Aboubacar Keita - Primary - WC Call-Up - 2019

Keita on World Cup call-up: 'I just started yelling, like a little kid.'

Try topping this Mother’s Day present.

For Aboubacar Keita, it started with a phone call in early May from Crew SC Technical Director Pat Onstad.

Having recently finished participating in the final U.S. Under-20 Men’s National Team training camp ahead of this summer’s 2019 FIFA World Cup, Keita was amongst a host of up-and-coming players vying for a spot on the U.S. roster.

Now, fast-forward a couple weeks.

After rehabbing from a hamstring injury that brought Keita back home to Columbus before returning to Richmond, Va., where he is currently on loan with the Kickers, the 19-year-old was just focused on getting healthy.

“I was still coming back from an injury when they started talking about the roster,” Keita said. “Before the roster even came out, my main focus was to just get healthy.”

Back in Richmond, as Keita healed up, he remained on the sideline during a midweek Kickers’ U.S. Open Cup game against Virginia United on May 7.

“I was back in Columbus doing rehab on my hamstring [and then] I went to Richmond. I spent two weeks there. I believe it was a midweek game, it was the Open Cup game,” Keita recalled.

Cue Onstad’s phone call.

“I wasn’t playing in that game, so I was sitting in the car and I got a call from Pat [Onstad], the GM. He told me he had just gotten my email for the World Cup Roster. I just started yelling, like a little kid. He was still on the phone. I didn’t hang up. I was pretty excited.”

Imagine: you are 19 years old and away from home, you have just been called up to your country’s U-20 World Cup roster, and it’s five days before Mother’s Day.

Naturally, you call your mom right away.

And then go home to see her, of course.

“As soon as I got off the phone with Pat, I called my mom. It was a couple of days before Mother’s Day and I was going to get my mom a gift but then I was like, ‘no this will be her gift,’” Keita said.

Now, after two weeks of training, acclimation, and some sight-seeing in Poland, Keita and the rest of the U.S. U-20 squad are ready to kick things off come Friday, May 24, when the U.S. play Ukraine at Stadion Miejski in Bielsko-Biała, Poland.

Alongside Ukraine, the U.S. are placed in Group D with Nigeria and Qatar in a three-match group stage where the top two finishers in each group, as well as the four best-ranked third-place teams will advance to the Round of 16. From there, it’s a knockout round bracket to the tournament final.

As for the players’ daily schedule, in addition to team activities and training sessions – which sometimes occur twice in a day – Keita said the players have the rest of the day to themselves to hang out.

“We just get up, get some breakfast. We go to training – somedays we have two trainings, but for the most part we only train once. We usually have meetings then we have the rest of the days to ourselves,” Keita said.

For Keita, his free time consists of mainly hanging with the guys, as well as teaching himself Arabic.

“I am learning how to read Arabic. I spend some of my time doing that. I spend some of my other time just hanging out with the guys.”

Led by veteran international player and head coach Tab Ramos, who Keita described as a “nice dude,” the U.S. U-20 side enters this World Cup cycle with a 13-2-0 international record and as confederation champions after a dominant showing at last fall’s Concacaf U-20 Championship in Bradenton, Fla.

A left-footed centerback, Keita recently delivered the game-tying assist in a 2-2 comeback draw against France, who won the U-20 World Cup in 2013 and most recently reached the Round of 16 in the tournament’s last rendition in 2017.

After two weeks of training, Keita said the feeling of being in the World Cup finally sunk in after getting to visit one of the stadiums they will be playing in, and when asked about the challenge of playing three group-stage matches in six days, Keita assured the group is ready.

“We have a pretty good group of guys. I think we will be able to rotate some guys in and I believe that they will help the team. I believe we will be good to play three games in six days.”

The U.S. kick off Group D play of the 2019 FIFA U-20 World Cup on Friday, May 24 at 2:30 p.m. ET against Ukraine, with the action set to air live on FS1.

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