The US Under-20 Men's National Team returns to camp in a few short days to prepare for January's World Youth Championship CONCACAF Qualifying Tournament.
In what looks to be the United States' most talented team at this level to date, there are still plenty of spots up for grabs.
In our second edition, Mainz defender Neven Subotic takes the biggest tumble and no longer has a ticket stamped for Canada. Crew wingback Tim Ward, meanwhile, moves up to become the seventh lock on the 20-player roster.
The goalkeeping race is wide open as there a handful of quality netminders and only two spots available. Up top, however, there is little doubt as to who coach Thomas Rongen will pair together.
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PACK YOUR BAGS, BOYS
- M, Salt Lake (USA) - There is no bigger lock for the Under-20 National Team than Adu. The 17-year old playmaker has been chosen by Rongen to be the leader of this team. The blockbuster trade to Real Salt Lake will help Adu as he will gain valuable experience leading their attack.
- F, New York (USA) - At his age, perhaps the most gifted forward prospect the United States has ever produced. The New Jersey-born Red Bull's goal in the playoffs against DC United showed his ability to score in clutch situations.
- M, SC Heerenveen (Holland) - The former MetroStar may currently be the best player on the squad. Skilled and composed on the ball, Bradley will likely play a deep midfield role with U-20's, breaking up opposing attacks as well as pushing the ball forward to Adu.
- M/F, SC Heerenveen (Holland - The highly touted prospect has performed well with the U-20 squad. In particular, he was one of the top for the Americans in the Milk Cup this past summer. The difficulty for Rongen in fully integrating Rogers into the starting lineup for qualifying is that it is unlikely he will see the Heerenveen product until just a few days before the first game.
- F, Bolton Wanderers (England) - It has been an important year for the Connecticut-born forward. Smith got his first whiff of Premiership action, coming on as a late substitute in the club's match against Manchester United. Rongen has suggested that his ideal pairing up front is Altidore and Smith. Like Rogers, Smith will not be back with the squad until January, so finding chemistry fast is key.
- D, Los Angeles Galaxy (USA) - The top defender in the U-20 pool, Sturgis has adjusted well to MLS. The Clemson product is the most experienced central defender in the pool and will be looked on to provide leadership for a very young backline. His ability to play either as a defender or as a defensive midfielder gives Rongen some additional options.
- D, Columbus Crew (USA) - The two-year MLS player is a great attacking option out of the back up either side. His 24 MLS games is the most of any defender in the U-20 pool. Injuries have kept Ward from receiving consistent playing time with his club, but a healthy 2007 could be enough for the Crew defender to find a spot in Rongen's starting 11.
NEARLY A LOCK
- D/M, Los Angeles Galaxy (USA) - A player who started as a forward moved to midfield, and now back to defense. Kirk has proven to be a dangerous player for both the Galaxy and the U-20's on the right side of the field. The question now is where can Rongen use him more effectively: in the midfield or the defense? If I had to take a guess, look for Kirk to play a Tony Sanneh (circa 2002) role at Canada 2007.
- M, FC Dallas (USA) - The former Tar Heel is the most underrated player in the U-20 player pool. Although McCarty has not played much in the talented Dallas midfield, he has been the most consistent performer for the U-20 squad over the last six months. I wouldn't be surprised to see McCarty starting in the qualifiers in January.
- GK, University of Maryland (USA) - One of the most talented goalkeepers at his age the United States has ever produced. In a position that skews older, Seitz is well composed for a player his age. He does not have any noticeable technical flaws. His lack of professional experience appears to be the only question. With seven months until Canada, the goalkeeping spot is Seitz's to lose.
- M, Columbus Crew (USA) - An injury plagued career has significantly limited the development of one of MLS' young prospects. Szetela is a hard defender with quality passing ability and a lock for this team. However, his health is a constant question mark.
- F, Hamburg SV (Germany) - The young forward will finally have the opportunity to play in competitive matches for HSV II in January, which will serve as an indicator of how much he has developed. In a forward pool that is strong at the top, but lacks proven depth, Zimmerman is the guy most likely to compete with Altidore and Smith for a starting spot.
IN A BATTLE
- D, Indiana University (USA) - The former Under -7 National Team captain had a strong season with the Hoosiers. His command of the backline makes him a potential leader on defense. If he is not looked at as a starter by Rongen, he would serve as a reliable backup to Sturgis.
