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On the Field - by Thomas Rongen

With the Under-20 Men's National Team’s qualifying tournament just three months away, the team is in Spain awaiting their biggest challenge as a team.  The U.S. has drawn Brazil, Italy and Ukraine in the XIX Torneo Internacional de Futbol de L’Alcudia taking place in L’Alcudia, Spain, just outside of Valencia.  Today, U.S. Under-20 MNT head coach Thomas Rongen discusses what he is expecting to learn from his players and his team during this tournament in Spain.

Expectations from XIX Torneo Internacional de Futbol de L’Alcudia
by Thomas Rongen

With this being our last set of games prior to qualifying, obviously this tournament is important to us for many reasons.  If we have to prioritize it, I think the most important thing we are looking to do is to get that mindset that each time we go into a tournament or a game we are going in to win it.  So our first objective is to come here and win.  We don’t just want to participate and get some games in - we want to win.

The second thing we are trying to do is make this part of our overall growth process.  We have to establish our starting 11 and also our 18 players that will go to qualifying with us. We are very close on both of those right now, but there are still some players fighting for spots.  At this late stage we are still looking at two or three players that we haven’t seen much of in previous camps.  We have to take a look at Raul Palomares and David Johnson, two guys in for this tournament who play are playing abroad, to see if they fit into what we are trying to achieve.

And in the overall picture we are still trying to see how this team gets along and bonds on and off the field.  We are also still working on some team and group tactics, how we want to play with four in the back, things like that.  We are trying to use the game and practice environment to become better.  This is quite a complex task to try and accomplish it all in ten days, but with the inconsistencies of having players together at the national team level you try to be as economical as you can be in your thinking process.  We are trying to accomplish as many short-term goals as we can that will help us with the long-term goal of being ready to play on November 13 when we kick off our first qualifying game.

Playing games against this quality of competition will only help us.  It will tell us a little bit about our team, both the positive and the negative.  Playing teams like this will show your strengths and your weaknesses, but I’d much rather have our weaknesses exposed now instead of November.  That allows us to change things now and to work on our weaknesses now so that we can get better in those areas.  The game is always a great indicator to see what you really need to work on, and these games will tell us what our what our main focus is going to be after this tournament when we get back together in the beginning of November.

I would like our last game in Houston at the U.S. Soccer Festival (a 0-0 draw with Mexico) to be a benchmark for this team. That was probably the best game we have played in our tenure together (since January 2002), and now we have to hold ourselves to that standard and improve.  I want to see if we can continue to play against good competition and hold a zero in back.  We didn’t really give away any chances against Mexico.  In almost all team sports they say that “Defense Wins Championships”, and I firmly believe that will be the case with this team.  The better we play on defense, the more chances we have to win.

I think the strong point of this team is our attacking ability.  When we have the full complement of our players available, I feel that we are a team that will score goals.  Or we will at least create a lot of chances, and then we just have to make sure we finish a few of those.  An area I would like to see us improve on in this competition is to see us put the ball in the back of the net against quality competition.  I was pleased that we were able to create a ton of chances against Mexico, but we have to find a way to put numbers on the scoreboard.

With that in mind, I’m very excited to kick off this tournament against Brazil on August 24.