In late May, the U.S. U-18 national team took part in the Lisbon International tournament along side fellow youth national teams Portugal, Netherlands, and Finland. The Americans finished in third place with two draws and a loss against the host nation.
On Sunday, Goal.com caught up with forward Villyan Bijev, one of the regulars of that team, and asked how the camp and the tournament went for the Americans.
“[The camp] was good. I feel like we could’ve got better results [though],” Bijev said. “I think what is really good about this team is our defense.”
The defense only conceded two goals in three games of round robin play against stiff opposition. Bijev went on to highlight the play of teammate Juan Pablo Ocegueda as one of the standouts from the tournament. The Riverside, California native is currently part of the Tigres youth academy system.
“I have to give a lot of credit to Juan Ocegueda at left back,” the striker said. “I thought he had a really good camp for us overall.”
Bijev also spoke glowingly about the play of Luis Gil, who left the team to rejoin his club team, Real Salt Lake, after the first game. Bijev called the play of the midfielder “sensational” in Gil’s lone appearance at the tournament, a 1-1 draw against the Netherlands.
As for Bijev’s tournament, he believed he played well. The youth national team used a 4-5-1 for the tournament so the opportunities were limited for the strikers on the roster. He played significant minutes in the third game against Finland, but was unable to find the back of the net.
Moving forward, the 18-year-old said that head coach Mike Matkovich gave no indication about the roster for the Milk Cup tournament this summer. The U.S. U-18 squad is the defending champion of the event and is scheduled to play Israel and Mexico in group play at this summer’s showcase.
The acclaimed youth event in Northern Ireland will serve as one of the final camps for this U-18 core group before some members transition into the U-20 team and begin the cycle for the next U-20 World Cup in 2013.
Bijev is not the only member of Cal Odyssey who has recently rejoined the team. Louisville University-committed center back Isaiah Trejo was also in the starting lineup on Sunday.
As Goal.com reported in April, the 18-year-old enjoyed a brief training stint with English club Burnley earlier this year that he called a ‘great’ experience. Lately, he has been dealing with a minor injury to his knee, which has kept him off the roster.
On Sunday, the cumbersome brace did not appear to slow the defender down as he commanded the defense en route to a 3-0 shutout victory – much thanks to a few tremendous saves by keeper Matt Dishno when the game was still within reach for Real So Cal.
Trejo’s game would best be defined as unique. He is relatively thin for a prototypical American defender at 5’11, 150 pounds, but he more than makes up for that with his composure on the ball. He cited his previous experiences in Europe with the SuperElite tour for opening his eyes to that game.
He said that he attempts to emulate FC Barcelona defender Gerard Pique’s style of play but recognized it is difficult for anyone in the world to live up to that comparison.
“To see Isaiah [Trejo] get to where he is now, it is well-deserving,” Trejo’s club coach J.J. Wozniak told Goal.com on Sunday. “He worked extremely hard and he has an ultimate goal that is to play professionally. I think he is going to be rewarded in the very near future for all of the work he has done.”
Trejo was called up to a U.S. U-18 camp in 2009, but has not received a look since then. Trejo, Bijev, and the rest of the Odyssey finish their regular season this weekend against the Seattle Sounders and Crossfire Premier with hopes of securing a third straight trip to the Development Academy playoffs.
J.R. Eskilson is the Youth Soccer Editor at Goal.com. If you have a comment or an idea for a story, you can email him at jr.eskilson [@]gmail.com. Or follow him on Twitter @NCAAsoccer
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