For several members of the U.S. Under-20 Men’s National Team, the 2015 FIFA U-20 World Cup represents another chance. Many have been part of the U.S. Soccer national team programs for various cycles, but only three have ever been part of a youth World Cup, and only two have played in one. Nine others came close and are now getting their opportunity on the world stage.
Jeff Caldwell, Joel Sonora, Conor Donovan, Rubio Rubin, John Requejo and Shaq Moore were all on the 2013 team that was upset by Honduras at the CONCACAF U-17 Championship and missed out of that U-17 World Cup. Bradford Jamieson IV was left off that roster altogether after spending four semesters in Residency.
“Obviously that was a tough moment, not only for me but the rest of the team who experienced that,” said Moore, who was captain of the 2013 U-17 World Cup qualifying team. “I think having another chance – not even here at the World Cup, but at Qualifying in January with this group - was a big hurdle that I crossed to finally qualify for a World Cup.”
It wasn’t easy qualifying this time around, either. After tying the first and losing the second match, the U-20s won the final four matches in Jamaica – all by shutout – in order to qualify for New Zealand. One player who had to sit out was Sonora, who was injured weeks before. Thankful that the group qualified, he’s now looking forward for his chance at redemption.
“It was a big disappointment at the time because we were all expecting to qualify,” said Sonora of the 2013 team. “We didn’t see it as too difficult, and maybe we let our guard down. It was a very hard hit to take because it was the first time a U-17 team didn’t qualify for a World Cup. We were crushed. So we’re excited that we’ve now given ourselves another chance to show what we can do and what this group of players and this team is about in New Zealand.”
Two years earlier, Kellyn Acosta and Paul Arriola were the youngest members of the 2011 U-17 FIFA World Cup team in Mexico that bowed out in the Round of 16 with a loss to Germany. Acosta played in all four matches and Arriola in three. During that cycle, Marky Delgado did not make the qualifying roster, and while Jordan Allen was on the team that qualified, he was left off the final World Cup squad.
“There was disappointment, but at the time I hadn’t been playing well, so it was kind of expected,” Allen said. “I made sure once that happened, that the next time I had a chance to make a World Cup team I would have been doing everything I could to be in good form and put myself in the right position. So I’m happy that I’ve been able to do that this time.”
Allen and Delgado were also returning from injuries in January and not fit to go to Jamaica. But Allen seemed to be a longer shot. He suffered a knee injury last year that kept him out the picture for months. The Real Salt Lake forward made his first appearance with the U-20s in a camp in Austria in April, and got the call that he made the World Cup team a few weeks later.
“This means a lot,” he said. “I’ve put a lot of work in - being out of close to 10 months with my knee injury. As soon as I got healthy I circled when the World Cup was going to be and I made sure that by that time I was getting close to my best form. I put a lot of work in, and luckily it worked out.”
Arriola doesn’t take the opportunity to play in a second youth World Cup for granted.
“I know it’s unique, and I know I’m very blessed to be able to do this again,” he said. “Obviously when I started the cycle, this was my goal – to have us qualify for the World Cup and to make the team. But you never know what can happen, so I’m thankful to be here and looking to do whatever I can to help us win.”
Zack Steffen is the other player on this roster to have been on a World Cup team. The Freiburg goalkeeper, along with Acosta, returns from the 2013 U-20 World Cup team, although neither played in the tournament.
It’s obviously not easy making it to a World Cup, and it’s with that in mind that this group relishes the experience in New Zealand.
“We’ve had a very sour taste in our mouth,” Moore said. “We’ve just wanted to work hard and give ourselves another shot. We wanted to get rid of that taste and we’re not taking anything for granted. We’re excited to be here now, but we also want to make the most of this opportunity.”