PREVIEW: USA Aims for Second Consecutive Concacaf U-20 Title vs. Mexico | 7pm ET | UDN, ConcacafGO.com
PREVIEW: USA Meets Honduras for Shot at 2018 Concacaf U-20 Championship Title Game | 8pm ET | Concacaf GO, UDN
U-20 Men’s National Team midfielder Alex Mendez is hoping for one more chance to lift a premier youth trophy to cap off his amateur days.
The 18-year-old is a key player on a strong USA team looking to defend its regional title this month at the 2018 Concacaf U-20 Championship in Florida.
And while qualifying for the 2019 FIFA Under-20 World Cup is the main objective at the tournament being held on the campus of IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., Mendez does not hesitate to state his ambition.
“The goal is obviously to win it,” he said from the team’s camp in Florida. “I think we have a good chance with the team we have and, the potential I see in the players. That’s what we have to aim for, to win it.”
Mendez celebrates scoring against Puerto Rico in the USA's opening game of the 2018 Concacaf u-20 Championship.
To better understand his mindset, keep in mind that Alex has been a runner-up in three straight Development Academy Championship finals, including a heartbreaker on penalty kicks just four months ago. In January he’ll officially join his new professional club, SC Freiburg of the German Bundesliga.
“Alex, first of all is a special person, and secondly, he’s a special player,” said U-20 MNT head coach Tab Ramos of his attacking mid. “He has a great engine, he has great feet, and he’s willing to do whatever it takes for the team. And Alex is a winner – he’s a player that’s going to lead the way in this tournament and one that we’re counting on to do big things.”
The second of five siblings, which include three brothers and a sister, Mendez is proud of his background, and how it’s shaped him into the young man he is and the player he’s becoming.
“I’m from South Central LA,” he says. “My parents are from Mexico.”
His biggest early influence was his uncle, Armando, who would take Alex to their neighborhood park to kick the ball around as a toddler and helped Alex sign up for his first recreational team at five years old.
“I was the only one on my team that was left footed at the time, and my uncle would tell me there’s something special about left-footed players,” Alex said of his early enjoyment of the game. “I couldn't tell at the time, but as the years went by for some reason I felt like I saw things that some players didn’t.”
He would watch games on TV with his uncle all the time. As a family they’d go to the ‘clasicos’ between former MLS side Chivas USA and the LA Galaxy. But if there was a game they’d always save up for, it was anytime his favorite Liga MX side, Club America, would play in the area.
“You think to yourself, ‘I want to be there one day,’” he says. “And as you’re growing up, you start to realize that there is a chance. It doesn’t matter where you grow up as long as you’re committed to it.”
It was shortly after he joined the Chivas USA Academy that he caught the eyes of U.S. Soccer scouts, who invited Alex to the inaugural Futures Camp in May 2015.
His club folded not long after, but his coach Brian Kleiban moved to the neighboring LA Galaxy’s Academy and brought Alex and number of his teammates with him to the club’s U-15/16 Development Academy squad.
Alex Mendez captained the U17/18 LA Galaxy in the 2018 Development Academy Championships Final.
Alex struggled breaking through the lineup that first year. But with training ending around 4 p.m., Alex and two best friends on the team would play on their own for two hours every day until one of their parents could pick them up around 6 p.m.
“There were times where I was, like, ‘I’m working hard and nothing’s paying off,’” he said. “You obviously had doubts in your head, but I just kept doing it because I liked it. I liked to play, I liked the extra training, and just liked being on the field.”
The work eventually did pay off. Alex made the Galaxy’s U15/16 roster for the 2016 Development Academy Final against FC Dallas, though he only played the final minutes of a disappointing 2-0 loss.
The next year he became a fixture and helped the Galaxy U17/18 team reach its first Development Academy Final. But it would be another bitter ending, as Texans FC Houston defeated LA 2-1 in the 2017 Championship.
That August he made his debut with LA Galaxy II, the club’s USL affiliate, through the club’s agreement that Academy players could play while retaining their amateur status.
By the summer of 2018, his confidence was sky high and he was determined to get the Galaxy U18/19 to the Development Academy Finals. In the DA Playoffs in June, Alex scored on free kick in a win over Montreal, a wicked left-footed, upper 90 shot in a win over Houston, and a penalty kick against Philadelphia to advance to the Semifinals.
On July 1, 2018, he scored his first goal for a professional side, curling in left-footed freekick in Galaxy II’s 5-3 win over Seattle. But his attention quickly turned back to the Academy.
“I said, there’s going to be a third (Final), and we HAVE to win it,” he recalled of approaching the 2018 Academy Finals in Kansas City. “I was the captain and I knew I had to lead the players in the right direction. We felt it. There was more energy, more belief.”
