BRIAN SCIARETTA - Tuesday, July 6, 2010
As the US U20 team progresses towards the 2011 World Cup, head coach Thomas Rongen appears as if he will add a very promising young player to his pool in Sporting Lisbon's Alexander Zahavi.
Zahavi, 19, was born in Los Angeles but was raised in Europe. He carries a Portuguese, Israeli and American passport and is widely considered one of the best prospects within Sporting Lisbon having even represented Portugal in various Portuguese national team levels.
Rongen has previously spoken with Zahavi many times in hopes of getting the young player to take part in US U20 camps.
While various reasons such as club conflicts and injuries have kept him from participating with the US thus far, Rongen is very confident that Zahavi will be a part of the team moving forward.
"I feel very confident speaking to him and in speaking with his roommate and teammate Greg Garza, that he's totally committed to play for us," Rongen told YA from San Jose. "The reasons why he hasn't been part of two camps is that Sporting didn't release him. He was actually injured the past two weeks. Even if Sporting had let him go, he wouldn't have been able to go."
The next opportunity for Zahavi to play with the US will be towards the end of July when the US U20s will participate in the prestigious Milk Cup tournament in Northern Ireland.
Rongen said that Zahavi is most likely going to go out on loan for the upcoming season to either an English team or another Portuguese team.
It should be known soon what team Zahavi will play for and once it is known, Rongen will seek a release.
"That should happen fairly quickly," he continued. "Based on that, we have to deal with Sporting's new club to see if they would release those guys in that period of time. Preseason is sometimes an important time for young players to make a first impression. I've sometimes said to players to stay where you're at, try to make the first team and become a starter because long-term, that's more important for me as well."
Another major issue regarding Zahavi's involvement with the US is the requirement for him to file a switch of federations with FIFA.
In recent years he has played in official events with Portuguese youth national teams and made his international UEFA debut on October 21, 2007 when he played for Portugal in a 2-0 win over Estonia for a UEFA U17 qualifying tournament.
By playing in that game, he must make a one-time only switch with FIFA if he wants to to play for the US in an official event.
Rongen plans to introduce Zahavi into the program as soon as possible. Zahavi can still participate with the US in friendlies and non-FIFA/CONCACAF events prior to making the switch but he will need to file prior to U20 World Cup qualifying next spring if he wants to participate in that or the 2011 U20 World Cup.
Once he does make that switch, he will be permanently cap-tied to the US.
"That is not necessary yet," Rongen said of Zahavi filing his one-time FIFA only switch to the US. "Obviously when we get to qualifying, he has to do that. There is a little urgency to get him into the fold, so to speak - to get him with us, to talk to him. And then for him obviously to approach, or for us to approach, FIFA and make that switch that he wants to make."
Zahavi, who is the great nephew of famed super-agent Pini Zahavi, is likely to be a major part of the US team moving forward.
He, along with West Ham midfielder Sebastian Lletget and Braga's centerback Gale Agbossoumonde are three key players that Rongen has not been able to use much this cycle.
The Holland-born coach hopes that will change soon allowing him to assemble a core group of players moving forward towards next year's World Cup qualifying.
"Those are the three guys we haven't had in," Rongen discussed. "Zahavi not once, for [Lletget] the last time was in December, and for [Agbossoumonde] the last time was in December as well. So it's important when you start talking about building and having your core group as often as possible. This is a perfect opportunity for us to bring in what we perceive to be our top 18 players and try to bring in as regularly as we can."
Rongen is optimistic that with these three players regularly on the team starting with the Milk Cup, the overall quality of the team will improve.
"That trip [to the Milk Cup] will definitely include Alexander Zahavi," Rongen concluded. "Probably Sebastian Lletget at West Ham, who we haven't seen since December more due to an illness than anything else. Gale [Agbossoumonde] will be part of that group as well. Those are three players we haven't really seen but will help our quality on the field obviously."
Zahavi could make his US debut at the Milk Cup when the US will take on China on July 26th, Denmark on July 28th, followed by knockout stages.