BOWEN LEADING THE WAY FOR U-20S
Perhaps no face was more warmly welcomed back to the US Under-20 squad by head coach Thomas Rongen during last week's camp in Atlanta than LA Galaxy forward Tristan Bowen.
Bowen, 19, emerged this season in MLS with the Galaxy and became a regular player with the squad when Landon Donovan and Edson Buddle left for the World Cup. Even when the two returned from South Africa, Bowen was still a consistent contributor for the team.
Now after a productive season in MLS, Bowen is happy to be back playing international soccer with the U-20s.
"It's definitely exciting," Bowen told YA from Atlanta. "It's a breath of fresh air to be back. You go through the season and you're with the same guys year round. I enjoyed my time with LA but to represent your national team and come back seeing some of the guys you haven't seen all year. It's exciting to see some old faces but as far as it goes on the field, I think our team is moving forward.
Bowen's club commitments at the Galaxy have kept him away from the US U-20 team since December when he appeared in the team's first camp of the 2011 cycle. Since that camp, Bowen feels as if he has made great strides.
"I'd say that back in December I was a little bit more raw," Bowen evaluated. "I didn't have that much MLS experience. A lot of the young kids have the idea that in order to show your talent, you have to dribble the ball, take on five players, and maybe take a shot. Through those [veterans on the Galaxy], I learned how to keep the game simple and pick the right moments to show my individual talents. I've matured a lot and that's the main thing I've noticed."
Bowen's sudden progression into the rotation in Los Angeles did not come as a surprise to him largely because the veteran presence on the club made the adjustment easy. He admits he did not always play well this year but the learning process was very valuable as he moves forward in his young career.
"To be honest, I wasn't that surprised," Bowen said of the number of minutes he earned. "This past preseason, I had a lot of playing time. I think being in LA has a lot of benefits. The guys made it very easy for me to come into the game. There's a lot of information and I was able to take it in. I made strides each game. With that being said, I didn't perform all of the time but it was definitely a learning experience moving forward."
With regards to the well known veterans on the Galaxy team including Donovan, Beckham, Buddle, Berhalter, Lewis, and until recently Clint Mathis, Bowen has felt it has become the ideal place for a young play like himself, Michael Stephens, and Omar Gonzalez to develop.
"This year, when you start getting more playing time, those guys make an effort to educate the young players," Bowen said of the learning environment. "In certain situations where you mess up, those guys will try to get on you and teach you the proper way to do things. I think that one of the great things about LA is that we have a good mixture of older players and young players."
"It's definitely a rare thing," he added. "When a kid can come into a situation where they can be surrounded by players with a wealth of experience whom are willing to teach younger players and share some of their knowledge, it is fortunate."
Bowen this year worked on his versatility as he saw minutes as both a forward and on the right wing. He feels that for both the Galaxy and the US U-20 team, he can contribute in different areas of the game and he doesn't want to be limited to any one particular position at this stage in his young career.
"Cobi [Jones] was teaching me how to play the wing and Cobi is one of the greatest players in US soccer history," Bowen discussed. "At this stage in my development, I think it's important that I play a lot of different positions – mainly outside mid and up front. The way Thomas Rongen likes to play is very attack-minded. So I think it's just interchangeable. I definitely wouldn't like to pin myself in one position at this point."
Next year, however, will be very important for Bowen as he will try to follow up his good first full season with an improved sophomore season. With that, Bowen has clear goals he has set for himself and how he would like to contribute.
"I feel that the overall game can be improved," Bowen said of himself. "I am still young and I am still a little bit raw so everything can improve moving forward. I would like to try to nail down the starting position. It's about competitions, it's about pushing guys. I have the youth on my side so hopefully I'll be able to push the older guys and become a better teammate. Moving forward my goal is simply to be the best player that I can be."
Now back into the fold with the US U-20 national team, Bowen is excited to be on a team that he is confident can be successful and he feels it's the professional nature of this cycle's players that is setting it apart from previous youth teams.
"The difference between this cycle and last cycle is obviously the amount of players that are playing professionally now," Bowen compared. "Whether they're getting a lot of playing time with their first team or not, it's not that big of a deal. But it's just the fact that they are in a professional environment where they're learning from good coaches. This team has a lot of potential. There is still a lot of gelling to do as a team but that comes from being together. I think we have a good chance of being successful this cycle."
One of the primary goals of any youth national team is to prepare the players for a potential spot on the senior national team and this US U-20 national team seems to have impressed US national team coach Bob Bradley who selected Gale Agbossoumonde and Juan Agudelo to play and earn their first caps in their most recent friendly against South Africa.
Bowen watched the game as Agudelo scored the game winner in the 85th minute in his debut and is happy for his teammate's success. He is also motivated to know that Bradley is watching and waits for his chance to show that he can contribute at that level
"It gives you that motivation to show that if you do the work and you show well in games, the senior staff is looking to bring kids through," Bowen said watching Agudelo in South Africa. "It's definitely something you think about when you are on the field. It pushes you. I am excited for those guys. I wish them the best. Hopefully I get my chance one time to show the coaches what I can do and develop into a player that can potentially contribute to the senior team."
As for his long term goals, Bowen is happy to be with the Galaxy but years down the road, he does admit to having goals of taking his game overseas into the top leagues of Europe which he grew up watching.
"You always wish to be in those leagues at the highest level," the Van Nuys native discussed of his future. "Right now I am with LA. I am happy there and I am developing each year. I'd love to go abroad. That's my dream ultimately. That also depends on your skill level. I'd like to go abroad but at the same time the [MLS] is developing and there is a lot of talent in the league now - whatever happens, happens."
As for the talent level in MLS, Bowen has seen it increase significantly in recent times and a big part of that has to do with the emphasis on youth development from US Soccer and the league in general.
Bowen himself represents the more modern way of developing a player as he was one of the first players to go through professional routes in the US from an early age.
Bowen is a product of the Galaxy's academy and he spent time with the club's team in the reserve league. He also played in the USL Premier Development League, followed by the Galaxy Rios who he would help lead to titles at the U-17 and U-20 levels.
While Bowen was the first to go through this route, he looks at the generation even younger than himself and notices significant improvement that will only be enhanced with the growing soccer infrastructure.
"There's a lot more talent these days," Bowen said with a smile. "Players are more technical and moving forward it can only get better. US Soccer is making huge steps with implementing the development league and the MLS teams have academies now. We're starting to figure it out as far as youth development. We still have a ways to go but it's definitely a step moving forward. I think it can only get better from here."
For Bowen, he said that he, along with other young players, now have the resources to succeed in MLS and anywhere. It's now up to them as to how far they want to go.
"You're surrounded by great coaches and players," Bowen concluded. "So it's just a matter of how bad do you want it and how hard are you willing to work."