On July 8 the Galaxy and Vancouver Whitecaps squared off in a dramatic U18/19 Development Academy Semifinal in which both goalkeepers played outstanding to send the scoreless game into overtime.
The Galaxy earned a free kick just outside Vancouver’s area in the 109th minute.
“I knew that was my chance,” Alex said of his game-winner. “The ball was stopped, I had all the time in the world.”
Like he is for all Academy Finals, Tab Ramos was field-side watching.
“I was at the game, and I remember thinking the same,” Ramos recalled. “I was thinking Alex should take the freekick because he would make the shot.”
“I shot it, there was a deflection but it went in,” Mendez added. “I was running like crazy, and in all the excitement I was kinda blacking out. So while hugging everyone I told our coach to hold on to me.”
Back in another Final, the Galaxy and NYCFC squared off in another dramatic yet scoreless game. Only this one would be decided on penalty kicks.
“I was thinking, this game is way too intense for a ‘keeper not to dive,” Mendez said of his converted Panenka. “I chipped it – didn’t hit the ball so well – but he dove and I scored. My heart kind of dropped when I hit but thankfully it went in.”
It wasn’t enough. NYCFC edged LA 5-3 on PKs to claim the title, handing Mendez and a bulk of his teammates their third straight finals loss.
He had given everything he could, but couldn’t help wondering what else he could have done. The team landed back in LA the next morning, and he had a flight that night to Europe for an arranged tryout. Yet he couldn’t get over the disappointment. He wasn’t sure he was ready to move on.
“I got home and saw my mom, and after she tried to comfort me, she told me, “if you don’t go, you’ll never know what could’ve happened,” Mendez said. “And I heard the same from others around me. The support was there, and I had to go.”
A few hours later he was back at the airport on his way to Germany.
“Freiburg really set it out for me, they really made me feel comfortable,” he said of agreeing to join the Bundesliga side. “They showed me that they wanted me, and you can tell the players care and the coaching staff was great.”
Mendez will join the club in January, hopefully after making it to, and finally winning, another final.
“Qualifying for the World Cup would mean a lot,” he mused. “Putting the USA crest on your shirt, you know what’s behind it. We’re representing our country, and we don’t want to let anyone down.”Read more
CHICAGO (Oct. 23, 2018) – U.S. Under-20 Men’s National Team head coach Tab Ramos has named a 20-player roster to defend the team’s confederation title at the 2018 Concacaf U-20 Championship, to be held Nov. 1-21 at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.
The 2018 tournament marks Concacaf’s largest Under-20 World Cup qualifying tournament ever, with 34 member associations participating. The top four teams will qualify for the 2019 FIFA Under-20 World Cup, set for May 23 to June 15 in Poland.
As the tournament’s top seed, the U.S. was drawn into Group A and opens the tournament against Puerto Rico (Nov. 1), followed by U.S. Virgin Islands (Nov. 3), Trinidad and Tobago (Nov. 5) and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines (Nov. 7) before finishing up against Suriname (Nov. 9).
Games will be streamed live on Concacaf GO, accessible at www.concacafgo.com or via the Concacaf GO app, available on iTunes and Google Play. A free trial of Concacaf GO is available through Dec. 1.
“I’m looking forward to this U-20 World Cup qualifying challenge,” Ramos said. “This new format provides opportunities to many nations and makes the qualifying process much more difficult. Although our preparation will be short, we will be ready to defend our first-ever Concacaf title”
2018 Concacaf U-20 Championship Roster by Position (Club or College; Hometown)
GOALKEEPERS (2): 1-Brady Scott (FC Koln/GER; Petaluma, Calif.), 12-CJ Dos Santos (S.L Benfica/POR; Philadelphia, Pa.)
DEFENDERS (7): 2-Jaylin Lindsey (Sporting KC; Charlotte, N.C.), 3-Chris Gloster (Hannover 96/GER; South Orange, N.J.), 4-Mark McKenzie (Philadelphia Union; Bear, Del.), 5-Matthew Real (Philadelphia Union; Drexel Hill, Pa.), 14-Manny Perez (N.C. State; Garner, N.C.), 16-Julian Araujo (LA Galaxy; Lompac, Calif.), 19-Sam Rogers (Seattle Sounders FC; Seattle, Wash.)
MIDFIELDERS (6): 6-Brandon Servania (FC Dallas; Birmingham, Ala.), 7-Juan Pablo Torres (K.S.C. Lokeren Oost-Vlaanderen/BEL; Lilburn, Ga.), 8-Alex Mendez (SC Frieburg/GER; Los Angeles, Calif.), 10-Paxton Pomykal (FC Dallas; Highland Village, Tex.), 15-Anthony Fontana (Philadelphia Union; Newark, Del.), 18-Isaac Angking (New England Revolution; Providence, R.I.)
