Tab Ramos’ United States men’s national team may have a navigable U-20 World Cup group, but it doesn’t set-up nicely.
Not that supporters are ready to make excuses; The U.S. is expected to make a decent run over the next month in Poland.
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Timothy Weah, Paxton Pomykal, and the Baby Yanks meet Ukraine at 2:30 p.m. ET in their Group D debut, hopeful of a run past the quarterfinals. The Americans haven’t played three post-group stage matches since a fourth place finish in 1999.
A group win is imperative with loaded favorites France expected to win Group E and set for a spot on the other side of the knockout bracket.
Aside from Josh Sargent’s call-up to the full USMNT, the Yanks have every reason to be optimistic about their potential. The 21-man player squad breaks down to six players on German sides, 10 American-based players, two from the Netherlands, and one each from Portugal, Spain, and France.
Weah is probably the most exciting one of the bunch, having success at Celtic on loan from PSG and earning high praise from Neymar amongst others, but Pomykal is one of the best MLS products in some time as a center midfielder.
Both Pomykal and Chris Durkin are getting significant minutes at the Major League Soccer level, while Mark McKenzie has nearly 20 with the Philadelphia Union as a senior player.
Beyond that are exciting strikers Sebastian Soto, who debuted for Hannover 96 this season, and Wolfsburg prospect Ulysses Llanez.
But the Yanks will look to Weah for that extra special something, the 19-year-old scoring six goals between PSG and Celtic this season.
Friday’s debut will be followed by a Monday match against Nigeria before Thursday’s tango witj Qatar.
Winning Group D means the third-place team from B, E, or F, while finishing second is a Round of 16 match-up with France, who boasts a number of high-end players already playing regularly at the highest levels of European soccer.