BRIAN SCIARETTA - Tuesday, August 10, 2010
The US U20 team won the 2010 Milk Cup in impressive fashion after thoroughly dismantling the hosts Northern Ireland 3-0 in the championship game.
With the U20 World Cup next year in Colombia quickly approaching head coach Thomas Rongen is trying to put together the core of his team with qualifying looking to take place next March.
At first glance, this team looks to be very strong and a significant upgrade over the 2009 team.
I have been following and covering this cycle very closely and I figured now would be as good a time as ever to offer my initial predictions as to what the World Cup team will look like next year should the team qualify for the tournament.
A couple of factors went into my predictions. The first is that I am not going to consider a couple of very promising players that are still in their citizenship process.
Andy Najar and Danny Mwanga would be locks to make the team but the odds are that they will not get their citizenship in time.
I am also prepared to close the door on Michael Hoyos for this team. He is playing now with the Argentine U20 national team and is doing well there. I don't see him suiting up for the Stars and Stripes anytime soon, if ever.
With that being said, here we go. Here is the team as I see about a year out from the U20 World Cup.
Pack Your Bags
1) Gale Agbossoumonde, defender, SC Braga: He has emerged as one of the top prospects in the entire US Soccer system. He is a terrific central defender who will be in the mix for the senior team this cycle.
2) Dillon Powers, midfielder, Notre Dame University: While being the only college player on the team in either the midfield or forward positions, Powers has emerged as a leader with the U20 team. His game is somewhat similar to that of Michael Bradley and Powers can help the team on both sides of the ball. It will be interesting to see if he goes pro after the upcoming NCAA season.
3) Zak MacMath, goalkeeper University of Maryland: MacMath has emerged from the Milk Cup as the top keeper in this group. He is yet another player that is in college but who could be a professional in a year.
4) Amobi Okugo, midfielder, Philadelphia Union: Okugo is gradually earning more time with Philadelphia but he has performed well with the U20s when he has been released by his club to play for the team. Okugo is a very talented deep lying midfielder but Rongen has also used him as a central defender and it would not surprise anyone if that is where he played next year.
5) Tristan Bowen, forward, Los Angeles Galaxy: Of the very deep forward pool for this U20 class, Bowen is earning the most first team minutes out of everyone. He has not been able to play much with the U20s this cycle due to his Galaxy commitments but will be a key contributor next year for Rongen.
Nearly a Lock
6) Sebastian Lletget, midfielder, West Ham United: Lletget is one of the most talented players in the U20 pool but he has been sick most of this year with mononucleosis. He should recover but he has lost a lot of time.
7) Alex Molano, midfielder, Dinamo Zagreb: Molano has perhaps helped his cause more than any other player at the Milk Cup. In winning the title, Molano was a very important player for the US on the wing and Rongen will need him on the team moving forward.
8) Juan Agudelo, forward, New York Red Bulls: Agudelo was perhaps the most dangerous attacking player for the US at the Milk Cup and he will be valuable to the team moving forward. He is both strong and good on the ball. Playing time with the Red Bulls is very difficult with the other forwards being, Thierry Henry, Juan Pablo Angel, and Macoumba Kandji.
9) Jack McInerney, forward, Philadelphia Union: McInerney has long been one of the top forward prospects in US Soccer but he has found playing time difficult to come by in his rookie year but is still only 18.
10) Adrian Ruelas, forward, Santos Laguna: The former Mexican youth international Ruelas has recently emerged as a candidate but a strong San Jose camp in June along with a three goal performance at the Milk Cup has put him in a very good position. At 19 years old, he is a bit more polished than the other forwards. It will be interesting to see if he earns first team minutes with Santos in Mexico.
11) Samir Badr, goalkeeper, FC Porto: Badr struggled in a few moments at the Milk Cup against Denmark but he was recently signed by Portuguese giants FC Porto. If he becomes the regular starting keeper for their reserve team, the consistent playing time should help him tremendously.
12) Zarek Valentin, defender, University of Akron: Valentin was always likely to make the U20 World Cup team but his strong play at the Milk Cup has seen him as a likely starter either at central defender or right back. He could become a top draft choice if he leaves college after his sophomore season with Akron this fall.
Fairly Safe Bet
13) Greg Garza, defender, GD Estoril Praia: Garza played well at left back at the Milk Cup but unlike other US teams, there are other players who can play that position. Garza will need to play well in his first season at Estoril to lock up his spot.
14) Alexander Zahavi, midfielder, Maccabi Haifa: Zahavi is one of the more interesting prospects for this team. He has not played much soccer in the United States and has developed in the confines of top academies. He will need to use his one-time FIFA switch to play for the US. Rongen has said Zahavi wants to be a part of the team but will his new Israeli club be prepared to release him before the World Cup? Will Zahavi still want to switch if he never gets to play in any U20 friendlies to see if he likes US Soccer? Those are the key questions.
15) Perry Kitchen, defender, University of Akron: Another defender from Akron that will probably make the World Cup team as the backup central defender. He has been an established youth player that has captained the U17 national team.
16) Kofi Sarkodie, defender, University of Akron: Sarkodie missed the Milk Cup so that he could go on a trial in Denmark. It turned out to be a difficult week for him as he did not earn a contract and the US defense played well in his absence. He is still likely to make the team but his starting job is in question.
In A Battle
17) Omar Salgado, forward, MLS: Salgado has emerged as a US fan favorite with his departure of Chivas de Guadalajara to play for the US U20 team. His play at the Milk Cup has shown him to be talented but also a little raw. He will need to find a place to play consistently until the MLS draft in January or else a seven month layoff could hurt his chances. His 6'4" frame to go along with good technical skill will help the US team. Still just 16 years old, he may be one for the 2013 U20 World Cup but he seems to have a high ceiling.
18) Ethan White, defender, University of Maryland: A very good Milk Cup has also probably put him in Rongen's plans moving forward. He looked dangerous moving forward and his distribution was solid.
19) Fuad Ibrahim, midfielder, Toronto FC: The 18 year old was drafted in 2007 and brings with him experience to the team. He proved to be dangerous at the Milk Cup and is a valuable option on the wings.
Work to Do
20) Cody Cropper, goalkeeper, Ipswich: Cropper is on an extended trial with Ipswich hoping to earn a contract. He played well in the Holland camp with the US U20s in May and he should be in position to be the third keeper for the U20 team. Since he is very young, that should put him in position to be the number one keeper entering the 2013 cycle.
21) Victor Garza: midfielder, Tigres: Garza was not with the U20 team at the Milk Cup but he recently excelled at youth tournament in Germany and was one of the best players in the tournament. He needs to continue to do well but if he does, he could make the World Cup team.
Other players in the mix:
Conor Shanosky, Francisco Navas Cobo, Joseph Gyau, Luis Gil, Ernest Nungaray, Bobby Wood, Bryan De La Fuente, Parker Walsh, William Packwood, Moises Orozco
Conor Shanosky has played very well in his two camps but he narrowly misses the cut because there is depth at his position as defensive or holding midfielders.
Will Packwood and Luis Gil are popular and talented young players but they are lining up to being players for the next U20 cycle where they are both eligible.