DAVID SMITH - Sunday, March 28, 2010
With the Dallas Cup just getting underway, USA U-20 midfielder Will Packwood is optimistic about the team's chances in the tournament and eager for his first-ever face-off against rivals Mexico.
The Birmingham City U18 player joined coach Thomas Rongen's roster as the only European-based member, but has had no problems settling in with with his new teammates from the other side of the Atlantic in their relatively short time in training together.
"It's good, I've enjoyed the practices," Packwood evaluates of his time so far in Dallas. "They are not full training sessions since we've got to look forward to the match tomorrow then another match the next day, [but] they have been at a good tempo and I think we're getting ready really well for these matches."
The tournament is seen as a chance early in the cycle for the 2011 U-20 World Cup for Rongen to observe a variety of players in action as he slowly whittles the numbers down to the final squad he will take to Colombia more than a year later.
Packwood does have a few familiar faces around from his recent time with the U-17 national team, however even with a brand new set of teammates to get accustomed to, he is confident of having landed in the midst of a talented crop of players.
"I knew some of these guy from the U-17 [World Cup]," he mentions in regards to fellow invitees Tyler Polak and Jared Watts, adding "This is the first time I'm getting to know some of these guys but they seem like good players and technically sound."
The team jumps directly into the thick of things, kicking off the tournament against arch-rivals Mexico on Sunday evening in what can certainly be expected to draw much local interest.
The match will be Packwood's first time to participate in the spirited international rivalry, and despite only taking place on the U-20 level, he knows to expect an intense affair both on the field and amongst the spectators in the Pizza Hut Park stadium.
"[Mexico] is going to be a very big one," he affirms. "This will be my first USA versus Mexico match. I've played a few rivalry matches here and there, but every one is different and it's going to be a really good experience and an intense game."
Matchups between the North American rivals on US soil are often an effective away game for the Stars and Stripes as in many cases the bulk of the fans in the stands strongly favor El Tri.
"That's something you've just got to deal with," he admits of the potentially partisan environment which could favor their opponents. "Once you step onto the pitch, it all just sort of goes away and it's the intensity between the players that really makes the difference."
Packwood tends to take up a largely defensive midfield role with his club's youth team. Even though this keeps him usually far from opposing keepers, the towering 6'2" 16 year-old has still been able to use his height to contribute to the scoreboard.
"Right before I came over here I went on a little scoring run where I had two goals in two games," he smiles. "Both were headers from set pieces; one was from a corner, then the other from a free kick."
"Goal scoring doesn't come often," he admits, "but it mostly comes with my head when I'm getting in the box and getting my head on crosses and such. As a defensive mid I'm really looking to keep the play moving rather than put it in the back of the net."
Having proven his ability to cause danger on set pieces, Packwood figures to be utilized as a target in dead-ball situations in Dallas, almost certainly causing some problems for opposing teams.
The Boston-born American/English dual citizen was lucky to be released by Birmingham for the tournament, as invitations for all other European-based players were turned down for various reasons.
Even with his primary focus set on the games coming in the next few days, he knows there is much work still to be done with Birmingham before the end of the season. Packwood hopes to continue patiently making steady strides towards the first team, beginning with a chance to work his way up from the clubs U18 team to the full reserves.
"I played in the reserves a couple times at the beginning of the season, but not so many towards the end since more of the first team is getting involved in those matches," he explains. " But I want to get another appearance before the end of the season."
Having first joined the West Midlands club as a 14 year-old is happy to move forward at a natural pace, and strongly believes that his club remains the right situation to move ahead as a player in the early stages of his career.
"[Birmingham] has been excellent so far for me and I've really enjoyed it," he beams. It's been tough, obviously, but good and I think I'm getting better and hopefully getting to where I need to be."
Packwood and the US U-20 national team will take on Mexico on Sunday evening in the first Group D game, and have little time to rest as the Vancouver Whitecaps academy team awaits on Monday, then the final group stage game against Eintracht Frankfurt's youngsters on Wednesday.