By J.R. Eskilson
Head coach Thomas Rongen called in thirty-six players for a seven day camp in Chula Vista, California this week to begin the process of sorting through players to find his core group. After four days of two-a-day practices, three teams (two West Coast Academy Select teams and a local U-19 team) were brought into the camp to provide opposition. At the end of the day, the score was U.S. U-20s 18-1 visitors. With the score being so lopsided, it is hard to get an accurate read on the capabilities of these players. Their opponents gave them too much time and space on the ball so it is difficult to know if these players can handle teams that put them under the sort pressure they will face in qualifiers. However, there were still a few players who caught my eye (regardless of the opposition).
Earl Edwards is the familiar name and the standout of the group. He has the size and athletic ability to take his game to another level. His main weakness is using his feet; back-passes and clearances can be scary. Justin Luthy was the reserve 'keeper this weekend. He is more of a project than Edwards. His decisions on when to come off his line were fairly poor. There are some things he needs to become more accustomed to while playing in the program. Spencer Richey, the University of Washington-bound 'keeper, has better mechanics than Luthy but lacks some of the athleticism. He is going to be a good college 'keeper, but the jury is out on his future at higher levels.
The stalwart of the defense is Gale Agbossoumonde. He is a very physical center-back who started for the U-20s in the 2009 World Championships. There are a few other names in the back-line that will be in contention for qualifiers, but one player that really did well this weekend was the University of Maryland’s Ethan White. Paired with Agbossoumonde in the first game of the day, White displayed a quiet calmness that was reassuring to a back four playing together for the first time. If Rongen can shape him into a better distributor of the ball and stronger in the tackle, he could be an excellent defender for this team.
Kofi Sarkodie was slotted into center-back for the third game. Sarkodie is considered among the best outside backs in this class. He did not have any glaring errors in this game, but his future is outside back, so this game was an anomaly rather than foreshadowing. Ironically, his college teammate, Zarek Valentin, played out of position at outside back. Those two will likely be reversed on the depth chart on Monday.
Amobi Okugo, star of the show, is a very physically gifted center midfielder. He is more of a box-to-box type player than most of the other mids called into this camp. A certain MLS scout at the event was gushing about his abilities. He made few mistakes, and even when he did lose possession of the ball, he quickly won it back for his side. Vocal in the midfield and strong in the tackle, he could be the captain of this team in 2011, and he should be part of this year's MLS draft class.
The other midfielder that stood out was Sebastian Lletget. The West Ham Academy young man showed off his skills with a beautiful twenty yard volley that found the corner of the net for one of his three goals. He is good with the ball on his feet; at times you want to see him distribute the ball quicker, but he does make the right decisions. He played attacking midfield for the first half of the game but was put on the outside in the second half. When he was on the wing, he looked lost and did not get enough touches.
Jack McInerney is the most polished and gifted pure forward in the group. Even playing with a broken hand, he was still too difficult for any defender to handle. He had three goals on Sunday and a few goals in practice earlier in the week. For a player of his size, he uses his body very well to shield from defenders.
Red Bull Academy youngster Juan Aguduelo impressed during the camp too. He has good speed and is silky-smooth with the ball. If he were able to lift his head more while dribbling, his passing abilities would be much better. It is hard to imagine him stepping into the RBNY lineup tomorrow, but he could be a really good weapon in a year or two with the right coaching.
Speaking of academy players, Tristan Bowen had some very good moments in the game. He hits an excellent cross and beats his defender with ease. There are still a few big questions about his game, and it is hard to believe his moves could get around MLS defenders, but what he showed was promising for a youngster.
J.R. Eskilson covers youth and college soccer for Goal.com
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