REWARD WORTH THE RISK?
US Under 20 coach Thomas Rongen recently revealed a list of 22 players he planned to reduce to 20 for the CONCACAF Qualifying Tournament to the 2007 World Youth Championships.
The well known players, including Freddy Adu, Josmer Altidore and Danny Szetela, were all included. However, there was one glaring omission: FC Dallas midfielder Dax McCarty.
The former North Carolina Tar Heel was the breakthrough player on the team in 2006. His four-goal, four-assist campaign led the U-20's in scoring. He even wore the captain's arm band on occasion in 2006.
However, that was not enough for Rongen to have him on the qualifying roster. "Dax was not injured, but rather it was the decision by the coaching staff that he would not be with the team for qualifying," USSF spokesman Neil Buethe told YA.
The decision to not use McCarty for the upcoming U-20 tournament to qualify for the World Championships is surprising, to say the least. He has suffered from a nagging groin injury for several months, but even if the FC Dallas midfielder was suffering from an injury, it didn't show too much in a recent endurance test.
He finished second in the beep test (an exercise in which a player runs between two cones placed 25 yards apart at steadily increasing speed intervals; when a player misses two consecutive intervals, his test is complete) which was taken at the team's last camp in mid-December.
McCarty's best attribute is steady play. While he may not have the flair that other options in the midfield are capable of providing, McCarty puts in consistent, level-headed performances which should not go unnoticed.
He also adds another option on set pieces, and even provided quality service as recently as the team's last friendly in December against Canada. McCarty's 25-yard free kick from the left side of the field forced a fantastic from the Canadian goalkeeper, who had to reach to the far upper corner to get a hand to it.
As Rongen chose not to include his top scorer, as well as one of his most influential players, let's take a look at what other options exist in the midfield.
Perhaps the squad's best player, Heerenveen midfielder Michael Bradley, is having a difficult time obtaining clearance from his club to participate in the qualifying tournament, which begins on January 17th.
With Bradley possibly out of the picture, the only other central midfielders with professional experience are Real Salt Lake star Adu and Columbus Crew man Danny Szetela. After those two players, the potential pool in the center of the field is extremely thin in terms of experience.
In a tournament to qualify for the World Youth Championship, it is important for a team to have players who can handle what qualifying entails: pressure games in hostile environments.
Sure, qualifying in Panama is not the same as the Senior National Team venturing to Azteca for a game against Mexico - or for that matter, Costa Rica, Jamaica, or Trinidad and Tobago - but the United States is still a team highly regarded in the region and one that other nations eagerly anticipate defeating.
Therefore, Rongen must believe that someone else in his squad is can fill the void McCarty leaves. In recent camps, Rongen has given Tampa area teenager Bryan Arguez and University of Virginia midfielder Jonathan Villanueva ample opportunities.
The former DC United coach has given praise to the young men, but both still have limited experience at the U-20 level. Rongen's connections in the Tampa area and with youth club Dallas Texans are evident in both these cases It is plausible that Rongen feels he could have this cycle's version of Hamburg midfielder Benny Feilhaber among these two.
Each WYC cycle seems to have a player that is a classic diamond in the rough, and maybe Arguez fits that mold. Villanueva, diamond or not, is not so much in the rough; a trial with Ajax rejects that notion.
Is it worth the risk to find the diamond in the rough (or not so rough) at the expense of one of the team's most consistent performers? By the time the qualifying tournament ends on January 21st, we will have our answer.