Philadelphia Union midfielder Derrick Jones' rapid rise through the professional soccer ranks took another big step Tuesday when he was named to the United States national team's roster for the coming FIFA Under-20 World Cup.
U.S. manager Tab Ramos has been a fan of Jones for some time, and extended a first invitation to training camp last October. But the Ghana native wasn't eligible to play in official competitions for the American team until very recently, because he had not fulfilled a FIFA requirement of living in the country for five years. That's why he wasn't on the squad for February's World Cup qualifying tournament.
Jones cleared that hurdle only a few weeks ago, and U.S. Soccer immediately filed the necessary paperwork. FIFA gave prompt approval, allowing Jones to join the team for the World Cup.
"I'm impressed by what he's been able to do with the first team at the Union," Ramos said. "Obviously, they haven't been in a great situation to start [the season], and that's difficult for a young player, but I think he's done a great job. And we expected that, because he's a good player."
Union defender Auston Trusty, a Media native, was a somewhat surprising omission from the roster. He was on the team for the qualifying tournament, and the other six defenders who played in the qualifying tournament all made the World Cup squad.
The player who overtook Trusty is a big deal, though: Tottenham Hotspur's Cameron Carter-Vickers. He's among the top defensive prospects in the U.S. youth national team pool.
Carter-Vickers didn't play in the qualifying tournament because Spurs didn't release him for it. Unlike with senior national team tournaments, FIFA does not require clubs to release players for youth tournaments.
But Trusty isn't out of the picture yet. Ramos is bringing him to the pre-tournament training camp as an alternate because Carter-Vickers and Real Salt Lake centerback Justen Glad are battling knee injuries. Carter-Vickers' happened at a U.S. U-20 camp in England in April; Glad's was during the final of March's CONCACAF Under-20 World Cup qualifying tournament.
Both players are close to full health. Ramos expects them to be ready for the tournament, but he's ready them to not be.
"Auston knows exactly what situation he's in here," Ramos said. "We have two centerbacks that we have called in who have been injured, so there's a possibility that they won't make it to the World Cup. And if they don't, then we have full confidence that Auston can do a great job. We've been very fortunate that in this age group, we have quite a few centerbacks that we would feel comfortable putting on the field any time, and Auston certainly is one of those."
Among the notable inclusions is midfielder Gedion Zelalem, a product of English power Arsenal who rose to stardom as a teenage prospect but has been out of the headlines recently. In fact, he has barely played for the Dutch club to which Arsenal loaned him in January, VVV Venlo.
Ramos said he has watched Zelalem train over the last few days, and came away impressed.
"Fitness-wise, he's in a good place, and playing-wise he looks very good," Ramos said. "Coming in, I was a little bit concerned with his form and what that would look like, but after having seen him for the last three or four days here at practice, I'm convinced that he's ready to do a great job."
Indeed, Ramos made it clear that he expects Zelalem to be a key player in the team's attack.
"We're going to rely on him a lot," Ramos said. Now he's on the older side of the age group and he needs to be one of our leaders. We expressed that to him, [that] he has to be one of the ones that makes a difference for us."
Another name to watch is Josh Sargent, a 16-year-old striker from St. Louis who recently starred in the qualification tournament for this year's under-17 World Cup. If he plays in both the under-17 and under-20 World Cups, he will become the first player to do so since Freddy Adu in 2003.
Notable omissions include forward Josh Perez of Italy's Fiorentina (and nephew of former U.S. national team star Hugo Perez) and three players from Germany's Schalke 04: midfielders Weston McKennie and Nick Taitague and forward Haji Wright of Germany's Schalke 04. Their clubs did not release them, and Ramos did not hide his annoyance about it.
"We didn't get any cooperation from Schalke at all, at any time, with their players," he said. "Both Weston McKennie and Nick Taitague were guys that we would have liked to consider... Schalke was pretty straightforward in terms of [saying] 'Our U-19s are more important than your national team, and so they're going to stay here."
Ramos also took aim at Fiorentina.
"We had very little cooperation from Fiorentina," Ramos said, though he acknowledged a minor injury to Perez may have been a factor. "A player that we had pre-selected to come to the U-20 World Cup, except we haven't had an opportunity to see Josh with us, I think, in over a year now. He hasn't been released, and that's really difficult."
With other European clubs, Ramos said, the U.S. team has gotten "all the cooperation that we've needed - there's been some concessions on our side and some on theirs, and we worked together pretty well."
Most of the players on the roster have already left their clubs to meet up in Los Angeles. They will fly to Japan on Wednesday for the pre-tournament camp. Remaining players, mainly from from foreign clubs, will join the party in the next few days. The entire team will leave for South Korea on May 17. The tournament begins May 20, and the U.S.' first game is May 22.
All U.S. games and many others will be televised live on Fox Sports 1, thanks to the early-morning kickoff times here in the States. Fox Sports 2 will have the remaining live broadcasts. Spanish-language television coverage will be on Telemundo and NBC Universo, though not for every game. Both networks' respective streaming platforms will carry all games online.
Monday, May 22: vs. Ecuador, 4:00 a.m. (Fox Sports 1, Telemundo)
Thursday, May 25: vs. Senegal, 7:00 a.m. (Fox Sports 1, TelemundoDeportes.com)
Sunday, May 28: vs. Saudi Arabia, 5:00 a.m. (Fox Sports 1, TelemundoDeportes.com)
May 31 or June 1: Round of 16
June 4 or 5: Quarterfinal
June 8: Semifinal
June 11: Championship or third place game
The Union have games during the tournament on May 13, May 17, May 20, May 27 and June 3. It seems safe to assume Jones will miss them all unless the U.S. doesn't get out of the group stage. You'd like to think the odds of that are slim, not only because of the U.S.' talent but because four of the six third-place finishers in the group stage qualify for the round of 16.
Goalkeepers (3): Jonathan Klinsmann (University of California), J.T. Marcinkowski (Georgetown University), Brady Scott (De Anza Force/Cupertino, Calif.)
Defenders (7): Danny Acosta (Real Salt Lake), Cameron Carter-Vickers (Tottenham Hotspur/England), Marlon Fossey (Fulham/England), Justen Glad (Real Salt Lake), Aaron Herrera (University of New Mexico), Erik Palmer-Brown (Sporting Kansas City), Tommy Redding (Orlando City)
Midfielders (5): Tyler Adams (New York Red Bulls), Luca De La Torre (Fulham/England), Derrick Jones (Philadelphia Union), Eryk Williamson (University of Maryland), Gedion Zelalem (Arsenal/England)