BRIAN SCIARETTA - Thursday, December 20, 2012
With the US U-20 national team in camp in Florida preparing for World Cup qualifying in February, Liverpool's Marc Pelosi is excited to get back to international soccer.
The US U-20 team opened camp on Saturday but Pelosi only arrived in Florida on Tuesday due to commitments with Liverpool. After his first practice on Wednesday, the German-born but California-raised Pelosi is happy to be back representing his country again.
"It's always good to come and play in the US," Pelosi told YA. "It feels like home. It's always good to represent your country and it's an honor to be here. It went really well and Tab was really happy with us today."
Pelosi, 18, is likely to be a big part of head coach Tab Ramos' plans with World Cup qualifying in less than two months. The US team was drawn into Group A where they will face Costa Rica and Haiti. The top two teams from that group will advance to the quarterfinals where they will face teams from Group B which consists of Canada, Nicaragua, and Cuba.
In the format of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying, the winners of the quarterfinal games qualify for the World Cup. Essentially with qualifying coming down to one game, there will be a lot of pressure on this US U-20 team to perform well after a series of disappointing results with US youth teams.
In 2011, the US U-20 team breezed through the group stage games but lost their quarterfinal game to hosts Guatemala 2-1 and failed to qualify for the World Cup. Similarly, the 2012 US U-23 team failed to qualify for the Olympics where they did not even get out of group play.
Pelosi, who was unsure if Liverpool would be willing to release him for qualifying, insists that he does not feel added pressure due to the recent setbacks of US youth national teams. Instead he is optimistic for the team's chances.
"I try not to look at the pressure," Pelosi explained. "I just try to come here and do my best for the team. Every team wants to qualify and we're going to do our best. I think we have a good chance at qualifying."
One of Pelosi's biggest assets is his versatility and so far this season at Liverpool he has played central midfield, left midfielder, and left back. While he is happy to play at any position he is clear that his favorite position is in central midfield either in an attacking position or in more withdrawn defensive role.
So far with the US team, Ramos has elected to play Pelosi in the middle of the field.
"My best position is probably in the middle of the field - anywhere in the middle really," Pelosi said. "I've also played out on the wing. It's not my best position but I really like it. I can play left back as well. At Liverpool I've been switching around a lot but have been playing in the middle recently. Here with the U-20s, I've been playing in the middle."
Pelosi signed for Liverpool in 2011 after impressing scouts playing for the US U-17 national team. Following the U-17 World Cup, he joined the English team and played for both the U-18 and reserve team but his season was cut short after a knee injury in February.
His second season has been a busy for Pelosi who has been playing for Liverpool's U-21 team which is currently undefeated with a 9-0-3 record so far on the season. Liverpools U-21 team also plays in the NexGen series which is an annual tournament that consists of the best youth club teams in Europe. In addition, last week he also traveled with the U-19 team to Singapore to play in the NexLions series where Liverpool lost in the finals to Sporting Lisbon 2-0.
Pelosi is confident he is improving as a player and he attributes a lot of his development to Rodolfo Borrell who was his coach on the Liverpool's U-21 team but left that post last month after a promotion to run the club's academy.
"I'm getting better and our coaches are really good there," Pelosi said. "My first season was going well but I got an injury. This one has been going very well."
"Our U-21 team is undefeated and we're in the Next Gen, which is like the mini-champions league for youth teams," he added. "If we win our next game we're into the next round. Singapore was a really good experience. It was my first time in Asia. It was a good tournament. We lost in the finals. I think we did well."
With the U-21 team impressing, questions will certainly arise among the media and fans as to which young players are ready for a promotion to the prestigious club's first team. Pelosi is still one of the younger players on the team but thus far has earned positive reviews for his performances in games.
On occasion he has been able to train with the first team and realizes that the difference between the U-21 team and first team is significant.
"After the summer I got to train with the first team for about a week in the preseason," Pelosi recalled. "In the middle of the season I've trained with them here and there but it's only for a day or two [at a time]. You learn how fast you have to play. It's just a different level to play with them."
Like most young players, Pelosi is unsure when he will get the callup to Liverpool's first team whether in a league or cup match but for now he is happy at the youth level where he is continuing to progress as one of the top American teenage prospects.
"You're always hoping for the best for the first team and you're always hoping you're going to get that chance," Pelosi said. "I'm just going to keep working hard and see what happens."
On Friday, Pelosi and the US U-20 team will host Venezuela in a friendly in Sunrise, Florida.