NEW YORK - After many months of work and anticipation, Union defenders Mark McKenzie and Matthew Real earned the honor Friday of being named to the U.S. men’s soccer team’s 21-player roster for the under-20 World Cup.
“It’s been a long time coming,” said McKenzie, who grew up in Bear, Del. “For it to actually be here, it’s a great feeling. To be named in the roster is incredible, to represent your country, to represent your club in one of the biggest tournaments for our age is surreal."
It will be the first youth-level World Cup for both players, as neither played in the under-17 tournament when eligible. But over the current two-year cycle, they have been regular participants on the under-20 team, each wearing the captain’s armband at times as the U.S. won last autumn’s qualifying tournament.
In a meeting with reporters after the roster announcement, U.S. coach Tab Ramos saluted McKenzie’s leadership in the qualifying effort.
“That competitiveness that the team had, the type of leadership that we had - I’m thining of Mark McKenzie in particular when it comes to that,” Ramos said. “He’s such an important figure not just on the field but off the field. That was a value that I wanted to carry on.”
“It shows us that we are on the right way with our development, and obviously the quality is there," sporting director Ernst Tanner said.
Real and McKenzie were inspired by their predecessors while they made their own way through the academy. Now it’s their turn to do the inspiring.
“Seeing that it is possible to come from here and to play on a stage that big, it really helped me push myself forward and believe that it can happen, and I’m really excited that it’s happening,” said Real, a Drexel Hill native. "I definitely hope that the boys down at the academy, the whole system here, can use that as a stepping stone as well. To see, ‘Look, he was in the same position as me a couple years ago, so you know, maybe if I push myself as hard as he did, in three to four years I can be in the same place.’ "
There is another Philadelphia native on the U.S. roster, goalkeeper C.J. Dos Santos. He was in the Union’s academy for a time, and is now with Portuguese club Benfica.
Also, Bethlehem Steel forward Saeed Diaz is on Panama’s squad. He isn’t well-known yet, but that could change on the world stage.
“If you watch the way he behaves and the way he moves, he is a really big talent,” Tanner said. “You can see how dangerous he can be, and how good he is in the box and [at] finishing. He needs to play more, get more time, in order to adapt and develop."
The tournament will run from May 23-June 15 in Poland. The U.S. was drawn with Ukraine, perennial power Nigeria and Qatar; Panama was drawn with Mali, superpower France and Saudi Arabia. Fox Sports (in English) and Telemundo (in Spanish) will televise games on their various channels.
Goalkeepers (3): C.J. Dos Santos (Benfica, Portugal), David Ochoa (Real Salt Lake), Brady Scott (Köln, Germany)
Defenders (6): Sergino Dest (Ajax, Netherlands), Chris Gloster (Hannover 96, Germany), Aboubacar Keita (Columbus Crew; on loan at Richmond Kickers), Mark McKenzie (Philadelphia Union), Matthew Real (Philadelphia Union), Chris Richards (Bayern Munich, Germany)
Midfielders (6): Edwin Cerrillo (FC Dallas), Chris Durkin (D.C. United), Richard Ledezma (PSV Eindhoven Netherlands), Alex Mendez (Freiburg, Germany), Paxton Pomykal (FC Dallas), Brandon Servania (FC Dallas)
Forwards (6): Ayo Akinola (Toronto FC), Konrad De La Fuente (Barcelona, Spain), Ulysses Llanez (Wolfsburg, Germany), Justin Rennicks (New England Revolution), Sebastian Soto (Hannover 96, Germany), Tim Weah (Paris Saint-Germain, France; on loan at Celtic, Scotland)
All times listed are Eastern.
May 24: vs. Ukraine, 2:30 p.m. (Fox Sports 1, Universo)
May 27: vs. Nigeria, 2:30 p.m. (Fox Sports 1, Universo)
May 30: vs. Qatar, 2:30 p.m. (Fox Sports 2, Universo)
June 2-4: Round of 16
June 7-8: Quarterfinals
June 11: Semifinals
June 14: Third-place game
June 15: Championship game