With the CONCACAF U20 World Cup qualifying tournament in Trinidad and Tobago rapidly approaching, U.S. coach Thomas Rongen answered some questions from Goal.com's Andrea Canales. The U.S. team opens the tournament on March 6 with a game against Jamaica.
Andrea Canales: Was it tough to make the final decisions for this qualifying roster,
and how much were the choices affected by clubs restricting player
Thomas Rongen: It's always a hard exercise, because this group is
fairly deep, in terms of quality. Some teams aren't very happy letting
go of professional players. We also had some players who weren't able
to come because of academic reasons. Education can still be a little
bit of a stumbling block for us even at this level, unfortunately, but
understandably. Some of our best players need to make choices between
education and representing their country. Some guys can do both. Some
clubs put pressure on their players to stay and others just won't allow
them to go. We've had some examples in the past, like Michael Bradley.
That continues with this group now. We've had a productive camp and had
to make some hard choices. Some were purely soccer-related. In this
environment and team, we're up against some external factors, but we
still feel like we have some very capable players and can be very
Jorge Flores is listed in your roster as a
defender, though he usually plays as a midfielder for his club team, Chivas USA.
Was the change your idea and how has the adjustment worked?
is a guy who, for us and for Chivas, has played as a left fullback and
as a left midfielder. We feel that with Anthony Wallace and Brek Shea,
we have three outstanding players on the left side who can play
multiple positions. We still are looking at tweaking things to find the
best chemistry on the left side. Clearly, Jorge is a guy can play both
areas and who has had success for both club and country as a defender
and midfielder. All three guys in those positions are very comfortable
going forward. With this team, we try to find good versatile players
who are comfortable with the ball. As a dominant team in CONCACAF, we
want players who can defend, but also who give us something going
forward in an overlapping situation and who are good passers. In
qualifying, where you can bring only 17 field players, you need to have
3 or 4 guys who can play multiple positions, if something happens with
injuries or a card situation. Jorge is one of those guys who can play
The U20 defending champions, Argentina, failed to
advance from their qualifying competition. Does this make you and the
team more wary as you prepare?
We always are - sometimes when we
talk to players, the words sound a little hollow, but then these things
happen. Internally, these things are being discussed because most of
the guys do follow the international football scene. They realized, 'It
if could happen to Argentina, it could happen to anyone.' We feel that
we've built up a good mentality with this group, that they understand
that one or two poor games could put us in a position where we don't
qualify. Anytime we can find real examples, it hits home. The former
champions don't make it - then they learn that you can't just show up,
on all levels or regions, to be successful. That was a good message for
our players. That's not where we want to be and we've got to make sure
that doesn't happen.
In the last U20 cycle, some players, like
Andre Akpan, were relative unknowns who then made an impact in
qualifying. Are there any players in this group who you anticipate
could "break out" in this tournament?
Potentially. We've looked
at a lot of players this cycle, more than at any other time that I've
been involved. We've searched for the right chemistry and this is a big
country, plus we've searched overseas to see if there are players there
who can do the job for us. There are a lot who could really contribute
to this team, be it a Tony Taylor, from the University of Jacksonville,
Dilly Duka, from Rutgers, who aren't necessarily houshold names who
could play significant roles for us in qualifying. Brian Owmby or Sam
Garza - some of these guys have never represented this country on any
We feel there are still players out there, in this big country
who somehow go unnoticed for whatever reason. We need to continue to
push the envelope and not be content to just say that everyone on the
U17 team is going to play for the U20 team. There might be better
players out there. All over the world, that happens. Sometimes you find
some players late, similar to Ricardo Clark and Clint Dempsey. I still
think there are players out there, especially in this age group, where
development happens so differently - sometimes it happens very rapidly,
depending on the environemt where they're at. Sometimes it doesn't
happen as quickly as you would like.
It's an ongoing dynamic in soccer.
I'm glad we find players who weren't necessarily chosen at a young age.
It's good to find some fresh blood.
We do have players with
previous experience in the last youth World Cup, such as Brian Perk,
who played against Urugauy. Anthony Wallace played for us in quite a
few games. We have some players with U17 experience, such as Jared
Jeffries, Josh Lambo and Sheanon Williams. We also have some younger
guys who can gain experience, help us out here and become the backbone
of the next team, like Gale Agbossoumonde and Amobi Okugo.
* In Aaron Maund, you have a player with international U17 experience,
but with Trinidad and Tobago's squad. How hopeful are you that a FIFA
ruling will clear Maund to play with the U.S. U20 team in this
We're pushing a little against the deadline. We feel confident that it
will be approved. Our problem is that we need to get it approved 48
hours before our first game. We feel very hopeful that it will happen.
In our opinion, it's just a formality that the FIFA judge needs to rule
on. We hope it will happen in the next day.
Looking ahead, assuming the team qualifies, how many changes do you
anticipate making to the roster that will be at the World Cup?
The level of play from our region to the World Cup is vastly different.
In our region, it is harder and harder to qualify, especially on the
road, and there are good teams out there. But at the World Cup, it's
another level. And between this tournament and the World Cup, we have
about six months to formulate a team that can help us to win on the big
international scene. We're hopeful that some of our international
players can still play a role. We also know that some players who have
just signed with MLS, Peri Marosevic, Brek Shea might be getting time
with their teams and be set to help us if they are. Other players who
are on MLS teams we felt right now weren't ready to help us in
qualifying, like Alex Nimo or Ibbe Ibrahim at Toronto. The World Cup is
in the fall, and we can take another look at European players and see
if they can find a way to get some first team ball played. Invariably,
after and if we qualify, there's always changes. Michael Bradley wasn't
a part of our last qualifying, but he was at the Wolrd Cup. Since the
U20 is an official event of FIFA, it's hard for teams to stand in the
players' ways. We feel we will have good options when we get to Egypt,
both domestic and international.
* FIFA has now approved Aaron Maund’s request for a change of association and
he is now eligible to represent the United States in international
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