U.S. U-20s continue prep with tour of Caribbean
The U.S U-20s won their fixtures against Joe Public and a Trinidad & Tobago U-20 representative XI with relative ease on a recent tour of the Caribbean (Jan. 18-24). The trip was was designed as preparation for the upcoming U-20 CONCACAF Championship (March 6-15).
Yet beyond the idyllic Caribbean backdrop and performances, U.S. U-20 coach Thomas Rongen is yet to be convinced of his side's composition offensively.
By his own admission the current U-20s lack inspiration and accordingly emphasis was placed on what competitive advantage could be gained for the team.
Winning is often in the detail and Rongen has left nothing to chance. Appreciably keyed up with less then six weeks until the U.S face Jamaica in its opening game, he explained:
"The main objective was to play the games and understand the conditions. We stayed in the same hotels and practiced on the same fields that we will have during the tournament.
"We now know the lay of the land, and from a logistical point of view we are very well prepared now."
Rongen felt part of his side's success at the U-20 World Cup in Canada in 2007 was due to extensive preparation, and he has taken this approach further in attempting to qualify for Egypt 2009.
As a result, the U.S. even undertook scientific analysis of the conditions, down to assessing the type of grass.
"The grass is a combination of Bermuda and Irish grass," said Rongen. "It's a better playing surface than I anticipated, we'll have no surprises especially in the things like stud lengths and conditions."
The extent of Rongen's research reflects his experience -- this will be his third World Cup cycle -- and recognition that unlike previous campaigns, he cannot rely on inspirational talents like Bobby Convey or Freddy Adu. This team's success will be built on teamwork and preparation.
FC Dallas midfielder Brek Shea returned to the U-20 squad after a lengthy lay-off with knee ligament damage, and clearly benefited from the experience.
"It's humid and it felt like we were walking into a sauna. It was very hot all day, but the games are in the evening which helps," said Shea. "It took a few days to find our legs…the team will be stronger for gaining experience before the championships in March"
On a personal level Shea will have enjoyed the tour after scoring with his second touch in the U-20's first game against Joe Public. The U.S ran out 2-1 winners after debutant Tony Taylor from Jacksonville University opened the scoring.
"Joe Public was full of big individuals," Shea explained. "They were fast, strong and liked to take you on 1-1 in the last third ... they were deadly, but we coped well.
The U.S played a Trinidad and Tobago U-20 representative side in its second game, and produced a convincing 3-0 victory.
Significantly the fixture emphasized the tactical direction the U.S. is heading in to make the most of its talent.
"Our back line is big and fast," said Shea. "Despite having a lot of new guys we followed the coach's instructions to get the ball into the box, two of the goals came from crosses."
Of the new boys, Tony Taylor's two goals in two games impressed Rongen. The squad had a strong physical presence to it, forwards Casey Townsend, Tony Taylor and Will Bruin are 5-foot-11, 6-foot and 6-foot-1 respectively.
Against the T&T U-20s, Bruin stated his case for playing time by opening the scoring after a Tony Cascio cross. Tony Taylor then added a second, before Peri Marosevic headed home an Anthony Wallace cross.
Rongen is yet to be convinced as to who will partner Marosevic, but defensively, the U.S. team will be tough to break down going into the Concacaf Championship. In the U-20s last six fixtures the team has only conceded three goals. Kyle Davies played his way back into form, having overcome some injury concerns, and Richard Balchan's ability to go forward and versatility count strongly in his favor.
Goalkeeper Sean Johnson looked convincing but faces stiff competition from Josh Lambo, Brian Perk and Zac MacMath for the two places on the final roster.
Offensively the side has not dove-tailed as Rongen would like. Playmaker Felix Garcia has proved central to Rongen plans thus far, and has been given the all clear to train after recent injury. At 6-foot-1, Garcia, along with the likes of Shea and Ike Opara make the team very dangerous from set pieces.
Rutgers' Dilly Duka can also expect to be recalled to Rongen's Florida camps next month. The midfielder showed some imaginative touches especially in setting up Taylor's second goal of the tour.
Some remedial work to the offense will be required in the forthcoming Bradenton camps, but Rongen is confident of putting the final pieces of the puzzle together.
"We are looking for a good post-up player to work off a small striker," said Rongen. "I think we still have to work on the chemistry offensively, the exceptional players are not there but we are deep in quality."
Andrew Rogers is a freelance contributor to ESPNsoccernet. He can be reached at email@example.com.