By Todd Kortemeier | Nov. 29, 2018, 6:34 p.m. (ET)
The U.S. under-20 men's soccer team celebrates victory at the Concacaf Under-20 Championship on Nov. 21, 2018 in Bradenton, Fla.


In tearing through the field at the Concacaf Under-20 Championship this month — outscoring opponents 46-2 — the U.S. men showed that the future is bright for U.S. Soccer.

The title was the second in a row for the U-20s, and the second for the U.S. since the current format began in 2009. Besides confederation superiority — Concacaf represents North America, Central America and the Caribbean — the title also booked the U.S. a spot at the 2019 FIFA U-20 World Cup, where it will look to improve on its quarterfinal run from 2017.

In an otherwise disappointing year for the U.S. men’s program, which had to watch this past summer’s FIFA World Cup from home for the first time since 1986, the U-20 win showed that the kids might just be all right.

While the senior men’s team has to wait another four years for its shot at World Cup redemption, U.S. Soccer can look forward to the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 as the next step in the revitalization of the men’s national team program. The U.S. has missed the Olympic tournament at the previous two Games.

The teams that compete in the Olympic Games are Under-23 sides, plus up to three overage players. Thus, most of those U-23 players in 2020 will be coming from the 2017 and 2018 Concacaf champions.

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Not a bad pool to draw from.

Of the Best XI at the 2017 Concacaf Championship, five were Americans. In 2018, eight of the 11 represented Team USA. And yet, some of the most promising U.S. players didn’t even play in the Concacaf tournament due to obligations with their club teams.

Among the Concacaf Best XI selections from the U.S. was the lone goalkeeper both years. This year it was Brady Scott, and in 2017 it was Jonathan Klinsmann, who just earned his first senior team call-up earlier this month. Both keepers are likely possibilities for the 2020 U-23 roster.

Justen Glad, named best central defender at the 2017 tournament, received his first senior team call-up last January. Marlon Fossey joined him on the 2017 Best XI, while Sergino Dest, Chris Gloster and Mark McKenzie were part of this year’s team.

Another age-eligible defender to watch for is Cameron Carter-Vickers, who is playing with Swansea City on loan from Tottenham Hotspur. Though he didn’t play on the last two U-20 Concacaf teams, Carter-Vickers played on the 2015 squad and has been with the senior national team since 2017.

The 2020 U-23s should be strong in midfield, where some of them are already playing for the senior national team. That pool is highlighted by Christian Pulisic, the 20-year-old star for Germany’s Borussia Dortmund. Though he didn’t play in the Concacaf events, he’s already a mainstay on the senior national team and, amazingly, will still be well under the Jan. 1, 1997 birthday cutoff for the 2020 Games.

Even without Pulisic, the Concacaf teams boasted no shortage of midfield talent.

Brooks Lennon and Erik Palmer-Brown both made the 2017 Best XI. The latter, who is typically a defender, has played with the senior national team and currently plays with NAC Breda in the Dutch Eredivisie while on loan from Manchester City. Tyler Adams, who has made senior national team appearances, was also on that 2017 U.S. U-20 squad.

Two U.S. midfield players made the Best XI in 2018: Brandon Servania and Alex Mendez, who also won the Golden Ball.

Among the others top midfielders who didn’t take part in the Concacaf events is Weston McKennie, who plays for German club Schalke 04 and has made multiple appearances with the senior national team. Keaton Parks, who made his first senior team appearance in April after earning no caps on a U.S. youth side, will also be in the mix along with Andrew Carleton and Nick Taitague.

Forwards Ayo Akinola and Ulysses Llanez were named to the Best XI at the 2018 Concacaf Championship. Llanez was the second-youngest player on the U.S. squad, born April 2, 2001. However, look for current national team forwards Tim Weah, now of European giants Paris Saint-Germain, and Josh Sargent to headline the U-23 forward group.

Overage Options
Forward is one spot where the U.S. may elect to use an overage spot. The veteran presence of someone like current first-choice striker Bobby Wood could pay dividends. Another place where experience is valuable is in net. While Klinsmann is just taking his senior team first steps, the experience of someone like Bill Hamid or Alex Bono would be welcome. Or what about Zack Steffen? The 23-year-old will be too old by Tokyo, but with a move to Manchester City reportedly looming and Steffen increasingly looking like the country’s No. 1 goalie, the Olympics could be an opportunity for him to gain valuable international experience.

What’s Next?
With the Concacaf Olympic Qualifying Championship just under a year away, there still is plenty of times for more names to emerge. The head coaching position is also vacant, likely to be announced sometime after the senior team officially names its head coach. But after missing out on the last two Games, the Americans have to be prioritizing qualifying for 2020. And with the core of young players in place, they should be able to do some damage once they get there.

Todd Kortemeier is a sportswriter, editor and children’s book author from Minneapolis. He is a contributor to on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.