FORWARDS (5): 9-Justin Rennicks (Indiana Univ.; Hamilton, Mass.), 11-Ulysses Llanez (Unattached; Lynwood, Calif.), 13-Griffin Dorsey (Indiana Univ.; Evergreen, Colo.), 17-Ayo Akinola (Toronto FC/CAN; Detroit, Mich.), 20-Frankie Amaya (UCLA; Santa Ana, Calif.)
The new Concacaf U-20 Championship format features four groups of six teams and two groups of five teams. Following round-robin group play, the top team in each of the six groups will advance to the qualification stage, where they will be divided into two groups of three. After a second edition of round-robin play, the two group winners plus the second-place finishers will qualify for the 2019 FIFA U-20 World Cup. Additionally, the two group winners will advance to the tournament final to determine the regional champion.
Teams qualifying for the qualification stage of the tournament will be permitted to amend the 20-player roster and replace up to six players within 24 hours following completion of their final group stage match.
The USA returns to the confederation tournament as defending champion after capturing its first title at the U-20 level in March of 2017, defeating Honduras via penalty kicks in the final. The team went on to reach the quarterfinals of the 2017 FIFA U-20 World Cup in Korea Republic, where it lost to eventual tournament runners-up Venezuela 2-1 in extra time.
- The USA roster consists of 15 players representing pro clubs from five different countries: Belgium, Canada, Germany, Portugal and the USA.
- Four players are collegiate athletes: Griffin Dorsey and Justin Rennicks (Indiana), Manny Perez (N.C. State), and Frankie Amaya (UCLA).
- Ten players represent seven MLS clubs: Philadelphia Union (3), FC Dallas (2), LA Galaxy (1), New England Revolution (1), Seattle Sounders (1), Sporting KC (1), and Toronto FC (1).
- Ten players are 19 years old, eight are 18, and two are 17 (Araujo and Llanez). The two 17-year-olds are age-eligible for the 2021 FIFA U-20 World Cup.
- Goalkeeper Brady Scott is the only returning player from the USA’s 2017 FIFA U-20 World Cup team after serving as the team’s third ‘keeper in Korea Republic.
- Four players were part of the USA’s 2017 FIFA U-17 World Cup team that fell to eventual champion England in the quarterfinals in India: goalkeeper CJ Dos Santos, defenders Chris Gloster and Jaylin Lindsey and forward Ayo Akinola.
- Lindsey was named to the 2017 Concacaf U-17 Championship Best XI after helping the USA to a second-place finish and a World Cup berth.
- Nineteen of 20 players have spent time playing in the U.S. Soccer Development Academy.
- In addition to nine players from U.S.-based MLS teams that came up through their respective academies, the remaining 10 players last played for the following DA sides: Amaya (Pateadores), Dorsey (Colorado Rush), Dos Santos (Philadelphia Union), Gloster (New York Red Bulls), Llanez (LA Galaxy), Mendez (LA Galaxy), Perez (Capital Area Railhawks Academy), Rennicks (New England Revolution), Scott (De Anza Force), Torres (Georgia United).
- Ulysses Llanez was named 2018 U-16/17 Development Academy West Conference Co-Player of the Year.
- Griffin Dorsey won the 2015/16 U15/16 Central Conference Player of the Year and Manny Perez was that year’s East Conference Player of the Year.
- Paxton Pomykal and Brandon Servania were part of the FC Dallas U-15/16 team that won the 2016 Development Academy Championship. Pomykal was also part of the club’s U17/18 team that also won the championship that year.
USA U-20 QUALIFYING AND WORLD CUP HISTORY:
The U.S. U-20 MNT is competing in the Concacaf Youth Tournament or Championship for the 27th time. In addition to winning the 2017 title, the USA has earned second place in the qualification tournament six times (1980, 1982, 1986, 1992, 2009, 2013).
The U.S. has qualified for 15 of 21 FIFA World Youth Championships/FIFA U-20 World Cups since the biannual tournament started in 1977, including 10 of the last 11 and three straight under the guidance of Ramos. The team was eliminated in the quarterfinals in each of the last two World Cups, falling on penalties to eventual champion Serbia in 2015 and in extra time to runner-up Venezuela in 2017. The USA’s best U-20 World Cup finish was a fourth-place performance at the 1989 FIFA World Youth Championship in Saudi Arabia.Read more
CHICAGO (Sept. 13, 2018) – The U.S. Under-20 Men’s National Team has been drawn with Trinidad & Tobago, Suriname, Puerto Rico, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and U.S. Virgin Islands into Group A of the 2018 Concacaf U-20 Championship. The draw occurred Thursday morning on at the Concacaf headquarters in Miami, Fla., with the qualifying tournament for the 2019 FIFA U-20 World Cup set to take place from Nov. 1-21, at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida.
