The United States will enter the Under-20 World Cup in Egypt as underdogs, and head coach Thomas Rongen is well aware of this. He picked out Brazil and Germany as the favorites when speaking exclusively to Goal.com about the competition.
“Historically the countries that do well in these under 20 World Cups, normally you’d put Brazil and Argentina on top,” he said. “But Argentina isn’t here, they didn’t qualify, so I would think next to Brazil there’s always another South American country that will emerge and do well. I think this tournament, outside of Brazil and Germany, is pretty open quite frankly and there is a lot of quality.”
Despite not being one of the big names, Rongen thinks his squad is capable of taking advantage of the open field. The 2009 edition of the USA team lacks the big names of the 2003 (Eddie Johnson, Bobby Convey, Clint Dempsey) or the 2007 (Jozy Altidore, Freddy Adu) sides, but he thinks it's more of a compact unit.
“This 2009 team doesn't have as many similarities, but I think it can be as successful, or more so, because of its collectiveness,” Rongen asserted. “We have to be organized, we have to be disciplined and if we do that, we can win against any team in the world.”
Instead of big names in attack, Rongen will be relying on a disciplined defense to get his team through games.
“We don't create a lot and we don't finish a lot, but we are difficult to beat. If this team can overcome the slight lack of individual brilliance, and emphasize that they are a harder-working team, we'll get the results we want.”
One of the keys to the defense will be goalkeeper Brian Perk. The UCLA netminder brings the experience of having played at the U-20 level before.
“That's invaluable. That's why the loss of Anthony Wallace was a pity for him and the team because those were two guys who set the tone with their previous experience,” Rongen said, referring to an injury that ruled Wallace out of the final roster. “Brian in particular has become a very good leader for this team.”
While Perk offers experience, one new face includes defender Aaron Maund. The youngster represented Trinidad and Tobago at the U-17 level, but recently filed the paperwork to switch his allegiance to the United States.
“Aaron Maund is with our team now,” Rongen said. “He initiated the change. He's happy here. In some cases, we'll get some players who have expressed some interest in joining the U.S. national senior team, be it [Edgar] Castillo or [Jermaine Jones]. That's the way it goes. Look at Arturo Alvarez. It all will depend on whether the players fit in with respective national teams. If not, they'll seek a chance to play somewhere else. Players have some options.”
Rongen and his U.S. team kick off their U-20 World Cup against Germany on Saturday. Then, in further Group C action, the USA will play Cameroon on Tuesday and South Korea on Friday.
Zac Lee Rigg, Goal.com
For a full preview of the U-20 World Cup, check out a sneak peak at Goal.com Magazine.