BRIAN SCIARETTA - Thursday, October 28, 2010
United States Under-20 national team forward Adrian Ruelas says he is looking to set himself apart from the talented group while in full training with Scottish giant Celtic FC.
Ruelas, 19, joined the Glasgow based club last month when he was sent there by his club in Mexico, Santos Laguna, as part of an exchange agreement between the two clubs.
Under the terms of the deal with Celtic, he will train there until January when Santos Laguna and Celtic will have to determine his future.
Now a few weeks into his training with Celtic, Ruelas says he is enjoying the transition to European soccer.
"I've been here a month already," Ruelas told YA from Glasgow. "Day by day I get used to it more and more. I am still excited because this is a dream that I am living right now. Every day I enjoy it. The staff is great. Everybody treats me well. They look after me and make me feel welcome."
It has been a fairly quick transition for Ruelas with the 42 time Scottish champions. While he never played for the first team with Santos Laguna in a league game, he has been training almost exclusively with Celtic's first team and even played a game with the first team in a friendly.
"I haven't practiced with the reserves," Ruelas said of the details of his training at Celtic. "I have practiced with the first team almost every day. I played in two games with the reserves and a friendly in Dublin with the first team. In Dublin, I think I did well and afterward, the coach came up to me and told me I did well. He seemed happy. At the moment, I was kind of nervous but when I went on, I think I did pretty good. I took a long shot that was really close."
Ruelas has found that since playing in Scotland, the transition to playing in Europe from North America has been significant with the increased level of intensity and speed of play.
"In North America, it's a lot different than in Europe," Ruelas discussed. "I always watched [European soccer] on television, but now that I am playing it and practicing it, I realize the differences. There is a lot more ball movement and it is faster here. It is really intense. Games or practice, whatever they do, they do it at the maximum rate. The mentality is focused and it's set to be intense. It's fast with and without the ball."
In terms of adjusting to the increased level of play, Ruelas has been determined to make the adjustment and so far he feels that things have been going well and he is now knows what to expect.
"Every day I go out, and since I am the youngest guy in the squad, I have to be aggressive and go out hard," Ruelas said of his current mindset. "If I get hit or something, I can't just go down and ask for assistance. I have to get back up. It is really hard. It's a lot different. I am kind of used to that style of play now. But every day is different and you hope you go out and do your best and impress the coach. I look forward to it each day."
In addition to the overall increased level of play in both practice and games, Ruelas has also been impressed with the quality of coaching.
He is under the guidance of 39 year old head coach Neil Lennon for whom he trains on a near daily basis.
"I am actually impressed," Ruelas said of Lennon. "He's managed to take a team that [prior to this weekend] hasn't lost a league game since March. He's a really good coach and really, really young. He has a lot of systems and he changes them depending on how the other team plays. He may play with two up front or just one. He has a lot of different styles which is good. The players are capable of learning different positions."
Ruelas is also expected to play an increased role in the US U20 national team moving forward in the cycle.
Recently the status of his loyalty to the US program came into question after reports out of Mexico stated that he may be interested in playing for El Tri.
Ruelas is a native of Fontana, California and is the son of Mexican-born parents. He spent time with Mexican youth national teams but switched to the US in June when he accepted a call up from US U20 head coach Thomas Rongen this past June for a camp in San Jose.
Since then he has been a regular with the US team where he has emerged as one of the team's top forwards.
Ruelas is quick to downplay the rumors of a switch back to the Mexican national team and notes he is very happy with the US program and treatment he has received under Rongen and the US staff.
"I don't know how but that's how it is," Ruelas said of the recent reports. "They just made all this controversy when I left and people put in words that I didn't even say in interviews. What I have said to anybody who asks me that I feel really comfortable with the US. Mexico hasn't tried to approach me. Some coaches have told me that Mexico may look for me but they haven't."
"I am not expecting them to call me," he continued. "All this has been going on but I have felt really comfortable with the US. They treat me really well and my head is just on making the team for Colombia. I think I've done well and [Coach Rongen] likes me. I am really looking forward to the upcoming camps."
While Ruelas said that he is not expecting to hear from Mexico, he also said that he would not change even if they did contact him.
"You'd have to think about it but yes, I would say that I will stick with US," Ruelas added. "The last three camps have been really positive. I've really liked it and I would have to say I will stay with the US."
Ruelas first tournament with the US U20 national team was in July at the prestigious Milk Cup tournament in Northern Ireland.
In that tournament, the US won the title and Ruelas scored a team-high three goals including a last minute winner against Denmark which was his second goal of that game.
"It was really good. The game against Denmark, I haven't had one of those games in quite awhile. It was a really dirty game. It was 2-2 in the 87th minute but none of us knew that we would have been out of the tournament with a tie. When I scored at the end, I didn't know the pressure. After the game when they told me the goal took us to the final, I was really excited. It felt really good to be an important piece of the team."
Even though the US didn't have all of their best players, the success at the Milk Cup shows that making next year's World Cup team will be difficult and Ruelas feels the competition for a spot on the roster will be a positive.
"It was a really good squad. It was a different one than the one [in Peru] where it wasn't as positive. In the Milk Cup it was a good group even though there were some players that were supposed to come that couldn't because their clubs couldn't allow them. I think that the more competitive the group is and the more players there are and the harder it becomes for the coach to make decisions it just going to be better. It's good to add the competition because you can't relax."
As for his short term future with the US U20 national team, Ruelas does not know for certain if he will be at the upcoming tournament in Atlanta scheduled for late November.
Rongen indicated that he wants to continue to give time to more players in the large pool of this U20 class and Ruelas is now based in Europe in addition to also having played in the previous three camps.
Ruelas, however, has been invited to the following camp tentatively scheduled for December and is looking forward to rejoining the team.
"The last thing in Peru that coach [Rongen] had told me was that he was going to try to look at some of the other players he hadn't looked at," Ruelas concluded. "He said he wasn't sure yet [about Atlanta]. He said that in December he was going to have another camp and, for sure, I was going to go to that one. But in November, I don't know if I am going to go or not."