Ten Possible Goalkeepers for the 2019 U20 World Cup

cover photo belongs to US Soccer

The 2019 U20 World Cup kicks off in Poland next spring but the US's journey through qualification starts in two months, with the first game on November 1st. And thanks to a more expansive approach to the goalkeeping position, USYNTs have seen a variety of talented goalkeepers come through camps over the past few years. With qualification just around the corner, let's survey the ten likeliest goalkeepers we could see in the fold for the U20s.

 

1. Justin Garces (UCLA) - The U17 World Cup veteran leads the pack. Garces has been the number one choice for the US for the last two years and there are no signs of anything changing. After training with Atlanta United this summer, Garces is currently sitting behind sophomore goalkeeper Cole Martinez at UCLA. Playing second fiddle isn’t ideal for a starter going into World Cup qualifying but Garces isn’t one to let his skills get rusty just because he’s not a number one. For a goalkeeper who will likely not even finish his four years at UCLA, Garces will undoubtedly be ready to play this November.

 

2. Brady Scott (FC Köln) - It’s been a while since an American goalkeeper has done well in Germany. Despite the lack of success, Brady Scott and Jonathan Klinsmann are holding their own in an intensely competitive setting. Over the last month and a half, Scott has earned four starts for FC Köln’s reserve side, allowing four goals in four games. It's hard to describe Scott’s “style” as it feels fairly undefined in a lot of ways (perhaps the result of Scott developing in two different goalkeeping environments). He isn’t particularly flashy, but he’s not slow. He’s not aggressive, but he’s not passive. He did well getting low on a few saves in his most recent game against SC Verl, but it’s also a part of his job to make those plays. At the end of the day, if he can be a consistent, stable force in net for the U20s, it'd be hard to ask for more from him.

  photo from  Bundesliga.com

photo from Bundesliga.com

3. Eric Lopez (Los Angeles Galaxy II) - Lopez’s stock has probably dropped a tad since this time last year. Lopez’s last two wins for LAGII came in September 2018 and August 2017. Admittedly, LAGII is a development side and not a team that strings together large win streaks. In spite of this, more should be expected from Lopez thus far. It isn’t easy when you’re in goal for one of the leakiest defenses but Lopez too frequently is caught overthinking a situation. If he can limit hesitations, sort out his feet in tight situations, and find a good run of form, he could not only contend for a roster spot but also the starting one as well.

 

4. Trey Muse (Indiana University) - After allowing only seven goals in 25 games last year - posting an unheard of 90.3% save percentage in his freshman year - Muse returns in goal after trailing in the Netherlands this summer. In the early stages of his sophomore year, Muse currently rides a three-game shutout streak as Indiana is the favorite in the Big Ten and on track to contend for another national title. If Muse can continue his success, #Q49 might quickly turn into #Q410.

 

5. CJ dos Santos (Benfica) - Dos Santos was one of the three goalkeepers for the last U17 World Cup roster but there’s a decent chance being overseas has removed him from the limelight of receiving a call-up for qualifying games. While Scott is earning first-team starts, dos Santos sits sandwiched between a number of Portuguese national team goalkeepers in Benfica’s youth ranks. So where dos Santos may not be earning as many headlines, he could very well take a similar route as Brad Friedel did, gradually grinding his way towards the top.

 

6. Brandon Austin (Tottenham) - The lanky goalkeeper relies heavily on his positioning and reactions, rarely daring to roam upfield. Time will tell how he completely develops but so far it’s been working, just recently having a positive showing in a 2-1 loss to Arsenal’s U23s. Perhaps the biggest question marks that come along with Austin’s game is with his dual citizenship. Austin was called into an English U19 camp back in April and the young goalkeeper’s eligibility to play for America is rumored to be in question.

 

7. Alex Budnik (Dartmouth) - Budnik has been a mainstay in USYNTs for the past few years, including making the 2017 U17 World Cup roster. Budnik hasn’t started for Dartmouth this season, but Dartmouth has conceded five goals in two games with two different goalkeepers. If the defensive woes continue, the freshman could easily see himself starting the Big Green and prove why he should be included on the U20 roster.

