BRIAN SCIARETTA - Monday, August 16, 2010
As the US U20s prepare to move forward following a successful Milk Cup championship run, one the players who has emerged as a key contributor to the team is Toronto FC winger Fuad Ibrahim.
Due to club commitments with Toronto, Ibrahim had been unable to participate regularly with the U-20 team this year.
The Milk Cup, however, gave him an opportunity to play in a competitive tournament with head coach Thomas Rongen's team. Ibrahim played in all three games and played an integral role in the team's success.
"It was great," Ibrahim told YA. "It was my first tournament with this group and I was very happy we came through and won the whole thing. I was very happy about it."
Ibrahim felt as if he played well in the tournament overall despite battling a minor injury and but still feels as if he didn't play his best in the final when the Americans easily defeated hosts Northern Ireland 3-0.
"I thought I played well but I wasn't happy about my last game," he elaborated. "I was struggling with my ankle and all that. I didn't really play that well in the final but in the first two games I thought I played well."
Ibrahim, who turned 19 over the weekend, played his best game at the Milk Cup in the second game when he came on as a substitute and broke a 1-1 deadlock with a terrific goal in the 74th minute.
Later with the score again even at 2-2 in the 89th minute, Ibrahim was able to poke the ball to Adrian Ruelas who scored the gamewinner to send the Americans through to the finals.
"I came off the bench and right away I scored a goal and got an assist," Ibrahim recalled. "When I came in I was trying to change the game and I did that."
Ibrahim, who was born in Ethiopia but moved to the US as a young child, has long been a part of US youth national team soccer.
He was a member of the 2007 U17 World Cup team and saw time with the U20 team last cycle but did not take part in the World Cup.
From what he has seen, he is impressed with the talent of this current group of players in the U-20 team.
"I think the team has a lot of potential," Ibrahim assessed. "We still had a couple of top players that didn't come with us on the trip because of club conflicts and all that but I think when those players come together and train with us as a team, I think the team is going to be very good."
"If we come together as a team and train for awhile, I think we can be a lot stronger," he continued. "I think we have a lot of potential to do something good in the tournament. Qualifying is right around the corner. When that is over we are going to have a lot of camps."
Ibrahim is confident that this current team will surpass the disappointing campaign by the last U20 group in 2009 that failed to advance out of group play in the World Cup.
"I believe that this team is going to be stronger than the U20 team last year," Ibrahim stated. "This group has great chemistry and everybody on and off the field are friends. Everybody just enjoys it. I think we are going to do something better than last year."
In 2010 Ibrahim has emerged as a regular for Toronto FC usually as an offensive substitute for the team.
Rongen has repeatedly stated that it is crucial for the young players to be in an environment where they get first team playing time and Ibrahim agrees.
"Playing with your club team is the most important thing," Ibrahim emphasized. "Thomas said it shouldn't be a problem so long as I am getting minutes in first team games and getting involvement in the games. Getting experience is what [Rongen] always wants."
Ibrahim this year is continuing to see increases in his playing time and as the MLS season enters its second half, he wants to continue to improve and force head coach Preki's hand into giving him more playing time.
"I am trying to put myself in a good position that will force the coach to give me more playing time," Ibrahim discussed. "As a player, I just need to work harder everyday and do something better. I am trying to play well, trying to score. Down the line it is always good for me and good for the team. I am growing as a professional."
Ibrahim is also one of the most experienced professionals in the US U20 player pool. At just 15 years old, he was drafted by FC Dallas in the 2007 MLS SuperDraft. However, it wasn't until midseason 2008 where he would make his professional debut.
While the road towards regular playing time has been lengthy, Ibrahim is still very happy with his decision to begin his career in MLS at such a young age
"I am very happy with it," Ibrahim said of MLS as a starting point. "I am here right now and I am close to my family. I can focus and enjoy playing the game. I am very happy I get to start my career here."
Ibrahim's priorities right now are with Toronto where his is trying to help the club qualify for the playoffs for the first time and also progress in the CONCACAF Champions League.
Despite that, Ibrahim does have long term ambitions to eventually move his career overseas and into the elite leagues in Europe.
"Obviously most players want to go to Europe and play," Ibrahim said of his future. "When the time is right, yes I do want to go play in Europe. I would like to go to Europe and somewhere where I can develop more as a [soccer player]. Right now I need to focus on Toronto and work hard and get better. If I do that, everything will come."
Ibrahim and Toronto FC's next game is home against Mexican power Cruz Azul on Tuesday night at BMO field. It will be their first game of group play in the CONCACAF Champions League.