On The Field - by Thomas Rongen
As an added service, each week U.S. Soccer will be producing an "On the Field" article on ussoccer.com from one of National Team coaches or players. Less than a week after returning from Spain where the U.S. Under-20 Men's National Team finished in second place at the C.O.T.I.F XIX Torneig Internacional, U.S. Under-20 head coach Thomas Rongen analyzes his team's play and what that means as they approach the their CONCACAF qualifying tournament in November in Charleston, S.C.
Sep. 4, 2002
We had several objectives going into this tournament, especially with this being our last tournament before we start qualifying in November in Charleston.
For us, the most important thing was to identify our top players that we feel can do the job for us in November. I think that we did a good job in finding some consistency among those players, and also seeing that they had some good chemistry.
I think this tournament also showed us that we have the luxury of knowing that our reserves, when their number is called, can respond well. We put them into a tough game against Ukraine in a must-win situation, and they got the job done. That team responded well in that match and continued to respond well when we called on them later in the tournament. Jordan Stone played great against Brazil, and that is just one example.
Looking ahead at picking the final 18 for the qualifying roster, I feel very, very good where we are right now at spots 1-18. I think coming into qualifying all 18 players could potentially step in and do well. It is very nice to see that we have good depth, which you need in all tournaments, especially if you are going to play three highly competitive games in five days.
There are still one to three positions where guys are fighting for starting spots, and the last three spots on the roster are really going to be tough to pick because this team is deeper than 18 players. I think that is a credit to our development going on in this country and it starts at the U-14 level. It will help us on this level and it will continue to help us in this country all the way up to the top level. It shows that we are growing as a soccer nation, and that is important.
We wanted to go into the tournament and not just be happy to be playing in such a great tournament, but we wanted to win. We showed some mental strength against very good opponents. Confidence and a winning mentality you can’t create overnight, and I think the players responded well against good competition. I was very pleased with the way we played.
We took pride in defending as a team, and the players realized that is required at this level. And I think that technically and tactically we were able to compete with a European power like Italy and some of the better South American countries like Brazil and Uruguay. That is going to go a long way in terms of our overall confidence.
I am real happy with how we defended as a team, and I think we can still get better attacking. We need to get our fullbacks more involved going forward. But this trip we really emphasized getting our backs and our goalkeeper – and even our defensive midfielder Ricardo Clark –on the same page. The guys we think are going to be there for qualifying, we wanted them to get games and get in the pressure cooker. I really feel that good defense can win championships. On paper they are all college players, but the way they played against all pros speaks volumes about how far these guys have come, and that was an area where I had some concern.
Up front with Devin Barclay, Santino Quaranta when he gets healthy, Eddie Johnson, Mike Magee, Justin Mapp and Bobby Convey I think we have tremendous talent in the attack, and I feel that in any game we can and will create chances. But the bottom line is putting the ball in the net. We didn’t do that in Houston (U.S. Soccer Festival), but we showed an upward trend in Spain. Our last seven games we have come together as a team and that is really important for a coach of a national team, where you don’t converse with the players and train on a daily basis.
We could not have picked a better tournament to play in, and we couldn’t have played much better. From our point of view we are pleased that this tournament showed us our strengths, and it also showed us our deficiencies. The goal we gave up against Brazil showed that if you make a mistake in that part of the field you can and will get punished at this level. We walked away with some positives, but also some negatives from this tournament. We still can and have to play better. Now we just have to get it done in November.