Of the 21 players on the U.S. Under-20 Men’s National Team that is in New Zealand for the FIFA U-20 World Cup, 17 have been on a U.S. U-17 or U-20 team at one point or another entering 2015.
Maki Tall, Desevio Payne, Gedion Zelalem and Thomas Olsen had not.
The four players were called to their first U.S. Youth Team over the past two months and here they are representing the USA at the U-20 World Cup.
Pride for the USA, Not a Tall Order
“The USA is becoming a great football nation, so just being invited to the team was a great honor,” said Tall of being called to his first U-20 camp in England this past March. “And to play in a World Cup, that’s not an every day thing. Every player wants to play in one, and we had been fighting for roster spots. And now that we’re here, everybody wants a shot to help the team do great things.”
Tall and his two brothers and sister were born in Washington D.C. Their father is from France and their mother is from Ivory Coast. Because of his father’s job, the family moved to Senegal and then Ivory Coast before Maki was offered an opportunity to try out with clubs in France. He elected to join the youth academy at Le Mans and then signed with Lille in 2012.
Along the way he was called in to play for France’s U-18 and U-19 teams, where he appeared in nine friendlies – including a match against the U.S. in 2013. Through it all, he was never distant from his hometown, made much easier when his mom and his two younger siblings moved back to D.C. a few years ago.
Tall scored against England’s U-20s during his USA debut in March, and then again last week against Australia. And while it took a while to put on the USA jersey, he’s excited and ready for the current opportunity to proudly represent his nation.
“I can’t regret the time past, because without those experiences I probably wouldn’t be here,” said the forward, who has scored eight goals while on loan to Red Star since January. “I’m really happy about the future and I see great things down the road.”
U-20 MNT members Maki Tall, Gedion Zelalem and Tommy Thompson kick the ball around during training.
No Payne, No Gain
Defender Desevio Payne also made his first USA appearance during the England camp last March.
Born in Greewood, South Carolina, Payne was only a year-and-a-half when his family moved to the Netherlands. He comes from a sporting family - his father is from Trinidad and Tobago, and his mom is from Holland. The two met at Landers University when they went to play soccer and softball, respectively.
Growing up in Holland, Payne spoke English with his father and Dutch with his mom. Among his siblings, they speak English with each other.
At age 13, he joined the academy of 100-year-old HFC Haarlem. However when the club dissolved, he moved to lower tier side Zeeburgia. In 2013 he signed with Groningen in the Eirdevisie, and was eventually invited to a Holland U-18 camp. He made his professional debut with Groningen on Feb. 22, 2015 in a 3-1 loss to Heerenveen. A short time later, he received a call from U-20 MNT head coach Tab Ramos.
“Tab called me to introduce himself, and ask about me and tell me about the England camp,” Payne said. “I was excited for the invitation, but I didn’t know what to expect. I just told him that I would do my best in England and wanted to show myself.”
In early May, the former judo competitor was contacted again.
“It’s all happened so quick,” he said. “I thought I had a good first camp, so I was hopeful I would get another call from Tab. I was nervous as the weeks went by, but was really happy when I got that email that I was going to the World Cup.”
U-20 MNT's Desevio Payne walks to training with Landon Donovan.
American Dream is Worth the Wait
Unlike the rest of his World Cup teammates, Gedion Zelalem had not been to any camps before meeting the team in Australia on May 18. Born in Germany to Ethiopian parents, Zelalem and his family moved to Bethesda, Maryland when he was 10 years old. After middle school, he attended Walter Johnson High School and played club soccer on various teams.
In 2011, while playing for Olney Rangers at the prestigious Dallas Cup, he was seen by an Arsenal scout and attended try outs. He first joined the Gunners’ academy and then eventually made his senior team debut in January 2014.
Zelalem also played for Germany from the U-15 age group through the U-17s, but dreamed of a chance to play for the USA. After obtaining his citizenship late in 2014, he was granted a one-time switch from FIFA in mid-May and was added to the U-20 World Cup roster.
