Two weeks ago the U.S. Under-20 Men's National Team closed out its final pre-World Cup camp with a friendly against Croatia, walking away with a 1-0 win thanks to a late goal from Columbus Crew SC hopeful Romain Gall. No surprise, considering the young attacking midfielder leads the team in goals in both 2014 and thus far in 2015.
But on Thursday morning U-20 U, S. National Team head coach Tab Ramos released his roster ahead of the U-20 World Cup in New Zealand later this month, and there was a surprise — Gall's name was noticeably absent. It was one of the more startling omissions considering his recent impact on the squad.
"We're disappointed for him," Crew SC head coach Gregg Berhalter said after the announcement. "He put a lot into. It was a dream of his, a goal of his to make the team and you feel for a player, any player like that, you feel for. I feel for him and we're going to do everything we can to support him and keep him making progress."
Although the U-20s were often unimpressive in the CONCACAF Championship earlier this year, Gall was one of the bright spots, tying for the tournament lead with five strikes and being named to the competition's Best XI while helping the team qualify for the World Cup.
Gall also paced the USMNT with four goals in international competition in 2014.
So what happened?
In a teleconference Thursday afternoon, Ramos pointed to Gall's lack of time with the Black and Gold as a major factor, after a knee injury set the attacker back in the spring. The lost time has bled into his ability to work and stay in form and that, the coach said, cost Gall at a time when there are other players getting valuable minutes for their club sides.
"We’ve been fortunate enough with the national team now that as far as our attacking options go, we can select whatever players are in the best form right now," Ramos said. "Fortunately for us we have a a lot of guys getting minutes. Romy was off for a while and came into our last camp and was not in the best form. Although he scored a goal and we were happy with that, we had to look at our roster and decided to go in another direction.
"That’s not to say Romy won’t break into the Crew and get in great form … and hopefully he can get back into the picture this summer and for the Olympics."
Gall injured his knee in a January 24th qualifier against El Salvador and then aggravated it during the Crew SC's preseason. He only returned to the field a month ago after missing two months. It turned out to be too much for him to overcome in the eyes of the national team coaching staff.
Ramos made eight changes from the squad that qualified in January, including some of the attacking players who are getting more playing time than Gall right now. The most noticeable addition is that of Rubio Rubin (FC Utrecht), who already has caps at the senior level.
Real Salt Lake's Jordan Allen was also added, and his versatility as a player that can fit both in the center of midfield and higher up the field certainly did Gall's hopes no favors. Allen has made a number of appearances for RSL this season, including a solid start against the Galaxy on Wednesday night.
Other midfield additions to the roster are Toronto FC's Marco Delgado and Boca Juniors' Joel Sonora, who made the pre-CONCACAF Championship camp but did not make the final roster. Neither of that pair plays the same type of role that Gall does.
The announced group leaves one spot open in case much-discussed dual-national Gedion Zelalem is cleared in time to play. Final rosters are due in one week.
"We’re leaving a little window here — a few more days — in case something can be worked out," Ramos said. "I don’t know the specifics of the paperwork. I’ve seen Gideon play a little bit and I think he can help the team, so we might as well leave the window open for a few days."
Should Zelalem not be cleared in time, Ramos confirmed that the roster spot would go to the Philadelphia Union's Zach Pfeffer.
It seems even then, Gall is a good deal down the pecking order.
The Americans will also carry a third goalkeeper after rostering just two for qualifying, and the math dictates there would be one less spot elsewhere on the field.
Gall was not the only omission that is being dissected. Fellow midfielder Junior Flores (Borussia Dortumund) may have been the biggest name left off, though many were unimpressed with his performance in CONCACAF qualifying, unlike Gall.
Seattle Sounders' midfielder Christian Roldan is another exclusion that surprised some.
The Under-20 World Cup kicks off in New Zealand on May 30 and concludes with the final on June 20. The United States will play in Group A with host New Zealand, Ukraine and Myanmar. The Americans begin group play against the latter on May 30 before facing New Zealand and then Ukraine to conclude group action.
Here is the official World Cup squad:
U.S. Under-20 Men's National Team
2015 World Cup Roster
GOALKEEPERS (3): Jeff Caldwell (University of Virginia; Todd, N.C.), Ethan Horvath (Molde FK; Highlands Ranch, Colo.), Zack Steffen (Freiburg; Downingtown, Pa.)
DEFENDERS (6): Cameron Carter-Vickers (Tottenham Hotspur; Westcliff on Sea, England), Matthew Miazga (New York Red Bulls; Clifton, N.J.), Shaquell Moore (Unattached; Powder Springs, Ga.), Erik Palmer-Brown (Sporting Kansas City; Lee’s Summit, Mo.), Desevio Payne (FC Groningen; Greenwood, S.C.), John Requejo (Club Tijuana; Carpinteria, Calif.)
MIDFIELDERS (6): Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas; Plano, Texas), Paul Arriola (Club Tijuana; Chula Vista, Calif.), Russell Canouse (Hoffenheim; Lancaster, Pa.), Marco Delgado (Toronto FC; Glendora, Calif.), Emerson Hyndman (Fulham; Dallas, Texas), Joel Soñora (Boca Juniors; Buenos Aires, Argentina)
FORWARDS (5): Jordan Allen (Real Salt Lake; Rochester, N.Y.), Bradford Jamieson IV (LA Galaxy; Los Angeles, Calif.), Rubio Rubin (Utrecht; Beaverton, Ore.), Maki Tall (Red Star; Washington, D.C.), Tommy Thompson (San Jose Earthquakes; Loomis, Calif.)