Rongen Ready for Paraguay
Abu Dhabi, UAE (Friday, Nov. 28, 2003) - The opening match against Paraguay is finally here for the U.S. If it feels like the team has been waiting eight months for this game, that's because it has. With the tournament originally to be played in April, but later postponed due to the political situation surrounding the region, all 24 teams have had to wait a bit longer for the 14th FIFA World Youth Championship to kickoff. As the U.S. Under-20 MNT gets set to face Paraguay tomorrow at 5:45 p.m. (8:45 a.m. ET) at Al-Nahyan Stadium in Abu Dhabi, head coach Thomas Rongen talks about their first opponent and what he expects to encounter when they finally take the pitch.
Nov. 28, 2003
Where do you see Paraguay among the teams in CONMEBOL?
"I think they are probably just a step below Brazil and Argentina. To me, they have become the third team to be reckoned with in South America. The performance of their senior team in the last World Cup, the performance of their last Under-20 team that came in third in Argentina, and this team that came in third in their qualifying, tying both Argentina and Brazil. Getting those two results demonstrate that while they may be behind those two teams, they are definitely gaining ground."
What are your expectations of Paraguay going into the team’s opening match of the World Youth Championship?
"We’ve seen Paraguay on several occasions and are very cognizant that every team coming out of CONMEBOL is very good. They tied a very good Brazil and Argentina, and their previous Under-20 team came in third in the last World Youth Championship in Argentina. They are a great team and one with a tremendous amount of soccer tradition."
How do you match up with Paraguay?
"We feel we match up well against Paraguay. They are a team that likes to defend with numbers, which may give us an opportunity to get our better players in an attacking position. Then again we need to be aware that they can defend for very long stretches, lull you to sleep and then kill you on the counter. They don’t score a lot of goals, but then again they don’t give up many goals. The fact that they don’t have to score many goals to win games, makes them very dangerous. Our whole key is trying to get three points, but if not, there is nothing wrong with one point."
What is your biggest concern about Paraguay?
"As I said before, Paraguay is historically a team that is confident defending with numbers for very long periods of time to lull teams to sleep. If we lose our shape tactically or we lose our concentration, we could be in for a rude awakening because they are a good counter-attacking team. Their two attacking players, (Dante) Lopez and (Erwin) Avalos could create problems for any team. We might be the dominant team in terms of ball possession, but it has to translate into quality chances and good finishing. And on the other end of the field our defense has to make sure it doesn’t dose off and is sharp throughout the match."
How is the team looking going into the first match?
"I think every team going into their first game looks good. We needed a few days to adjust here after a lot of traveling and a 12-hour time zone difference, but I think the guys are getting their legs back, which is good. I think that yesterday and today the team looked very sharp physically and emotionally. The tournament itself has really got everyone’s juices flowing and we can’t wait to get started."
How important is it to get at least a point out of this first match?
"We always go in to a game to win. We’ve done that day one with this team and we have so much attacking quality, it would be a disservice to this team to talk about going out and getting a point. I want to showcase our talent to the rest of the world, and show we try to play good football and have very technical players. We go to win the game, but we wouldn’t be opposed to one point against a very good opponent."
How did the postponement of the tournament affect the team’s preparation?
"Quite frankly, if you purely talk about the preparation, it has affected it in a very negative way. We’ve had only five days here to prepare. We had three players come late for various reasons, one being the MLS Cup obviously. I would have liked to spend more time together like the majority of the teams. South Korea has been together since Oct. 10. Paraguay has basically toured the whole world before getting here and has been together for about a month. On the other hand, do we say it is a benefit for players like Ricardo Clark, Mike Magee and Justin Mapp because they got more playing time in MLS? I think only time will tell. Those individual players have become better players, but we don’t know if that will translate to a good collective outing. I think the next three games will tell."