- D, FC Dallas (USA) - A defender with nice touch, Wagner is capable of playing several positions on the backline. The knock on Wagner is that he lacks the composure and seasoning of the defenders who played collegiate soccer.
- M, West Kendall Optimists (USA) - Rongen has specifically mentioned that he has liked what he has seen from Arguez. His lack of collegiate or professional experience is tough to grasp, considering the quality of other midfielders like Adu, Bradley, and McCarty in the midfield. Arguez may be that under-the-radar guy who turns out to be a pleasant surprise.
- D, UCLA (USA) - Beltran was a constant presence for the Bruins on their quest to the NCAA Championship game. He also played well for the U-20's at the Milk Cup. Beltran is not likely to receive a starting role, but provides solid depth at the outside back position.
- GK, UCLA (USA) - In what may be the most contested spot on the U-20 team, the backup goalkeeper spot is a crapshoot. There are half a dozen different players worthy of this spot. From what I have seen and the way Rongen has used Perk over the past year, the UCLA goalie has the inside edge for this spot.
- D, Wake Forest University (USA) - The Demon Deacon defender has vast youth national team experience and is a product of the Bradenton Academy. In the fall, he contained Ajax trialist Charlie Davies well in a contest against Boston College. Valentin has provided veteran leadership at Wake Forest, leading them to a Final Four. He could potentially start for U-20's, and I think he is a player that would excel playing at a higher level.
- M, University of Virginia (USA) - The X-factor in the U-20 pool. This is a player who dominated at the youth level and was arguably the best player in his age class heading into the collegiate season. He has the vision and skill to be a playmaker, but right now there is something lacking in his game. By July, I am hopeful he will find it.
- F, UCLA (USA) - Rongen has described the UCLA attacker as one of the hottest players in college soccer. Even though he had a disappointing NCAA Championship game, he appears to be the next in line at UCLA to break out at a World Youth Championship (see Chad Barrett, Benny Feilhaber and Marvell Wynne in 2005).
- F, UCLA (USA) - Led the Bruins with 12 goals and 4 assists in only 1,400 minutes as a freshman. Rongen has mentioned he wants to take a look at him, but surprisingly did not call him into the current camp. There is no question he is a great college player, but can he be effective at the international level?
- F, Duke University (USA) - Another guy who has excelled at prior youth levels. Grella is one of the most skilled forward in the U-20 pool. He has great touch on the ball and is capable of delivering sublime passes. His finishing can be lethal as evidenced by his 25-yard bomb to win the 2006 ACC Tournament.
- GK, NEC Nijmegen (the Netherlands) - The backup goalkeeper for the Under-17 Netherlands squad at the last World Championship, Skverer was brought in by Rongen to challenge for the goalkeeping spot. The jury is still out on the NEC man until he plays more games at this level.
- D, University of South Florida (USA) - The former U-17 defender continues to receive looks at the U-20 level. His confidence is improving after scoring a goal in the last U-20 match against Guatemala. One of the younger players in the pool (he turns 18 in January), Wallace is very much in the mix for one of the 20 available spots.
- M/F, New York (USA) - One of the most talented players at the U-17 level, Arvizu did not have a successful rookie season with the Red Bulls, appearing in exactly zero first team games. Arvizu's size has come into question and the size disadvantage may be too much to overcome at this level.
- M, Salt Lake (USA) - A former MLS SuperDraft top selection, Besagno was not called into the December U-20 camp, which shows that Rongen has no plans to use him in the January qualifying tournament. There is still time for him to make the final squad for July.
- D, Sparta Prague (Czech Republic) - Hort is a capable defender playing in the reserve squad of Sparta Prague. Rongen brought in Hort in the fall, but it appears the New York-born defender did not overly impress. It appears that Hort is not in the first choice plans for the squad, but likely an alternate for the squad in case of injury.
- D, Mainz 05 (Germany) - Subotic has not progressed at Mainz as much as Rongen would have liked. There is still time for Subotic to make this team, but it is quickly ticking away.
OTHER BUBBLE BATTLERS
Andre Akpan, Eric Avila, Kris Banghart, Alejandro Bedoya, Matt Besler, Corben Bone, Kyle Davies, Miguel Gonzalez, Omar Gonzalez, Jeremy Hall, Rodrigo Hildalgo, Amaechi Igwe, Rodrigo Lopez, Zac MacMath, Stephen McCarthy, Kyle Nakazawa, Brad Ring, Steven Sandbo