“I’ve always wanted to represent the USA,” Zelalem said. “I feel more American than I feel German, so it was a no-brainer for me on which country to chose. Ever since I left the U.S. to go play in England, I’ve wanted to play for the U.S.”
Zelalem is now getting his chance. And like all his teammates, he has bigger dreams.
“I want to make the most of this World Cup,” he said. “And I want to keep going to make it to the first team.”
Not lost on him is the chance to be with fellow American players his age again.
“It’s been great, all the guys are great,” he said of his first week in camp. “They’re all down-to-earth guys. We’re all together here, and there isn’t one player who thinks he’s better than the other. I really like that about this group, and I’m really happy to be here.”
U-20 MNT midfielder Gedion Zelalem is interviewed by the media before practice.
From Campus to the World Stage
Thomas Olsen is one of two college players on the roster. However, unlike Jeff Caldwell, his USA teammate from the University of Virginia, Olsen had never been part of a USA camp before March.
Caldwell was on the U.S. U-17 MNT at the 2013 CONCACAF U-17 Championship, and was part of several other camps in different age levels.
Olsen, who was named the 2014 WCC Freshman of the Year at the University of San Diego, earned his first USA invite for the camp in England.
“You’re shocked initially to see that you’ve reach that level,” Olsen said. “You see the names and see they are pros, and you’re in college. And the first thing I thought was, ‘awesome, now let’s see if I can play with these guys.’”
Olsen backed up Caldwell in the match against England’s U-21s on March 30. But in the back of his head, he thought he had a good camp and kept a sliver of hope that maybe he could make the U-20 World Cup roster.
When the initial squad was announced on May 7, the three goalkeepers were Zack Steffen, Caldwell, and Ethan Horvath. However, almost immediately, Olsen received a call from U-20 goalkeeper coach Russell Payne telling him to come to camp in Carson, California, the following week.
Olsen showed up at StubHub Center when camp broke on May 11 and learned the situation. There was a chance that Horvath wouldn’t be released by his club in Norway. He returned to San Diego to take two more finals on Wednesday, and it was then when he was officially informed that he would be added to the roster in place of Horvath.
“Being a competitor, no matter on what team, you want to be the one,” Olsen said. “Obviously, on this team I have to take a step back and realize that I’m blessed to be here. For me this is more of a learning experience, taking on what coach Payne says, and getting to train with all of these guys. And how I can contribute is by being a leader, by pushing people at training – especially Zack (Steffen) and Jeff – and by being ready if my number is called.”
U-20 MNT's Thomas Olsen stands with goalkeeper coach Russell Payne in Australia.
The U.S. Under-23 Men’s National Team will continue its run at the 2015 Toulon Tournament with a match against the Netherlands on Friday, May 29 (11 a.m. ET, BeIN Sport).
The U-23’s are coming off of a 3-1 opening-game loss to host-France. The U.S. battled in the second half and Jordan Morris scored his third goal of 2015 with the U-23’s, but the team could not overcome the 3-0 first-half deficit.
Netherlands opened with a 3-2 win over Costa Rica behind a pair of goals from Rai Vloe and a score from Anwar El Ghazi. The Dutch and Costa Rica sides played in Stadeo Le Lagrange, just before the U.S. kicked off against France.
The USA has been drawn into Group A of the 2015 Toulon Tournament alongside host France, Netherlands, Costa Rica and Qatar. The U.S. is set to play Netherlands on Friday, followed by matches with Costa Rica (May 31, 11 a.m. ET), and Qatar (June 2, 12 p.m. ET). The top team from the group will advance to the final, while the second-place finisher will move on to play for third. The advancing pair from Group A will match up with the top two finishers from Group B, which includes China PR, England, Ivory Coast, Mexico and Morocco. The placement matches will be played on June 7.
The game against the Netherlands, and all of the following U.S. group-stage tournament games will be broadcast on BeIN SPORTS. Fans can also follow the U.S. games on Twitter @ussoccer.