“Looking forward to once again have the opportunity to provide another important experience to the next generation of players,” U.S. U-20 MNT head coach Tab Ramos said. “This Concacaf U-20 Championship will be different and more challenging than any other we have had in the past but we are prepared and ready.”
The U.S. opens the group stage against Puerto Rico (Nov. 1), followed by U.S. Virgin Islands (Nov. 3), Trinidad & Tobago (Nov. 5) and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines (Nov. 7) before finishing up against Suriname (Nov. 9).
- READ: 2018 Concacaf U-20 Championship to be Held in November at IMG Academy
- READ: Q&A: Tab Ramos on Revamped 2018 Concacaf U-20 Championship
The Concacaf U-20 Championship format features four groups of six teams and two group of five teams. The 2018 tournament marks Concacaf’s largest Under-20 World Cup qualifying tournament ever, with 34 Under-20 member associations participating.
Based on the Concacaf Men’s Under-20 Ranking, the top six ranked teams were seeded into position one of each group, while the remaining 28 teams were distributed in five pots, also based on ranking:
Seeded Teams (group and position)
United States (A1), Mexico (B1), Honduras (C1), Panama (D1) Costa Rica (E1) and El Salvador (F1)
Remaining Teams (grouped by Concacaf Men’s Under-20 Ranking)
Pot 1: Cuba, Guatemala, Trinidad & Tobago, Haiti, Canada and Jamaica
Pot 2: Antigua and Barbuda, Bermuda, St. Kitts and Nevis, Curacao, Aruba and Suriname
Pot 3: Nicaragua, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Guadeloupe, St. Lucia and Guyana
Pot 4: Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Grenada, Cayman Islands, Barbados, Belize and Dominica
Pot 5: U.S. Virgin Islands, Martinique, Sint Maarten and Saint Martin
Due to the uneven number of Under-20 member associations (34), as the lowest of the top six seeded teams, El Salvador’s Group F and Costa Rica’s Group E did not have a sixth team from Pot 5 drawn into its group. This results in only four games of first-round group play for all teams in Group E and F, instead of five games to be played by each team in groups A-D.
Following group play, the top team in each of the six groups will advance to the qualification stage, where they will be divided into two groups of three. After a second edition of round-robin play, the two group winners plus the second-place finishers will qualify for the 2019 FIFA U-20 World Cup. Additionally, the two groups winners will advance to the tournament’s final to determine the regional champion.
2018 Concacaf U-20 Championship – USA Schedule:
Thursday, Nov. 1 – USA vs. Puerto Rico – 7:30 p.m. ET
Saturday, Nov. 3 – USA vs. U.S. Virgin Islands – 7:45 p.m. ET
Monday, Nov. 5 – USA vs. Trinidad & Tobago – 7:45 p.m. ET
Wednesday, Nov. 7 – USA vs. Saint Vincent and the Grenadines – 7:45 p.m. ET
Friday, Nov. 9 – USA vs. Suriname – 5:30 p.m. ET
2018 CONCACAF U-20 Championship Groups:
Group A: USA, Trinidad & Tobago, Suriname, Puerto Rico, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, U.S. Virgin Islands
Group B: Mexico, Jamaica, Aruba, Nicaragua, Grenada, Saint Martin
Group C: Honduras, Cuba, Antigua and Barbuda, Dominican Republic, Belize, Sint Maarten
Group D: Panama, Canada, St. Kitts and Nevis, Guadeloupe, Dominica, Martinique
Group E: Costa Rica, Haiti, Bermuda, St. Lucia, Barbados
Group F: El Salvador, Guatemala, Curacao, Guyana, Cayman Islands
The USA returns to the confederation tournament as defending champions after capturing its first title at the U-20 level in March of 2017, defeating Honduras via penalty kicks in the final. The team went on to reach the quarterfinals of the 2017 FIFA U-20 World Cup in Korea Republic, where it lost to eventual tournament runners-up Venezuela 2-1 in extra time after finishing 0-0 in regulation. The USA’s run to the quarterfinals started with a top place finish in Group F after drawing Ecuador (3-3) and Saudi Arabia (1-1) and defeating Senegal (1-0). In the Round of 16, the USA dominated New Zealand 6-0 to secure its spot in the quarterfinals.
The U.S. has qualified for 15 FIFA World Youth Championships/FIFA U-20 World Cups. The USA’s best World Cup finish was a fourth-place performance at the 1989 FIFA World Youth Championship in Saudi Arabia.Read more