 

8. Quantrell Jones (UMBC) - Jones is one of, if not the, largest goalkeeper on the list. At 6’3” and 230 pounds, the DC United academy product is more of the traditional cut when it comes to classic USYNT goalkeepers. He's strong, with a solid frame, and quick reactions. While Jones has been in and out of camps with various USYNT, Jones is outside looking in with the U20s going forward. If Jones can crack the starting spot at UMBC, perhaps he’ll grab Ramos’ head, but until then we probably won’t hear from him again until he’s an upperclassman.

 

9. Johan Penaranda (Pittsburgh) - 2018 has been an eventful year for Penaranda. In February, he de-committed from the Naval Academy, announcing he’d be attending the University of Pittsburgh this fall. In the summer he won the U19 DA playoffs with NYCFC and followed up the trophy-finish with earning the starting spot for the Panthers. He hasn’t been exceptionally successful this early in but there’s still some time to wow Ramos into reminding him why he deserves another call-up.

 photo belongs to NYCFC

photo belongs to NYCFC

10. Gabe Rosario (Huddersfield) - Admittedly Rosario’s tenure overseas hasn’t been stellar, notching just one point in five games and allowing 14 goals in the span for Reading’s U18 squad. But after watching what Rosario brings to the table, he holds his own when playing for one of the worst defenses in the league. He's quick and fights for the save, even if the scoreline is lopsided against his team. Rosario has since moved to Huddersfield where it looks like he’ll mostly play backup this season but the understated goalkeeper has an opportunity in front of him few goalkeepers his age even get a chance at.

Is Jonathan Klinsmann the Right Goalkeeper for the U20s?

Early Monday morning, the U20s kicked off their World Cup run with a dramatic 3-3 tie, leaning heavily on a 94th minute volley from Luca de la Torre. Despite the late game heroics, many pointed to Jonathan Klinsmann as the weak link of the team after conceding three goals. (Read BigSoccer's game day thread to hear fans go from awe to disgust in a matter of seconds.) There are many fans calling for Klinsmann's benching, while some seem to have been harboring their displeasure with the goalkeeper for some time.

Let's take a closer look at his performance before we dive into who should be the starting goalkeeper.

 

First Goal

You know a situation is bad when your main defender is in the process of starting his first of two somersaults. It's a tricky situation for Klinsmann because if he stays home, maybe he should have gone and vice versa. In these situations, the decision comes second to the execution. There's a right and wrong way to attack and there's a right and wrong way to stay back. It's not realistic to expect goalkeepers to know how everything is going to play out on 1v1s. Ultimately, they must make a decision and execute it as best they can.

Klinsmann decides to step to the ball and his approach is originally thought out well. He steps to the striker (second picture) as a touch on the ball is made, which is the exact time a goalkeeper should step. The longest amount of time a striker has before touching the ball is right after his preceding touch. The longer a goalkeeper waits to step after a touch, the closer the striker is to his next touch.

Building off the earlier point, Klinsmann's final execution is lacking. He makes up his mind very early to throw out a studs up one-footed tackle for an attacker who is going across Klinsmann's body. If Klinsmann throws his hands out low to his left, there's a high probability he knocks the ball away.

Additionally, Klinsmann is asking for a red card here. When accessing a referee's call on a play, a goalkeeper must limit the possibility of what a referee could call against them. Klinsmann does not receive a card on the play (personally the correct call) but it's very easy to see how a referee would give a red card to Klinsmann. Perhaps the touch doesn't lead to an open teammate and the striker goes to ground. We've all seen referees award red cards for similar plays and Klinsmann doesn't protect himself with an exposed one-footed slide that gets close to a scissor tackle.

It's an undesirable situation, but Klinsmann doesn't help himself as much as he could. A hands-led tackle likely stops the first goal and keeps the scoreline level.

 

Second Goal

This is a great example of how 1v1 situations can be drastically different from one to the next. The Ecuadorian striker takes a long touch but because of the defender staying in the picture (despite ultimately losing out) Klinsmann doesn't have a clear road to attack the ball. If the defender were to have an opportunity to clear the ball but only receive a tackle from Klinsmann, the chaos could very well backfire on the American defense.

Klinsmann's decision to stay home isn't necessarily wrong, but his execution is problematic again. He creeps up on the play in order to be ready to pounce on an extra touch but inadvertently puts him in a version of "no man's land". He is too far forward to give himself time to react but not far enough forward to cut down the angle to any real value.

