
Steve Snow (’89):
Gary Etherington (’77): While Ricky Davis got the glory, Etherington put up standout numbers of his own, including three two-goal games during qualifying in Puerto Rico that left him just two shy of Ricky’s eight. Etherington went on to make seven appearances for the full MNT from 1977-79.
Chris Faklaris (’93): First Gary Etherington, now Chris Faklaris? Even the Armchair didn’t know of their exploits until he practically had to use the DaVinci Code to piece together stats of old. But we learned that he scored a goal in three consecutive games in qualifying in Canada, before registering the first hat trick by any U.S. men’s player at a world championship as part of a shocking 6-0 thrashing of Turkey in each team’s opener in Australia.
Taylor Twellman (’99): While defender Nick Garcia and forward Chris Albright got the U.S. to Nigeria ’99 with four goals each in qualifying in Trinidad, it was Twellman who grabbed the spotlight in the big tournament, scoring four goals of his own to become the first U.S. male player to earn Bronze Boot honors at a world championship event.
Of course it remains to be seen who will break out of the Class of 2005, but if the CONCACAF Qualifying Tournament was any kind of preview, it could be any of a number of players that helped the U.S. post a 3-0 record and win its qualifying group outright for the first time in the program’s history. From 18-year-old Eddie Gaven, who had a hat trick in the team’s 6-1 opening win over Trinidad & Tobago, to steady defenders Marvell Wynne and Hunter Freeman to midfield playmakers Benny Feilhaber and Will John, to talented attackers Freddy Adu and Chad Barrett, this group looks to be loaded with the kind of talent that could produce great results in Holland in June.Before U.S. Soccer fans knew a brash, cocky kid like Clint Mathis, there was a rebellious young stud named Steve Snow. Snow scored five of the team’s 11 goals as they made it through qualifying in Guatemala in the spring of 1988. Ten months later in Saudi Arabia, he helped the U.S. earn a crucial point in its opening match by scoring the lone goal in a 1-1 tie with Mali and then provided an insurance goal in a 2-0 win over East Germany. His biggest goal helped the U.S. take Nigeria to overtime before they lost the semifinal 1-2. Snow kept up his stellar strike rate with 11 goals in nine internationals as an Olympian, including nine in Olympic Qualifying in Honduras and a pair at Barcelona 1992. Sadly, or not so sadly depending on the coach or teammate you ask, he never proved himself to be a dominant player beyond the youth level, making just one appearance in 1988 and 1989 for the full Men’s National Team before falling off the soccer map.Just as the scoring tandem of DaMarcus Beasley and Landon Donovan terrorized U-17 opponents from ‘98-99, Ricky Davis and running mate Greg Etherington were just as potent for the U-20s in 1976. Davis went OFF as a U-20, scoring eight goals in eight qualifying games, including the first registered hat trick at the U-20 level in a 9-0 win over the Dominican Republic in the opening qualifying round in Puerto Rico. But in the final round, even with Davis providing three of the team’s five goals in wins over Guatemala and Canada, a 0-1 loss to Mexico kept them from making the trip to the first FIFA World Youth Championship in Tunisia. His standout performance as a U-20 earned him his first full cap with the MNT that same year. He went on to register a solid 36 caps and score seven goals across the next 11 years.