BRIAN SCIARETTA - Monday, August 9, 2010
The US U-20 national team's recent championship run at the 2010 Milk Cup saw several players put on impressive individual performances especially midfielder Alex Molano who starred for coach Thomas Rongen.
Of these players, Molano was perhaps the player who most improved his standing over the prestigious tournament in Northern Ireland and has emerged as a key player for the team as it builds towards the U-20 World Cup next summer.
The Dinamo Zagreb U19 player was continuously an offensive thread for the American team on the wings and was able to frequently create scoring chances.
"I really liked winning [the Milk Cup]," Molano told YA from Croatia. "It was really big for me because it was first tournament to win with the national team. It was really fun for me to play and to be a big part of it. I liked playing with those guys. Everyone was good with each other. No one had any problems."
Molano first began with the U20 team in May when the team held a camp in Holland and also played in the Cor Groenwegen tournament.
Molano feels that the core group for this team is coming together and that the team has been significantly improved through the addition of some players and improved chemistry.
"This team was much better than the other team that was in Holland," Molano assessed. "This team played more together and it was really fun playing with this team. Everyone was happy."
The US posted three wins at the Milk Cup and the most impressive of which was a gritty and hard fought 3-2 win over Denmark. In that game the Americans needed to win to advance to the finals and they broke a 2-2 deadlock with a goal in the 88th minute.
Molano feels that the heart showed in that game was special and that it impressed Rongen.
"[Coach Rongen] told us that you can't teach that," Molano said of the team's character. "Especially after the Denmark game with our heart and how we came back - how we came together as a team and showed our heart by coming back in those games. Every time they scored we came back with another goal. It was fun."
Molano was impressed with the talent of his American teammates and the one player that stood out to him was SC Braga central defender Gale Agbossoumonde who was the team's captain and is regarded as one of the top prospects in the US system.
"I never played with Gale [Agbossoumonde] before. I've played against him but he's really good to play with. He's one of the best stoppers I have ever played with."
Molano has also noticed a change in the team's style of play since the May camp in Holland. The Milk Cup team was more comfortable with the ball and was able to play a more possession-oriented style.
"We play more with the ball instead of playing long-ball," Molano described of the team's emerging style. "Especially in the final we played much better soccer. We held the ball a lot created a lot of chances by playing good soccer."
Following the tournament, Rongen did give personal feedback to Molano and a bunch of the other players. While just coming off the offseason, fitness was an issue for him but Rongen also feels that Molano needs to become stronger as he still is just 5'8" to match his smaller frame.
"[Coach Rongen] just said I need to get stronger and more fit. I wasn't really fit for that tournament. I will get stronger when I become a professional in a few months."
Following the Milk Cup, Molano has returned to Croatia to prepare for his upcoming season with Dinamo Zagreb. This season will be a transformative year for Grapevine, Texas native. He is scheduled to play the first half of the season with the U19 team.
In January, he will have to make a decision as to how to begin his professional career but his highest priority is to earn a first team contract with Dinamo who are the defending champions of the Prva HNL, the top Croatian league.
"I will be playing with the U19s for just a half season until January," Molano concluded. "We'll see what happens then. I am pretty sure I will go pro but I don't know what team yet. It will either be on loan or straight to Dinamo. My goal is to go straight to Dinamo but that depends on how I play."