When talking about the U.S. national team and the program's rebuilding process, two of the first names often mentioned are Josh Sargent and Tim Weah. The teenage strikers both made several USMNT appearances in 2018, and have shown flashes on the club level to support the belief that they both have considerable potential.
That is why it has often been considered a foregone conclusion that the summer of 2019 would be a showcase period for the duo with the national team, either as part of Gregg Berhalter's Gold Cup team or as one of the stars of the U.S. Under-20 World Cup squad. The question now is which tournament makes the most sense for them?
As things stand, neither looks like a lock for the Gold Cup, though of the two, you can argue that Sargent is the better bet to join Berhalter's team. He is a pure striker, playing a role where in-form options don't exactly abound. That is why Sargent remains a possibility even though he has played just seven minutes in the past two months for Werder Bremen.
Jozy Altidore's hamstring injury leaves the USMNT striker position on even shakier ground, though it doesn't change the reality that Sargent would appear to be a reserve option at best. Veterans Gyasi Zardes and Christian Ramirez are ahead of him on the depth chart, and Bobby Wood is another option if Berhalter decides to add someone with more international experience.
You can make the argument that Sargent is the type of talent who should be taken to pre-Gold Cup camp and given a chance to compete for a place, but is it worth giving up a starting role at the Under-20 World Cup for a slim chance of a significant role at the Gold Cup? That's the question Berhalter has to consider, and one that could come down to how the rest of the USMNT forward pool is looking three weeks from now, when the Under-20 World Cup roster has to be finalized.
Weah is a bigger long shot for the Gold Cup, with the Under-20 World Cup making much more sense as a showcase event for him this summer. His lack of playing time at Celtic in recent months hasn't helped his chances of climbing up the USMNT's wide forward depth chart, and sources tell Goal that Weah wants to play in the Under-20 World Cup.
It isn't difficult to understand why Weah would want the Under-20 World Cup. He would be a sure-fire starter on Tab Ramos' team, even with the wealth of attacking options in the Under-20 pool, and the youth tournament is the perfect showcase event for Weah to impress potential club suitors as he considers his next move. Though he is still on the books at Paris Saint Germain, he won't be a PSG player forever, and a good showing in Poland could help facilitate a transfer for him more than a Gold Cup cameo would. That reality is a good reason why, according to Goal sources, PSG is open to having Weah play at the Under-20 World Cup.
One potential complication for Weah is Celtic's looming appearance in the Scottish Cup final, on May 25. The U.S. Under-20s begin their World Cup on May 24 against Ukraine. If Weah decides to stay with Celtic, it could mean missing out on Under-20 World Cup, but if Weah decides he would rather play in the Under-20 World Cup it isn't a stretch to envision a scenario where Paris Saint Germain ends his loan early to clear the way for him to go to Poland.
What's interesting about Sargent and Weah's summer conundrum is that the U.S. Under-20 World Cup team has the attacking weapons to make do without either of them, but clearly Tab Ramos' side would be bolstered by their inclusions. Sargent won the Silver Boot at the 2017 Under-20 World Cup, and would be expected to dominate once again playing in an attack that is even stronger than the 2017 U.S. squad. If Sargent winds up at the Gold Cup instead, Ramos would still have Sebastian Soto, Ayo Akinola and potentially Weah as striker options. And if Weah winds up at the Gold Cup (or is otherwise unavailable due to the Scottish Cup), Ramos would still have a plethora of wide options, including Ulysses Llanez, Konrad De La Fuente and Jonathan Amon to choose from.
The least likely scenario at this point is that Sargent and Weah take part in the Gold Cup together. The chances of that scenario faded as soon as Berhalter had both youngsters join the U.S. Under-23 camp in March rather than play in the USMNT friendlies. If Berhalter had any real intention of calling on them for the Gold Cup, he would have looked at them in March.
The option that makes the most sense is sending Sargent and Weah to Poland for the Under-20 World Cup, giving the Americans an even stronger team, and giving Sargent and Weah the opportunity to take on leadership roles in an international tournament. Circumstances could change for Sargent depending on the state of the USMNT forward pool three weeks from now, but barring a rash of injuries at striker, Berhalter should clear the way for the two teenagers to join Tab Ramos in Poland.
It wouldn't be the scenario some USMNT fans would have hoped for a year ago when Sargent and Weah were first breaking into the USMNT picture, but it's the scenario that makes the most sense now given where they stand in their development, and given the scarce playing time they have been receiving on the club level. The Under-20 World Cup is the perfect stage for them to showcase their ability, and give U.S. fans a glimpse of what they can eventually bring to the U.S. national team when the time is right.