Gaga Slonina in goal and Caleb Wiley on the wing: Who the USYNT should start against Ecuador in Under-20 World Cup opener

Comments (0)
USYNT U20 World Cup GFX
Without some key players for the opening game in Argentina, coach Mikey Varas has some key selection decisions to make

At each of the last three Under-20 World Cups, the U.S. has reached the quarter-final stage. And, at each of the last three U20 World Cups, the U.S. has stumbled at that same hurdle.

The U.S. U20 men's national team will hope things will be different this time around as they head to Argentina for this year's tournament with a squad loaded with experience. Several players already have USMNT camps to their name, while several others have emerged as big contributors for clubs all over the world.

Still, Mikey Varas' squad is far from full strength. Key players like Paxten Aaronson and Jalen Neal saw their potential participation blocked by their clubs, while several other stars won't be available for the start of the tournament. In fact, the U.S. will only have 15 outfield players for their first match against Ecuador, giving Varas some difficult decisions to make for what might be his side's toughest group test.

With that in mind, GOAL breaks down how the U.S. should line up in the first game of the U20 World Cup:

This page contains affiliate links. When you subscribe through the links provided, we may earn a commission.

Sign up here for MLS Season Pass through Apple TV and watch every MLS match, including the playoffs!

  1. GK: Gaga Slonina

    GK: Gaga Slonina

    No questions here. With his USMNT debut already behind him despite his age, Slonina is the starter without a doubt. The Chelsea starlet is the USMNT's next great goalkeeper, and the next step of his development will come in Argentina, where he should play every minute if all goes to plan.

  2. LB: Jonathan Gomez

    LB: Jonathan Gomez

    He's still waiting for his debut at Real Sociedad, but Gomez is another player that has already logged minutes with the USMNT. A solid left-back that came up with Louisville City, Gomez's development has come in Real Sociedad's youth teams, where he was briefly under the tutelage of Xabi Alonso. Competition for spots on the left will be fierce, but Gomez should be steady at left-back.

  3. CB: Josh Wynder
    Getty Images

    CB: Josh Wynder

    American soccer's next big export, Wynder should be a go-to player for the U20s before heading to Benfica. The Louisville City star has been compared to Virgil van Dijk and, while those comparisons are very premature, it does show just how good the teenager is. He's playing up an age group, so there could be difficult moments against better teams, but Wynder should be just fine.

  4. CB: Brandan Craig
    Getty Images

    CB: Brandan Craig

    The first of several Philadelphia Union starlets, Craig should be a reliable starter in central defense. He was a constant during CONCACAF qualifying and, even with Neal out, the U.S. should feel fine about the partnership between Craig and Wynder, at least as individuals.

  5. RB: Justin Che

    RB: Justin Che

    This role seemed like it would fall to Mauricio Cuevas, but the LA Galaxy defender was forced to pull out of the squad on Thursday after suffering an ankle injury. Michael Halliday was called into replace him, but Varas very well could turn to Che at the right-back position.

    Che can play both right-back and center-back, and it could be argued he'd be a perfect fit if the U.S. goes with a back three. But, even in this back four, he should be fine to start at right-back as he prepares for a return to FC Dallas after Hoffenheim announced recently that his time at the club had come to an end.

  6. CM: Dan Edelman
    Getty Images

    CM: Dan Edelman

    Basically, a lock to start. Edelman is the captain and will remain a vital starter and leader in Argentina. With Edelman out of the XI in March, the U.S. lost to France and England and, although you can write those off due to the talent involved, there's no doubt the New York Red Bulls star was sorely missed. He's back now and should be a key defensive presence to shield the backline.

  7. CM: Jack McGlynn

    CM: Jack McGlynn

    The second Union star in the XI, McGlynn has a wealth of experience in MLS that will no doubt help him out here. He started last season's MLS Cup final and had been a regular in the Union's CONCACAF Champions League run, so he's ready for the limelight that will come with playing at an U20 World Cup. He's also been a regular with this team, racking up 14 U20 appearances so far.

  8. CM: Owen Wolff
    Getty Images

    CM: Owen Wolff

    Leave it to Varas to explain why Wolff will likely be a key figure. “What we love about Owen is Owen’s got a fighting spirit," Varas said. "Also, he plays with a chip on his shoulder, and he's not afraid of confrontation. And on top of that, he's very skillful and very smart. You see that in the MLS games and how he fought his way into that starting line up from last year to this year.”

    Wolff, the son of Austin FC coach Josh Wolff, has been a key piece for his dad's team, taking a big leap by becoming an MLS starter to begin the 2023 season. If not Wolff, Varas could turn to Obed Vargas, but, on current form, Wolff deserves to be the guy.

  9. LW: Caleb Wiley

    LW: Caleb Wiley

    Another player that has taken a massive, massive leap, Wiley has quickly become a star for Atlanta United. His breakout performance in Charlotte vaulted him into the spotlight, and he hasn't shied away from it at all. With Gomez at left-back, Wiley is freed up to play on the wing, although that arrival of Kevin Paredes for the knockout stages could create some reshuffling on the left-hand side.

  10. ST: Darren Yapi
    Getty Images

    ST: Darren Yapi

    Something that the U.S. didn't have before: a legitimate striker. Paxten Aaronson flourished in a false nine role, earning the Golden Boot and Golden Ball in the CONCACAF tournament, but he isn't here. Yapi, though, is, giving the U.S. a more traditional No.9 to lead the line.

    The team's success could very well depend on how Yapi does in front of goal and, if the Colorado Rapids starlet brings his shooting boots, the U.S. may not miss a beat even without Aaronson.

  11. RW: Quinn Sullivan
    Getty Images

    RW: Quinn Sullivan

    Four U.S. players made the CONCACAF Best XI. Sullivan is the only one left in the squad. Knowing that, it's safe to say he should keep his spot in the starting XI, at least at the start. He's been a regular for the Union this year, as he has in years past, and should be a steady option on the right-hand side.

  12. Looking ahead

    Looking ahead

    Varas faces some tough decisions for the Ecuador game, but they'll only get tougher once the full squad becomes available. Cade Cowell could slot into the attack after the first match, which the San Jose Earthquakes attacker will miss due to suspension. His pace and athleticism will definitely be an asset and there's no doubt he'll play a big role once he's available.

    Looking to the knockouts, the team should be lifted by the arrivals of Paredes and Rokas Pukstas. Paredes seems likely to slot in on the left, either as a left-back or left winger, while Pukstas will, at the very least, add depth to the midfield after playing for Hajduk Split in the Croatian Cup final on May 24.