Philadelphia Union defender Mark McKenzie has been named the U.S. Under-20 Men’s National Team team captain by head coach Tab Ramos for the 2019 FIFA U-20 World Cup in Poland. The USA kicks off the tournament on Friday, May 24 against Ukraine (2:30 p.m. ET; FS1, Universo).
"It's an honor to be named captain," McKenzie said after hearing the news. "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."
“Mark is a natural leader,” Ramos said. “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. I think the important part is that he’s a good representative of U.S. Soccer and what we stand for, for doing the right thing all the time, for working hard and for being someone that the younger guys can look up to.”
"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.”
McKenzie is one of two players from the Philadelphia Union on the 21-man roster that enters the World Cup as Concacaf champions. The USA is one of five countries to qualify for the last four FIFA U-20 World Cups, and one of two to make the quarterfinals in the previous two editions.
The 20-year-old was nominated for 2018 U.S. Soccer Young Male Player of the Year after standout showings for club and country last year. McKenzie led a stout back line that helped the U-20s secure their second-straight Concacaf championship in November. The leader in minutes played for the U-20 MNT in 2018, McKenzie starred for a unit that allowed just two goals during the tournament’s eight games, keeping clean sheets in 1-0 and 4-0 qualification stage victories against Costa Rica and Honduras as well as the tightly-contested 2-0 championship victory against Mexico. The center back also contributed on the offensive end, bagging a brace against the U.S. Virgin Islands and adding two more goals in the group stage.
McKenzie also enjoyed a breakout season at the club level with the Philadelphia Union last year, playing a key part for the team’s back-line alongside 2017 U-20 World Cup alum Auston Trusty. McKenzie played 20 league games and logged 1,719 minutes for the Union in 2018, helping the team clinch the Eastern Conference’s sixth and final playoff spot and starting the team’s lone postseason match. The Delaware native was also crucial in the Union’s run to the U.S. Open Cup Final, going the full 90 in three games, including the final against Houston. For his efforts, McKenzie earned a spot in the MLS Homegrown Game as one of the league’s top young talents.
The USA was drawn into Group D for the World Cup in Poland against Ukraine, Nigeria and Qatar.