- Post-game Quote Sheet: USA vs. France
- Q&A: U-23 MNT Head Coach Andi Herzog Talks Toulon
- U-23 MNT 2015 Toulon Tournament Roster
U.S. Tournament Notes:
- With his goal against France, Jordan Morris has now scored in back-to-back games with the U-23s and three straight for the U.S. overall counting his goal with the senior team in its 2-0 win against Mexico on April 15.
- Morris is the U-23’s leading scorer, having tallied three goals in 2015. In five career games with the U-23’s, Morris has scored four goals.
- Getting the start in the match against France, Marc Pelosi made his first appearance in a U.S. uniform in more than two years, having recovered from a series of injuries. He earned his first cap with the U-23 MNT and tallied an assist.
- Coming on as second-half subs against France, Alfred Koroma Shams (62nd minute) and Sam Strong (73rd minute) earned their first caps with the U-23 MNT.
- The Match between France and the USA was the first at the U-23 age level.
- Benji Joya, who scored the lone goal for the U.S. in the match against France in the 2013 Toulon Tournament (when the teams met as U-20 opponents), captained the team in this year’s game against France. Joya and Shane O’Neill started in the match with France and are the only players on the roster to have started all four games in 2015.
- Julian Green earned his first cap with the U-23 MNT.
USA vs. Netherlands Notes
- The USA has faced Netherlands one time in Olympic history, when the pair faced off in Tianjin, China as a part of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. The teams drew 2-2 in the second group game, with goals from Sacha Kljestan and Jozy Altidore.
- Netherlands midfielder Thom Haye plays for Dutch Eredivisie club AZ Alkmaar, where he is teammates with U.S. MNT forward Aron Johannsson.
- 20-year-old Anwar El Ghazi scored nine goals for Dutch Eridivisie club Ajax, and earned honors as the AFC Ajax Talent of the Year for 2015.
ACADEMY/YNT SPOTLIGHT:Futures Camp: The very first Futures Camp came to a close on Monday. Fifty eight players joined U.S. Soccer technical staff for a three-day camp that focused on identifying the most talented players in the ’00 and ’01 birth year that appear to be on a later physical development growth path and/or are born in the second half of the year, to reduce the impact of physical maturity and relative age effect on identification and evaluation of talent.
Development Academy alum John Stertzer scored his first MLS goal for Real Salt Lake in its 2-0 victory over New York City Football Club on Saturday. Andromeda FC alum Dillon Powers assisted in Colorado Rapids’ 1-0 win over Vancouver Whitecaps. Powers has 5 assists in the 2015 MLS campaign.
FIFA U-20 World Cup a Chance for Redemption: 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.
- U.S. U-20 MNT 2015 FIFA World Cup Roster
- U-20 MNT Defeats Australia in World Cup Tuneup
- U.S. U-20 MNT React to Win vs. Australia
- Russell Canouse pulls out of World Cup with injury; replaced by Conor Donovan
- FC Dallas Academy alum Emerson Hyndman was named U-20 MNT Captain for the 2015 FIFA World Cup in New Zealand.
The U.S. was drawn into Group A with host New Zealand, Ukraine and Myanmar. The team opens group play against Myanmar at 12 a.m. ET on May 30 in Whangarei, followed by matches with New Zealand on June 2 and Ukraine on June 5, both of which will be played in Auckland. All of the U.S.'s group matches will be broadcast live on FOX Sports 1 and NBC Universo.
For the latest Development Academy results, information and more, visit academy.demosphere.com and the ussoccer Development Academy section. Follow the Academy on Twitter @ussoccer_acad ,Instagram and Facebook.
ACADEMY QUICK HITS (May 23-24):
- East Conference: A pair of Atlantic Division rivals faced off on Saturday when D.C. United U-15/16s defeated Players Development Academy 3-2 in a thrilling match. PDA’s Josh Burnett twice put his team ahead, scoring in the 20th and 40th minute of the match. Each time, D.C. United found a way to tie the game thanks to Carson Jeffris who scored in the 26th and Collin Jouan in the 43rd. Finally, it was SahrFelix Sandy who had the game-winner for D.C. United and clinched the victory with a tally in the 73rd. Despite the victory, D.C. United is still out of postseason contention currently sitting in the 17th position of the wildcard pool. PDA is currently in the 14th spot.