Even more concerning, Klinsmann's feet go cold at the exact wrong time. Notice in pictures 3-6 how slow he is to move. The ball is not struck far from his body (the bending shot hits close to the middle of the net) yet his feet's loss of movement stops him from moving his upper body in time.

His weight is also too far back. (Picture 4 looks like he's sitting in an invisible chair.) The only movement he can do is a hopeful leg thrown forward, which is entirely the wrong motion needed. His body falls backwards, into his weight.

I'd like to see Klinsmann stay a step back here to give himself more time to react but the bigger issue is his feet. If his heels rest on the play (aka "cold feet") he makes the play ten times harder on himself. His upper body can move quicker if his feet are ready to spring but he's cemented himself in place. For a shot not hit far away from his body, it's a play that a goalkeeper of Klinsmann's caliber should be able to do more on.

 

Breakaway Save

For a game that was 2-2 with only 30 minutes left in it, it's hard to be critical of any save. Klinsmann forces the shooter to a take a shot into his body and the US were let off the hook for bad defending. However there are some worrying signs on the play.

The offside trap fails, as always, because of one defender. Unfortunately Klinsmann gives no verbal warning of the sneaky striker and appears to have no idea he's even there. Notice how Klinsmann goes to collect a long through ball only to realize there is a perfectly timed striker heading towards goal. (Second picture, Klinsmann is correcting his wrong step with his right foot. The misstep is displayed better in video.)

It's a fine save, but Klinsmann needs to keep an eye on backside runs to limit chances on goal. A goalkeeper should look to be preventative when dealing with shots and only have to make the saves when previous attempts of communication have failed.

 

Third Goal

Finally we arrive at Klinsmann's worst mistake. Needless to say it's a mistake that Klinsmann will be criticized for some time and honestly there is no protection for Klinsmann here. Some may argue that he shouldn't receive the back pass or that his left back should have opened up more for him, but the error is solely on Klinsmann. Players constantly receive undesirable situations but their redemption is rooted in if they made the best with what they could. Klinsmann, in contrast, makes a bad situation even worse three times over.

First, Klinsmann's starting touch is across his body with right foot (second picture). The awkward trap loses time for Klinsmann and sends out a loud alarm to defending attackers that the goalkeeper can't play with his left foot. A confident left footed trap dissolves the situation, despite little help from his teammates.

Klinsmann's second mistake is found in his following touch. Recognizing that he has no realistic options and is surrounded by yellow shirts, he must place the ball into the stands. Even if this results in a corner kick for Ecuador, at the very least the US could set up to protect the goal. Instead, Klinsmann tries to take another touch to round the first defender to little success.

Lastly, after Klinsmann has gifted the ball back into the opposition's possession, he panics in retreating to the goal. There is no time for Klinsmann to achieve better positioning. He must stand his ground and do what he can from there. The seven or eight backwards steps transform Klinsmann into the equivalent of a traffic cone. The shot is not struck far from Klinsmann (see last pictures) and if he does not backpedal, or at least limits the number of steps he takes, he can likely make the save. 

Perhaps the most frustrating part, Klinsmann looks completely defeated after the goal. His teammates already know he has messed up - everyone in the stadium knows in - there is no need to confirm a sense of disappointment in the play. There will be plenty of time to feel sorry about the mistake after the game. In the middle of turmoil, a team needs their goalkeeper to get them back on track, not mope alongside them.

 

Who Should Start for the U20s?

In true USYNT-form, we're left with one seasoned goalkeeper and a handful of untested backups. JT Marcinkowski has seen one game with the U20s in a throw away match, so it's hard to say how he would perform. For those who have watched him at Georgetown, he's performed very well but it's not necessarily a 1-to-1 transition to the U20s.

Ultimately there is a lot of information fans don't have. How does the player chemistry differ from Klinsmann to Marcinkowski? How did Klinsmann respond to the team after the game? In the next practice? Was the US's third goal a rally from the team's respect for Klinsmann? Has Marcinkowski put himself in a position with the team to confidently take over the starting spot? What do the coaches know about the goalkeepers that we don't? There are several questions we just don't have the answers for.

There's a strong possibility Klinsmann will be benched for the second game, but calling for it is admittedly based off a slice of information. Perhaps the bigger problem is that Marcinkowski hasn't had the opportunity to show his value. If we're worried that Klinsmann won't give his teammates confidence in the back, Marcinkowski's lack of game time doesn't solve that problem.

