DE LA FUENTE EMERGING WITH U-20S
With less than a year to go until the 2011 U20 World Cup, one of the players who is beginning to emerge for the US team is left back Bryan de la Fuente who also recently signed his first professional contract with Chivas USA.
De la Fuente, 18, first made his debut for the US U20 team back in March when he played in the Dallas Cup.
Since then, he has become a regular with the team and during the next year, he will hope to claim the starting left-back position, a spot that has long been the Achilles heel of all US teams.
After seeing the team come together this year, de la Fuente is optimistic about the squad's future.
"I think Thomas [Rongen] is coming up with a strong strategy to build up a solid team," de la Fuente told YA. "I think that the team could get to do something great in the World Cup, if the team really works knowing and believing that we could be a leader."
De la Fuente was part of the US team that played at the Cuadrangular Internacional Tournament in Peru in which the team struggled playing in difficult conditions at 8,000 feet above sea level without many top players.
He was also part of the team that played in the prestigious Milk Cup tournament in Northern Ireland. In that tournament, the US had most of its top players available for the first time this cycle and it cruised to the title.
De la Fuente played in all three games in the championship run.
"It felt really great," he recalled. "There are no words to describe that feeling unless you experience it. We all knew it was going to be a hard work to do, because of all the other national teams participating. We were all on the same page, we wanted the triumph, and were committed to do everything right."
One of the key reasons why de la Fuente is confident in the team's ability to be successful is the philosophy of head coach Rongen who has an attacking style that very much plays to the strengths of this class of U20 players.
"I enjoy playing for [Rongen]," the Bell, California native said frankly. "Since the first time, Thomas likes to play strong, fast, [while] touching the ball always trying to go forward and obtain results."
This past year has not only been a breakthrough year internationally for de la Fuente, but it has also been an important year for his club.
He began the year in the academy for MLS club Chivas USA but shortly after returning from the Milk Cup, de la Fuente was then offered a contract by the club who signed him under the home-grown players rule.
For the young defender, signing his first pro contract was a dream come true.
"I was not expecting that," de la Fuente said on learning of the contract offer. "I have always worked looking for it. And more than anything else, I feel a tremendous personal satisfaction, because ever since I started playing soccer as a kid, it was one of my dreams and goals."
De la Fuente developed as youth player in Mexico where he lived since moving there from the US when he was a young child.
He played in the Chivas de Guadalajara system starting in 2005 but for the past three seasons has played for Chivas USA.
De la Fuente is happy with the progress he has made and the coaching he has received at both academies.
"My soccer school started with Chivas Guadalajara, but I continued developing my skills here at Chivas USA," de la Fuente opined. "I can say both places are great for development, as long as you do your homework"
During the course of his development within the academies of Chivas USA and Chivas de Guadalajara, de la Fuente has undergone a positional change form forward to left back.
He is happy with both this change of position and the fact that the coaches at the academies trained him to be a versatile player.
"I am actually a forward ever since I started playing," de la Fuente pointed out. "But in playing with the academy, I had the chance to develop my skills all around the field - as a forward, a midfielder, and a defender. And thanks to that, I play now as a left defender and midfielder for both US U20 national team and Chivas USA."
As far as the future is concerned, de la Fuente has set a series of clear goals for himself now that he has passed the first major career hurdle in signing his first professional contract.
"Emerge with the first team, that's the first one," de la Fuente concluded. "Second, earn [a position] in the starting eleven. In a five year time line, I see myself as a successful professional soccer player, completing most of my goals and making space for new ones."