Despite a late effort from Bethesda-Olney U-17/18s and Sam Sergi in the 88th minute, Philadelphia Union was able to surpass its division foe with a 2-1 victory with goals from Conor Bradley and John Schroeder, whose 75th minute score was not only the difference in the game but his first goal of the season. Both sides currently are positioned to play following the regular season as the Union is in the 10th spot in the wildcard pool and Bethesda-Olney follows closely behind in the 11th.
- Central Conference: On Sunday, Solar Chelsea SC U-15/16s shutout Dallas Texans with goals from Javier Leija and team lead scorer Dwight Williams Jr. (19 goals) for the 2-0 shutout. The win helps Solar Chelsea remain inside the playoffs pool (14th position), while keeping the Texans out of it. Nonetheless, Dallas Texans still will likely see postseason play as they have a hold of the very first position in the wild card pool with only a handful of games left in the regular season.
In a matchup of wildcard pool teams, Colorado Rush U-17/18s and Sporting Kansas City finished in a 2-2 tie on Sunday after combining for four goals in a span of 20 minutes in the first half. Noah Chapleski and Will Eslinger notched goals for the Rush, while Nic Jaimes and Daniel Salloi did their part for Sporting KC. It was Chapleski’s 13th goal of the season and Salloi’s 18th, both leading marks in their teams.
- West Conference: In the Western Conference, a pair of playoffs pool sides met on Saturday as Crossfire Premier U-17/18s defeated LA Galaxy 2-1 in dramatic fashion. Scoreless for much of the game, Galaxy’s Ethan Zubak finally broke through in the 80th for the 1-0 to put his team head with 10 minutes to go in the match. Not about to go down easy, Joey Parish immediately tied things up in the 81st to set up a few last intense final minutes in the game. That’s when Simon Lekressner brought the heroics and in the 90th minute gave Crossfire Premier the victory.
Player of the Week: New England Revolution U-15/16 left back Daniel Jones earns Academy Player of the Week for his excellent showing in a 3-2 victory against Montréal Impact over the weekend. The left back earned high praise for his exceptional defending and ability to dribble forward and consistently threaten the opposing defense. Daniel helped the Revs to their 10th win of the season, keeping them in prime playoff position with just two weeks left in the regular season. The team travels to Everton FC Westchester this weekend with just 0.06 Pts/GP separating the two sides.
Academy Referee of the Week: Shaine Danbeli, a 26-year old Grade 6 state referee from California, was named Academy Referee of the Week for receiving high marks during the U-13/14 LA Galaxy and Central Cal Aztecs game. Danbeli Rosas has worked Academy matches since 2008, in addition to National Teams, W-League, Premier Development League, United Soccer League, NPSL, MLS Preseason and Open Cup games.
For all Development Academy results, standings and more visit academy.demosphere.com or click on the following links:
U-23 MNT Falls to Host France in Toulon Tournament Opener: Despite a strong second half, the U.S. Under-23 Men’s National Team fell to host-France 3-1 on Wednesday in its opening group match of the 2015 Toulon Tournament.
Academy Director Course: The U.S. Soccer Coaching Department launched its first Academy Director Course last month to much success. The 16-month course that began on April 21 will run from April 2015 until July 2016, becoming the highest-level course offered for youth coaches.
Four New Clubs Added for 2015-16 Season: Three east coast-based clubs and one west coast club will be joining the U.S. Soccer Development Academy to open the 2015-16 season. Baltimore Armour from Maryland and Sacramento Republic from California will field teams at all age groups, which include U-13/14s, U-15/16s and U-17/18s, to become full members beginning this fall. In addition, Florida-based club Boca United, who currently fields a team in the Academy at the U-13/14 age group, will play the 2015-16 Academy season at all three age groups adding teams to the U-15/16 and U-17/18 levels. New York City FC will be joining the U-13/14 age group at the beginning of next season and become part of the Academy for the first time.
