MLS intrigue abounds in the US 21-man roster for upcoming the FIFA Under-20 World Cup, most notably the five players from Real Salt Lake’s system.
Not that head coach Tab Ramos knows the secret to their success. He just knows it’s the place to go for talented players.
“I really don’t know their formula,” said Ramos on a conference call with media, “I just like good players. I pick them, and they happen to be from there. I think the fact that they were one of the first, if not the first club, to have a residency program down in Arizona - that’s what’s helped them the most. That’s what put them ahead of the curve.
“They’ve been by far the team to produce the most for the national team in this cycle. Every player, you take all five players they have, any player can be a starter on this team. I think that’s a lot to say for one club.”
It’s noteworthy that Ramos mentioned RSL’s residency program when it comes off the heels of US Soccer ending its own residency program in light of the successes club teams have had with theirs. When RSL launched their program in 2010 it was indeed the first of its kind, and now all of RSL’s contributions to this U-20 roster came out of that program.
Of the four RSL senior squad players on the U-20s only Brooks Lennon has gotten on the scoresheet for RSL this season with one goal. He also leads that group with eight starts. Only Justen Glad has yet to see the field in 2017, as RSL has been getting good minutes out of their youth.
Among the four remaining MLS senior squad players on the US U-20 roster, the selection of the Philadelphia Union’s Derrick Jones was the most down to the wire as his paperwork for US eligibility was just finished last week. Ramos said the process for that had been in the works for awhile.
“I watched Derrick Jones play in the USL last year the whole season pretty much - not every game, but most games," said Ramos. "Derrick did really well, and this is why we called him into the national team back in October. The rest has really been about paperwork.
"Derrick was with us all of January and our whole preseason camp that we did. We just couldn’t get the paperwork done for qualifying. But Derrick Jones has been with us for a while now.”
Atlanta United joined RSL in contributing an academy player, with Lagos Kunga impressing Ramos with just one camp.
“He can do it all,” said Ramos. "He gets forward really well, with speed. He has a good feel for the game so he understands the game. You can tell he can’t wait to get on the field everyday. He makes plays, he takes people on down the side, he gets balls in the box, he’ll get back and defend if he has to.
“I hope that this international experience makes him something even better for when he goes back to play for Atlanta.”