Residency Program Closes After Little Success With Goalkeepers

US Soccer will be closing the doors on their U17 residency program after 18 years. The program is noted for their first class that featured multiple future World Cup players, but has been a polarizing institution since. The program boasts 33 of their 450+ residency players to later earn a cap for the USMNT, unfortunately none of them being goalkeepers.

The residency program produced 43 goalkeepers of 18 years. Despite being the premier academy in the US, only a handful of goalkeepers have become moderately successful throughout the residency's history. Of the first twenty to go through the program, only four have earned 30 starts in a first division. Perhaps Slyvestre will join the crew but a 20-25% rate of turning goalkeepers into a one year starter in MLS is far too low for the elite developmental program in the US.

There are some promising goalkeepers that are still playing and I would expect around another eight to become a starter in MLS at some point, but ultimately that's not the goal of the residency. Youth national teams are about producing a pipeline for getting goalkeepers to the senior national team, which doesn't appear to be changing any time soon. There's still a lot of time left for a number of these goalkeepers, but if history has anything to say, expect outside sources to be producing our top goalkeepers, not the residency program.

History of Residency Goalkeepers

1. DJ Countess (s99 - f99)
2. Steve Cronin (s99 - f99)

3. Adam Schuerman (s00 - f01)
4. Zachary Riffett (s00)
5. Ford Williams (f00 - s01)
6. Phil Marfuggi (f01 - s03)
7. Adam Hahn (s02)
8. Steve Sandbo (f02 - s04)
9. Marcus Rein (f02 - s04)
10. Bryant Rueckner (f03 - f05)

11. Evan Newton (s04 - s05) *
12. Brian Perk (f04 - s06)
13. Joe Bendik (s05) *
14. Diego Restrepo (f05) *
15. Brandyn Bumpas (f05 - s06)
16. Josh Lambo (f05 - f07)
17. Larry Jackson (s06 - s07) *
18. David Meves (f06 - s07)
19. Zac MacMath (f06 - s08) *
20. Brian Sylvestre (f07 - s08) *

21. Earl Edwards (f07 - f09) *
22. Samir Badr (f07 - s09) *
23. Spencer Richey (s08 - f09) *
24. Jon Kempin (f08 - s09) *
25. Keith Cardona (f09) *
26. Fernando Pina (f09 - s11)
27. Kendall McIntosh (s10 - s11) *
28. Wade Hamilton (s10 - s11) *
29. Santiago Castano (s10)
30. Alek Gogic (f11 - s12) *

31. Evan Louro (f11 - s13) *
32. Paul Christensen (f11 - s13) *
33. Marius Heislitz (s12)
34. Jeff Caldwell (f12 - s13) *
35. Carter Richardson (s13) *
36. Will Pulisic (f13 - f15) *
37. Kevin Silva (f13 - f15) *
38. Abraham Romero (f13) *#
39. Eric Lopez (s14 - f15) *
40. Alex Budnik (s16) *

41. Justin Garces (s16) *
42. Quantrell Jones (s16) *
43. Hunter Pinho (s16) *

bold - reached 30 appearances in first division (MLS or abroad)
* - active
# - played for Mexico's U17s in the 2015 World Cup

U20 World Cup Advancing Odds and Elo Ratings

cover photo from US Soccer

Earlier this week the U20 World Cup draw was revealed, slotting twenty-four teams into six groups of four. The top two will automatically advance into the knockout stage while the top four 3rd place teams will fill out the final spots. USA was given a favorable group and are looking to follow up last cycle's positive performance, where they reached the final eight before losing to eventual champions Serbia in penalty kicks.

Below are advancement percentages and Elo ratings for all the U20 World Cup teams. With 16 of the 24 teams advancing, all the percentages are fairly high. Obviously these ratings should be taken with a grain of salt, as teams are quick to change from one year to the next, but they do offer a general guide to where teams are. The Elo ratings include all World Cup matches and date back to UEFA's first youth tournament in 1949.

Group F is the most even between all four teams, making first place the most reachable but also holding a realistic last place finish for all four teams. Groups A and D contain multiple powerhouses and will be a fight to the last minute in each of those matches.

The 2017 U20 World Cup, hosted in South Korea, starts May 20th. The US opens their first match against Ecuador on the 22nd at 4am eastern time.