- Chicago Fire: Academy goes unbeaten on Memorial Day Weekend
- D.C. United: Jalen Robinson selected to U.S. U-23 MNT for Toulon Tournament
- mlssoccer.com: Shaq Moore assumes leadership rol for U.S. U-20 World Cup team
- mlssoccer.com: MLS Homegrown Team to face Club America U-20s in second-annual MLS Homegrown Game
- New York Red Bulls: Academy Update - May 27
U.S. Soccer hosted Media Day for the U.S. Women’s National Team Wednesday afternoon at the New York Marriott Marquis. Over 190 media members attended the event in Manhattan to preview the FIFA Women’s World Cup Canada 2015 and ask about the team’s preparations ahead of their final Send-Off Series match this Saturday.
Prior to the press conferences and round table discussions, the players ate lunch with a special guest.
Robin Roberts, anchor on ABC’s Good Morning America, gave praise to the athletes gearing up to represent their country next month and also gave them a bit of perspective.
#USWNT attacker Christen Press chats with Good Morning America's Robin Roberts at lunch during Media Day before the 2015 Women's World Cup.
“In life, it’s what you overcome that stays with you,” said Roberts, who recently overcame Breast Cancer and Leukemia. “It builds your character and that really makes you who you are.”
“Watching Robin’s very public personal journey battling her disease [and] seeing her come out of it in such a positive way, doing the things that she still loves, is really an inspiration,” said U.S. defender Meghan Klingenberg. “There needs to be more people like her in the world.”
#USWNT defender Meghan Klingenberg and Robin Roberts share a moment during Media Day.
The United States will play Korea Republic in their final match of the Send-Off Series this Saturday at Red Bull Arena. A limited number of tickets are still available for purchase.
You and your wonderful teammates inspire me and MANY others!! https://t.co/9LpIQLYVGR— Robin Roberts (@RobinRoberts) May 27, 2015
Six-year-old Whitney Engen watched Kerri Strug’s final vault during the 1996 Olympics and decided there and then that she was going to be a gymnast. Fully absorbed in her gymnast aspirations, Engen had no intention of playing soccer.
“But my Mom and Dad basically said, ‘Sorry, you have to do this, you gotta play two sports a year’ – I think they just did that because I was such an active kid that they just wanted me to be tired before bed,” laughs Engen.
While she didn’t care much for the game itself, she did like the rituals surrounding it: 1) She got candy after every practice, and 2) When her dad drove her to the game in his old diesel Mercedes, he blasted opera music as they wound up the hill toward the field. They both jokingly sang along, car-rattle helping their operatic vibrato.
Engen in her early days as a soccer player
Then, in her third season of gymnastics, she was dismissed from her gym because she was too big.
“I wanted to be a gymnast more than anything in the world,” says Engen. “But when you’re a 5’7, 100-pound third grader, it doesn’t really work out for you. I was a huge, huge kid. I’ve basically been this tall my whole life. I don’t want to say it was traumatizing, but it was definitely impactful. I towered over everyone.”
On the soccer field, things weren’t going much better than gymnastics.
It was #USWNT Media Day at the Marriott Marquis in Times Square yesterday! More than 190 media members came to speak to the players, making for a memorable day in Manhattan.
U.S. Women’s National Team head coach Jill Ellis
On the U.S. team’s form heading into Women’s World Cup:
“The team is in great spirits, very focused, [we’re] fine tuning, and you know, really excited to get going out there in Canada.”
On the difficulty of the tournament:
“If you just look at some of the Ballon d’Or ballots and nominees you can tell that the rest of the world has some tremendous players. I think that for the general public, they’re going to see an amazing level of athleticism."
"I think defending is going to be a very, very big part of this World Cup. Teams’ ability to make space and limit it is going to be a big part of this tournament. But if I’m a fan, or if I’m my ten year-old daughter, I want to see goals, I want to see fun, I want to see high-fives and goal celebrations. Those are the things I think the general public can see from this (World Cup).”
