21 TICKETS TO CANADA
The United States qualified for the 2007 FIFA Under-20 World Cup by going 2-0-1 to win their CONCACAF group in January, and now its only a matter of time before Thomas Rongen must name his summer squad.
We have added an additional passenger in the newest edition as FIFA makes yet another rule change.
According to the FIFA Rulebook, "The final team list of the 21 players (three of whom shall be goalkeepers) selected to participate in the final competition shall be submitted to the FIFA general secretariat, using the official form, at least 10 working days before the opening match of the final competition. The players on the final team list must be chosen from the players on the provisional list."
With an additional spot now up for grabs, we see several tickets changing hands. Five new players join the list of those Canada-bound, including third goalkeeper choice Nicholas Skverer.
Four players have had their boarding passes confiscated, including FC Dallas midfielder Dax McCarty, who was a near lock just three months ago.
We now have 11 bags packed and ready to go - however, there are still about a half dozen spots still wide open. When Major League Soccer's season begins in April, some players will have an opportunity to distance themselves from the competition for better or for worse.
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Pack Your Bags, Boys
- M, Real Salt Lake - The captain will have his first opportunity to lead the attack of a professional club this season. This will give Adu professional experience in a similar role to which he will play for the Rongen's squad this summer in Canada. This can only help Team USA.
- F, New York Red Bulls - The 17-year old forward has had a quiet winter. An injury on his thumb kept him sidelined for nearly two months, forcing him to play a bit role at U-20 CONCACAF Qualifying in January. However, he is still the top forward in the pool and should start for this team in Canada.
- M, Heerenveen (the Netherlands) - Due to club commitments, Bradley was unable to join his U-20 teammates for the qualifying tournament. The Heerenveen midfielder is one of the most important players on this team, but since he has not played much with this group of players, it's hard to know how much better this team is with Bradley on the field. If I were a betting man, I'd wager Bradley's inclusion will raise the level of this team up a notch.
- D/M, Los Angeles Galaxy - The versatile right-sided player is very good at moving up into the attack, but still has some learning to do on defense. With that said, he has improved his positioning over the past few months, forcing main competition Tony Beltran to try his luck as a defensive midfielder.
- M/F, Unattached - The former Maryland Terrapin has just been released from his contract with Dutch club Heerenveen and is headed back to the United States to play in Major League Soccer. Rogers may be the most gifted wing player in the US U-20 pool and the ability to get first team minutes may make this a positive move for him.
- GK, Real Salt Lake - The rookie goalkeeper is having a offseason playing with the U-20's and U-23's. Seitz will have a chance to compete for the starting goalkeeper job in Salt Lake. However, he won't have to compete for the U-20 job because, barring injury, he will be between the pipes in Canada.
- F, Carlisle United (England) - The Connecticut born forward recently was loaned out by Bolton. It is a good move for Smith, who had only played in two first team games this season. The competition is tough for the available forward spots, but Smith's biggest strength (raw speed) gives Rongen a unique element to make opposing defenders' lives miserable for 90 minutes.
- D, Los Angeles Galaxy - Perhaps the most underrated player in the U-20 pool, the Galaxy defender is the most important player for the United States. Sturgis is the cream of the team's central defender crop - and after him, there is a significant drop off. An injury to Sturgis would be devastating to the Americans' chances of success at the tournament.
- M, Columbus Crew - The gifted midfielder is finally healthy and playing the best soccer of his career. There is no doubt that he will be in Canada, but the question remains as to whether he will be a starter.
- D, Wake Forest University - Only a couple months ago, Valentin was on the bubble of even making this team. Now, he has proven to be a capable defensive partner to Sturgis. Valentin is not a guaranteed to start, but he is the only collegiate player that is a lock for this team.
- D, Columbus Crew - Besides Sturgis, Ward is the most experienced back on the roster. He is a capable defender, but his strength lies in the attacking game. He can cross the ball well, which with the likes of Altidore at the other end, is an important attribute to have on this team.
