The United States men’s U-20 team ended the group stage of the 2023 FIFA U-20 World Cup with a perfect record.
The team won all three of its games without conceding a goal, progressing to the knockout stages where it will face New Zealand in the Round of 16.
It is the fourth time in a row the USMNT U-20 side has reached the knockout stages of this tournament, having gone as far as the quarterfinals in New Zealand in 2015, South Korea in 2017, and Poland in 2019.
Previous U-20 squads have included players such as Tyler Adams, Sergiño Dest, and Timothy Weah, who all became part of the senior setup. Plenty from this 2023 group have the potential to step-up, too.
Gabriel “Gaga” Slonina
The former Chicago Fire stopper is a popular member of this United States U20 World Cup squad, and is already capped at senior level.
He’s the type of character players might gather around in celebration following a clean sheet as if he were a goaltender registering a shutout in hockey.
Slonina has been in the shadows at club level since moving to English Premier League side Chelsea in January 2023, so these international appearances are a real chance to remind everyone how good he was at Chicago, and of the qualities that earned him that big move the Chelsea.
The United States are yet to concede a goal during their three matches in Argentina so far, and though clean sheets are a team achievement, having confidence in a commanding, communicative goalkeeper plays a big part in this.
Craig is the latest off the production line at Philadelphia Union. It is a club that has recently overseen moves to Europe for Aaronson brothers Brenden and Paxten and has high hopes for others such as Craig’s teammates at this tournament, Jack McGlynn and Quinn Sullivan.
While McGlynn and Sullivan have already featured regularly for the Union in Major League Soccer, Craig is still biding his time in the youth teams.
Judging by the quality of his performances at the U20 World Cup so far, the unique playmaking center-back may attract interest from Europe before he breaks into the Union’s first team.
Sitting in the middle of the back three, Craig boasts the passing and vision of a creative midfielder, launching attacks from the back.
He is also an expert set-piece taker, whipping in corners and testing goalkeepers with free kicks.
Union head coach Jim Curtin has shifted to a back three in Philadelphia which could benefit Craig on his return. Fans will hope he gets a chance to feature for their team before he is snapped up by a European side.
Despite being the youngest player on the roster, Seattle Sounders midfielder Vargas is among its most experienced players.
That experience comes from playing senior football for the Sounders from the age of 15, and at 16 he was playing a part in the club’s 2022 Concacaf Champions League victory.
A back injury kept him out for several months and he dropped back below the radar somewhat, but at this tournament, he has been able to remind everyone how good he can be.
He’s a technically gifted midfielder, good on the turn and at driving his team forward via passes or carries.
He has demonstrated defensive awareness too and will be one to keep an eye out for at senior level after this tournament.
The 19-year-old San Jose Earthquakes winger, already capped for the USMNT seniors, is one of those players occasionally seen at youth tournaments who are already physically on the next level to their opponents.
His solo effort against Slovakia was one of the goals of the U-20 World Cup so far and showed what can happen when those physical attributes combine with good technique and finishing ability.
It’s not always the case that these things combine for Cowell, but there have been signs that they can do so more often as he develops.
His pace, strength, and directness alone are a valuable asset to this team, though, and complement the strengths of his teammates.
Luna began his senior career out in the west Texas town of El Paso, with USL Championship side El Paso Locomotive.
As a youth he spent time at the Real Salt Lake and Barcelona Residency academies and eventually returned to Real Salt Lake in MLS in 2022.
Like Craig and Slonina, he is awaiting more opportunities at first team level and can use this tournament to show what he has to give at senior club level.
That includes tireless work rate and creativity in a number of ways, from skills on the ball to vision when picking a pass.
Often viewed, including by himself, as a playmaker in the No.10 role, Luna has been used primarily as the most advanced central attacker.
It has turned out to be a position—one that has evolved in recent years into more than just goalscoring—that suits his attributes.
His work rate means he can press from the front, while his creative and attacking instincts mean he is good at bringing others into play in possession.
The odd goal doesn’t go amiss, and he netted the important opener to break the deadlock against Fiji.
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