On facing Sweden and former USWNT manager Pia Sundhage in the second game of the group stage:
“All opponents I view with respect. Obviously I know Pia as a personal friend. So I know her very well and have the utmost respect for her as a person and as a coach. In terms of our personnel, I think it’s very different than when Pia was in charge. We’ve got different players involved and we play slightly differently, so I bet she’s probably got her scouts involved scouting us. But I think it’s great, I have no problem playing against my friends. I welcome the competition. Pia is a tremendous lady who’s done a lot for our sport and for our Federation here, and I’ll be excited to see her up there in Canada.”
U.S. forward Abby Wambach
On opportunities presented in this year’s World Cup:
“Well obviously winning is one of the biggest catalysts for positive growth of anything. Here in this country we haven’t experienced winning a World Cup, so we all want to see what kind of growth could take place after doing so. I’m just excited about having another opportunity to move the game forward.”
U.S. midfielder Carli Lloyd
On growing fan interest in the sport:
“I was thinking about this over the last year or so leading up (to this year’s World Cup). The last World Cup was great, and I think that Brazil game really enabled a lot of people to jump on board and follow us more. But I think we’re at a point now where, if we win this thing, I mean, this could be huge. And there’s no better time to win it, with the coverage, with social media, and with the fact that we haven’t won it in 16 years. So it’s a great time to win it, I think it’s one of the best environments we could be in, and we’re ready to go after it.”
On head coach Jill Ellis:
“I’ve known Jill for a really long time. We go back from the U.S. Under-21 days, and it’s pretty cool to kind of see everything come full-circle. I want to win a World Cup for her, I want to win it for myself and my teammates. But she’s done a great job of kind of steering the ship and getting us to believe in the philosophy and how we want to play, and I think things are really coming together.”
U.S. midfielder Megan Rapinoe
On the growth in popularity of the team:
“We know that we are part of this crazy growth stage (in the sport’s popularity). Four years ago, before the last World Cup, we were not doing this (Media Day), and I think we had like five or six thousand fans at our Send-Off game. We’re really proud of where we are now, and hopefully that just keeps growing.”
U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo
On excitement ahead of the World Cup:
“We all should be really excited. I’m really excited. We’re in New York City for a couple more days, but I think all of us are ready to just fly to Canada, close the doors behind us, and just really start to prepare our final days into the first game.”
On the competition within the team and depth of the squad:
“Competition is what makes us all better. That’s not cliché, that’s how our team operates. But it’s a competition that’s healthy. We know that to win the World Cup it’s going to take all 23 players. And I think this is the first tournament that I’ve been a part of where we have the opportunity to rest players throughout the tournament, to get a number of players’ minutes, and you’re not going to see a drop off in the level of play. I think that’s incredible and it’s the first time that we’ve had so much depth on a U.S. team.”
U.S. defender Christie Rampone
On the difference between this World Cup and the others she’s experienced:
“It’s been amazing to see the build up to each and every World Cup, obviously this being my fifth. The coverage has been really amazing, which then sparks interest from everybody at home.”
On the World Cup being so close to home:
“Being close to Canada, I think it’s going to be even better, because game times will be live and in prime time, and people will be able to watch it instead of getting up at the crack of dawn and seeing a game. So I think the timing of this event is definitely going to be a big factor for us.”
U.S. forward Alex Morgan
On the experience of this World Cup versus the last one:
“Going into the last World Cup, I just remember we weren’t getting as many fans as we’re getting now. We didn’t have as much coverage, and it was harder to get on TV. I feel like everything is lined up for us, and all we have to do now is win it.”
“Well I was definitely learning during that 2011 World Cup. Christie, Carli, and a couple other players – Abby – were helping me along the way. It was my first major tournament, and I didn’t really know what to expect going into it. I hadn’t played in front of a crowd larger than five or ten thousand, so it was very new to me. I think going into this World Cup I just feel like I can expect a little bit more, and I know what I needed preparing for this World Cup. I feel, mentally, a little more at ease, just with the experience. There’s some things you just can’t learn without experience, and I think having a World Cup under me – and going through that emotional rollercoaster, from group play all the way until the end of the final – I think definitely helped me to be mentally stronger today.”