The U.S. U20 squad looks to qualify for their eighth straight World Cup next week in Guatemala. Led by head coach Thomas Rongen, the Americans are the heavy favorites to win their group and advance to the all-important quarterfinal.
"As we always do, we'll take it one game at a time,” Rongen said to reporters after training at Texas Christian University this week. Even though the coach is trying not to look ahead, the fact of a do-or-die game in the quarterfinal still has some weight on his mind.
"In essence, it comes down to one game," Rongen said about the qualifying for the World Cup. The U20 CONCACAF qualifying tournament is set up so the top two teams from each group advance to the quarterfinals. The winner of that game secures one of the four spots in the 2011 U20 World Cup.
The two opponents paired with the Americans in Group B are Suriname and Panama. Suriname was the final team to qualify for the event as they won the final round of qualifying. Panama was one of the non-automatic qualifiers for the event, gaining a berth in November.
Suriname v. United States, March 29 – 8:00 PM ET on ESPN Deportes and ESPN3.com
Panama v. Suriname, March 31 – 8:00 PM ET on ESPN Deportes and ESPN3.com
United States v. Panama, April 2 – 6:00 PM ET on ESPN Deportes and ESPN3.com
Info: This is Suriname's first appearance in the final round of qualifying for the U20 World Cup since 1990. The tiny South American country qualified for this round by winning the second round qualifying group against Bermuda, Netherlands Antilles, and Guyana.
Style of play: Suriname, using the most flattering wording possible, tend to keep the game wide open. During the run of seven games to qualify for this round, they have yet to shut out one team. Trinidad and Tobago only managed four goals in two games against the David of this group, but that had more to do with wasteful finishing than any defensive effort exerted. Unless Suriname significantly alter their tactics, the U.S. (and Panama) forwards should be wishfully looking forward to this clash.
Key player: Stefano Rijssel, forward
Suriname’s leading scorer was on a tear in the CONCACAF qualifying phase. He notched a goal in three straight games and tallied seven goals in five contests. The 18-year-old striker who turns 19 on March 26 plays for the Surinamese club S.V. Leo Victor. Another player to look for in the attack is young 16-year-old Dimitrie Apai, who came off the bench to score a goal against the Soca Warriors.
Coach: Harold Deyl
Info: Panama earned their spot in the final round of qualifying by defeating both Costa Rica and Nicaragua by 1-0 scorelines back in November. The Panamanians last qualified for the U20 World Cup in 2007 when they exited the tournament in group play. They come into this event as the heavy favorites to finish second in the group behind the Americans.
Style of play: For Panama, the question is whether their defense can stand up against the dynamic American attack. The last time the two sides met in 2007, Rongen and his boys walked away with a 5-0 victory, so there will be some amount of pride on the line during this game even though both teams likely will have already advanced by the time the two favorites of the group meet.
Key player: Cecilo Waterman
The 19-year-old striker scored both goals that gained Panama a spot in the final qualifying stage. He plays his club ball with Fenix of Uruguay, currently second in the Torneo Clausura standings. Waterman has not made an appearance with his club during this tournament, but has spent a significant part of the season with the youth national team preparing for this tournament.
Coach: Alfredo Poyatos
Info: Rongen has assembled a 20-man roster down in Texas this week in preparations for the event. The main issue for the Americans is over-confidence as they have seemingly dominated the youth game in CONCACAF for years.
Style of play: The Americans will fall back on their coach's beloved 4-3-3 system. Given the number of talented attacking players on the roster, it will be an outright blitz for goals. The question for this U.S. squad is how will the defense hold up. The team has struggled to find a consistent quartet of defenders during this cycle.
Key player: Gale Agbossoumonde
The U.S. need a leader from their back line, and it may be up to one of the few returners from the 2009 U20 World Cup on the roster to step up and guide this team through qualifying. The physical dominance of Agbossoumonde should stifle most offenses in Guatemala, as long as he stays out of the referee's book.
Coach: Thomas Rongen
Prediction: Americans are the cream of the group, and, barring any colossal slip-up, they should win the group with ease. Panama will finish second.
J.R. Eskilson is the Youth Soccer Editor at Goal.com. You can follow him on Twitter @NCAAsoccer.
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