After FIFA held the draw for the upcoming under-20 men's World Cup on Sunday, U.S. coach Tab Ramos said he expects to have his roster for the tournament figured out in two to three weeks.
Real is a near-certainty to go, but McKenzie’s fate is unclear. Club teams are not required to release players for the tournament, and because McKenzie plays so much for the Union, sporting director Ernst Tanner signaled last month that he might try to keep the player here.
“He could miss up to six, seven games … That has a major impact on us,” Tanner said back then. “That has to be discussed with us, the player and the association. And we will do it when the right time is. ... I would say it is nice to play [in] that youth competition, but if you are an important player of a men’s competition, it’s for sure a bigger value."
Union manager Jim Curtin, a longtime backer of sending players to U.S. national teams, added: “The year that [McKenzie] had last year, let’s be honest, was unexpected. ... I know Tab has a priority. We have a priority here at the Union as well. We’ll make the right decision for everybody involved.”
The time to make that decision is approaching. Ramos must name a 35-player provisional roster pool by April 1. The tournament squad doesn't have to be named until a few days before kickoff, but any coach wouldn't want to wait until the last minute.
"This is where things get moving fast," Ramos said. "I've already had that conversation with MLS, so we're all going to try to work together on this."
The Union are in the midst of a few days off after returning from preseason training in Clearwater, Fla. They’ll return to work on Tuesday ahead of Saturday’s season opener against Toronto FC (1 p.m., 6ABC). We might get an update from their side then.
Ramos said he wants to convene a pre-tournament camp “somewhere in the neighborhood of 10 days before the World Cup starts, but I do know that’s going to be difficult.”
He is willing to have important players join camp late, but of course, he'd rather not.
"How late would I be able to wait for someone?" he said. "The reality is, if it's a really important player to the team and I have to wait until after that weekend of [May] 19th ... I'm likely going to decide that it's important for the team for me to wait that long to get a player in."
The Union visit Toronto FC on May 11 and host the Seattle Sounders on May 18. In addition, some European league seasons also don't end until around that time.
Ramos said he’s going to spend “the next seven or eight days” in Europe lobbying clubs with eligible Americans to let them play in the tournament. He’ll first stop in Germany, home to Chris Richards (Bayern Munich), Alex Mendez (Freiburg), Nick Taitague (Schalke) and many others. Then he’ll head to the Netherlands to push for Sergino Dest (Ajax) and Richard Ledezma (PSV Eindhoven).
“The meetings will continue with MLS as soon as I come back,” Ramos said.
Ramos’ squad that won Concacaf’s World Cup qualifying tournament was one of the most talented under-20 teams in U.S. history, and it didn’t have age-eligible senior national team players Josh Sargent and Tim Weah. The two 19-year-olds would bring in even more attacking punch, as well as a dash of star power.
But Ramos does not expect to have them, and there's a good reason: they could be with the senior team at the Concacaf Gold Cup.