The FIFA U20 World Cup is two weeks away and the United States will look to go deep in the tournament with the team they put together. However, a few players will be denied the opportunity to play on the big stage in Argentina as their respective club teams have blocked their releases, sparking controversy.
News first came out on Wednesday that the Chicago Fire’s Brian Gutierrez and Chris Brady would be denied releases from the team. That was followed up a day later by Croatian side Hajduk Split when they announced that promising midfield Rokas Pukstas would not be allowed for consideration.
Various reasons have been given as to why the three players have been blocked from joining their teammates — the former’s struggles in the young MLS season, while the latter will play in the Croatian Cup final, which has got to leave them gutted. However, these decisions bring into question FIFA’s overall organization of the tournament and how to remedy the issue of youth players being granted releases for sanctioned tournaments.
The club teams, in their defense, have a point that they have invested the time and money in training the youth players at their respective academies, so they have every right to refuse an international call-up. On the other, for most of these players, they will only have one chance to step on the field with the world’s best youth players at this World Cup. To take that away from them is undoubtedly the worst thing a coach or club can do.
Philadelphia Union head coach Jim Curtin echoed this sentiment very well when commenting on the controversial decisions of the clubs.
While there is a lot of back and forth on social media as to which side is right on the matter, the one side that seems to be getting away without a finger being pointed at it is world soccer’s governing body.
Aside from the organization stripping Indonesia of the tournament due to geopolitical issues, which left them scrambling to find another host country, why would they schedule the event outside of the international window? Looking back at the previous two editions of the World Cup (2017 in South Korea and 2019 in Poland), both started in May, right around the home stretch of league seasons in some parts of the world.
To start a tournament while league seasons continue leaves many clubs caught between a rock and a hard place. So why hasn’t FIFA solved this issue? It’s anyone’s guess, but it is one they could have resolved a long time ago.
Why not schedule the youth World Cups within the international window? This is done for both men’s and women’s World Cups, so what is the difficulty in doing the same for the youth players? Granted, the women’s tournament takes place this summer, so there would be some overlap. But this provides a good opportunity to showcase both at the same time as they are being played on opposite sides of the planet.
U.S. U20 head coach Mikey Varas will have no problems putting together a strong team before they take the field in their first Group B game against Ecuador on May 20. It’s just a travesty that FIFA’s mismanagement in planning the tournament will keep Gutierrez, Brady, Pukstas, and more from playing on this stage.