BRIAN SCIARETTA - Wednesday, April 6, 2011
Everything will be on the line tonight when the US U-20 national team takes on hosts Guatemala with the winner advancing to the CONCACAF U-20 semifinals and, more importantly, the U-20 World Cup this summer.
Despite what most consider to have been a successful U-20 cycle that has developed top talent, everything will be at stake for the US team and a failure to win would bring an abrupt end to their World Cup dream.
US head coach Thomas Rongen will enter into tonight with a strong team that will play in their usual 4-3-3 formation.
Philadelphia Union's Zak MacMath will start in goal for the American team. In front of him in central defense will be Djurgarden's Gale Agbossoumonde and DC United's Perry Kitchen who is also the team's captain.
At the fullback positions, Zarek Valentin will be on the right and Gregory Garza will be on the left. In the first two games of this tournament, Graza has played his best soccer of the whole cycle.
In the midfield, Amobi Okugo will return to the starting lineup in the holding midfield position after missing the Panama game with a yellow card. He will be joined by West Ham's Sebastian Letget and UCLA's Kelyn Rowe who has been one of the best players in the tournament for the US team so far.
Up top, the US will start Derby County's Conor Doyle in central forward. Doyle has been strong for the US in the first two games in his ability to maintain possession.
On the wings, the German-based duo of Hoffenheim's Joe Gyau and 1860 Munich's Bobby Wood will all likely start for the Americans as the two have been two of the best American U-20 players this cycle.
The US has been a strong team in Guatemala but is still without a few of the team's top players due to the fact clubs are not required to release players for this event. For this tournament, Molde's Josh Gatt and Santos' Adrian Ruelas were reportedly not released by their clubs.
Perhaps the team's best player in Juan Agudelo is not here because he has been with the US senior national team and likely won't be with the U-20 team for the World Cup as the Gold Cup will take priority.
Guatemala will enter into this game on the heels of a 3-1 loss to Honduras in the final game of group play. A large crowd is expected for tonight as Guatemala will be playing at home in Guatemala City.