USMNT youth team struggles continue as U-20s start qualifying with a loss to Panama

The United States’ recent history in youth tournaments has been one step above dreadful. They’ve failed to qualify for the last two Olympics, missed the U-17 World Cup two tournaments ago and were atrocious last time around.

But the U-20 team has been the bright spot for the program. They made the quarterfinals at the last World Cup and nearly won there. That has been an age group where the Americans have impressed, and while they didn’t have the star power this time around, there was more than enough talent to make another deep run.

That deep run was supposed to start with the U-20 CONCACAF Championship, which started this week and serves as qualifying for the U-20 World Cup. But forget the deep run because the Americans started off by losing the opening match to Panama, 1-0. And worst of all, the U.S. looked entirely inept against a Panama team that played most of the match down a man.

If there was a bright spot, it was Justen Glad. The Real Salt Lake centerback was excellent, as per usual, and continued to make his case as the Americans’ best young defender. But beyond him, there was little to like about the Americans’ performance.

Chances were hard to come by and the defense was fine, but hardly dominant. The midfield wasn’t dictating play. It was an entirely underwhelming performance in a match the Americans should have dominated.

Tab Ramos, the U-20 manager who has come under fire before, didn’t exactly cover himself in glory. Sebastian Saucedo, one of the Americans’ best young playmakers, started the match without the ball as his feet and not pulling the strings on the attack. A halftime switch to the No. 10 helped, but was too late. Erik Palmer-Brown, a central defender, was the defensive midfielder despite not playing there for the youth teams in years and it showed as he turned in a terrible performance. It’s tough to say that Ramos gave his team the best chance to succeed with so many players out of position, a theme for the U.S. youth teams.

Making matters worse, Tyler Adams exited the match with an injury and was spotted on crutches so they couldn’t even make it out of the day unscathed.

The good news for the U.S. is the tournament is skewed in favor of them and Mexico. The Americans only need to beat Haiti and St. Kitts & Nevis in their next two matches to advance out of their group, which they should do. Once that happens, they’re back on pace for qualifying for the World Cup, but they have to get better and it’s not exactly like this team is giving a lot of confidence to a youth program that has needed a lift for years now.