Union centerback Mark McKenzie has been named captain of the U.S. national team for the under-20 World Cup that will kick off in a few days in Poland.
“Mark is a natural leader,” U.S. coach Tab Ramos said in a statement announcing the move. “First of all, he’s a hard player on the field and he’s a good player. Secondly, he has that charisma off the field that allows for him to have a voice and for people to follow that voice."
The decision was made collectively within the team, not just by Ramos. McKenzie was a cocaptain of the U.S. squad in last autumn’s World Cup qualifying tournament, so it was not surprising that his colleagues gave him a further vote of confidence.
“I pulled together all the leaders of this group and we made the decision together,” Ramos said. “Everybody agreed that Mark is the guy to lead the way.”
A Bronx native raised in Bear, Del., the 20-year-old McKenzie is in his second year as a pro. He played 23 games for the Union last year but has made just one appearance in MLS this year because of a string of health issues. He is back to full health now, and is likely to start on the U.S. back line alongside Bayern Munich’s Chris Richards.
“It’s an honor to be named captain,” McKenzie said in a statement. “We have a lot of leaders on this team, so at the end of the day it’s a title. But I hold myself to a high standard, and I’m extremely humbled to be named captain of this group -- pushing these guys to hold themselves to a high standard, and to keep each other in check, to hold each other accountable and ultimately become successful on and off the field.”
McKenzie leads a squad that also includes Union left back Matt Real, highly touted FC Dallas playmaker Paxton Pomykal, and a dash of star power in Paris Saint-Germain winger/forward Tim Weah. The son of 1995 FIFA World Player of the Year George Weah, Tim has recently been on loan at Scottish club Celtic. He has eight senior national team caps already, and scored his first senior national team goal last year in a friendly at Talen Energy Stadium.
There are high hopes that this U.S. team, perhaps the most talented American squad ever for the age group, can make a deep run in the tournament. We’ll start to find out Friday, when the U.S. plays its group stage opener against Ukraine (2:30 p.m., Fox Sports 1 and Universo).
“I’m excited for the tournament to start,” McKenzie said. “We’re all going to be fighting, we’re leaders in ourselves, and we’re confident that we can achieve this dream, but we’ve got to take it one step at a time.”