- D/M, FC Dallas - Now a professional, Wallace provides versatility in the defensive half of the field. Primarily, he will serve as a backup to Michael Bradley, but can also provide help as an outside defender. He's still raw, but half a season training with an MLS club could help accelerate his development.
- F, Hamburg SV (Germany) - The Hamburg product now has had an opportunity to play for HSV II, and is putting in some decent performances. With an already stacked crop of attacking players, it be difficult for Zimmerman to crack the starting lineup in Canada. His best role may be as a late option off the bench. If injury occurs to Altidore or Smith, however, Zimmerman could find himself to be next in line for a starting spot.
PRETTY SAFE BET
- GK, UCLA - With the rule change to allow three goalkeepers on each roster, Perk can breather easier as he is likely to make this team as a backup to Seitz. Only a college freshman, he is known for quick reflexes and his shot blocking ability. He has proven he is a more than capable backup.
IN A BATTLE
- D, Indiana University - The Hoosier defender has been a part of this team for the past several months. With the lack of other options, Sarkodie appears to be the top choice to be the first central defender off the bench.
- M/F, UCLA - The Bruin attacker has become a hot name in the youth ranks this winter. An average appearance for the U-20's in qualifying was followed by a stellar performance for the U-23 National Team. He has shown that he can play at a faster, more competitive level. Zizzo will challenge hard for one of the starting wing spots.
- F, Harvard University - The Crimson forward could come out of nowhere to nab a spot on this team. I think questions marks remain on if he is ready to play against elite competition. Not being in a pro environment could prove to be his Achilles heel, with the likes of Sampdoria forward Gabriel Ferrari doing the nipping.
- M, DC United - The Floridian was recently drafted by one of MLS' top clubs. His ability to train with an experienced midfield alongside national team players Brian Carroll and Ben Olsen and Argentine playmaker Christian Gomez is a great fit for an 18 year old. He will like serve as depth behind Szetela.
- D, Southampton (England) - The big central defender has made the right step by heading to England to join Southampton (work permit and registration pending). Davies had impressed Rongen before an injury kept him out of the qualifying tournament. With other central defensive options such as Mainz's Neven Subotic falling out favor Rongen, Davies appears to be the best of the rest lot.
- GK, NEC Nijmegen (the Netherlands) - Rongen has not used many goalkeepers in the last few months besides Perk and Seitz. However, he has said some positive things about the former Dutch Under-17 player. Skverer is training in a professional academy setting which makes him more reliable than one of the up-and-coming goalkeepers who could be taken on the trip for a learning experience.
- M, University of Virginia - The former Ajax trialist opted to stay in college, which should help him grow and mature as a future professional player. Villanueva is a talented playmaker who has wowed many in the US soccer community with his creative ability. The jury is still out as the whether he is a viable backup for Adu.
- D/M, New England Revolution - Igwe will provide a lot of cover on this team. He can play on defense or in the midfield, and even has some experience playing on the wing. With a defense lacking depth, Rongen will need to peruse all options in that part of the field.
- F, Sampdoria (Italy) - Ferrari has come out of nowhere to gain the attention of Rongen. The U-20 coach has said that he wants to take a look at the Samp youngster this spring. It seems that during each U-20 cycle a player comes out of nowhere to be a difference maker. At this point, Ferrari is as good a bet as anybody to be that guy.
- M, FC Dallas - The Dallas midfielder appears to have fallen out of favor with Rongen. After leading the U-20's in scoring in 2006, Rongen opted to move in a different direction and not bring McCarty to Panama for CONCACAF qualifying. Recently, Rongen has mentioned that he will consider taking another look at McCarty, but until that time comes, he appears to be on the outside looking in.
- M, UCLA - Beltran made the trip to Panama due to the absence of Bradley. With Bradley ready to go this summer, there is no spot for this Bruin on the roster.
OTHER BUBBLE BATTLERS
Nik Besagno, Miguel Gonzalez, Mike Grella, Jeremy Hall, Rodrigo Hidalgo, Zac MacMath, Stephen McCarthy, Steven Sandbo, Neven Subotic, Blake Wagner