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U.S. U-20 MNT Post-Game Quotes vs. Panama

U.S. U-20 MNT Head Coach Thomas Rongen
On if he expected a more difficult game:
"We prepared ourselves in the manner that we needed in order to ourselves through to the World Cup, regardless of (Guatemala’s) result against Haiti. Our team was highly motivated this morning, wanted to finish the job on a high note and we did. We showed in this game what we’re capable of; We are a good team that came into a very tough surrounding against a very good opponent. Congratulations to Panama on also advancing, they deserve to be there, but we feel that we are one of the better teams in CONCACAF and we wanted to show that today."

On his overall opinion of the qualifying tournament:
"Anytime you travel in your region, or go on the road, it’s tough. But if you look at the three games, two victories and one tie and seven points, anywhere else in the world that will get you to the second round and win you tournaments, so I can’t be more pleased with the way we played here. We started out well (vs. Haiti), we didn’t have a good game against Guatemala - they’re a tough team to play – and we felt tonight against a good opponent, which Panama is, that we wanted to get three points. So, walking away from here with seven points and winning the group was obviously our priority and our main goal. I think in our last game, we really showed the potential of this team, both on the defensive side – only giving up one goal in three games – and scoring nine goals in three games is pretty good in a foreign country."

On defeating Panama after suggesting earlier in the tournament that they were the favorites:
"When we first came here, we sincerely felt that Panama was the favorite. They are the home team, a well coached team and a team we has seen a few times and felt they were capable of doing some special things. I think the Haiti result today effected them emotionally than it did for us. We were able to have more a business mentality about the game which, in essence, was a meaningless game. It looked like Panama may have relaxed a little bit and we were able to punish them for it."

On Haiti’s upset win vs. Guatemala earlier in the day:
"You have to say, what a great way for Haiti to finish the tournament. They could have easily, in this third game, given up, but they did not. They did what they needed to do and were competitive, and I think that speaks volumes about Haitian football, their coach and their players. I was very impressed by their performance against Panama in which they gave them a scare and clearly their performance against Guatemala. I think at the end of the day, and this might be a general thought, but I think Panama and us deserved to go. I felt Guatemala played very low pressure football, and I think it’s a victory for positive, attacking football the way both Panama and the U.S. played this week."

U.S. U-20 MNT Midfielder Freddy Adu
On what the team learned from the match vs. Guatemala that they used vs. Panama:
"Personally, I learned that I need to play higher up on the field because that’s when I’m most productive for the team. I was playing too far away from the goal and every time I got the ball, I had 40 or 50 yards to go and I wasn’t dangerous in those situations. As a team, we figured out that to break down a team that likes to pack it in defensively, we need to go wide and send some crosses in and today we did that. We scored our first goal off a cross and we scored some more goals from crosses as well."

On what message he had for the team before the game:
"There were 20,000 people there, everyone wearing Panama jerseys and I told the guys. ‘If you don’t get excited for a game like this, in an atmosphere like this, then there’s something wrong with you, because as athletes, this is what we live for.’ You could just see it in the guys’ eyes, they were ready to go, it was great."

On how his role with the team has evolved since the first U-20 World Cup:
"I’m a little more of a central figure on this team now because a lot of the play has to go through me as the attacking midfielder. I have to be in tune to th game at all time. I can’t take plays off, I’ve got to set an example for the rest of the guys and I feel like I did that this tournament. Today I did that and most importantly, I was having fun. Thomas is a great coach and let’s me be me out there. He lets me take chances, and when I do that, that’s when I’m at my best, and that’s what I did today."

On his goals vs. Panama:
"The ball went out wide to Johann (Smith), and we know that Johann is the fastest guy on this team. I faked that I was going near post and made the run to the far post and Johann put the ball in the right spot. I was wide open and just had to redirect it in. The second goal, Robbie was awesome. He made a great play to get around two guys and spotted me at the top of the box. I hit it first time because, as they say, ‘If you don’t shoot, you can’t score.” I felt I didn’t shoot enough the first two games, so I tried to take a lot of shots tonight."
On his goals for the year with the U-20s and as a professional:
"The most important thing is just to get back to being me again. It’s been along time since I had fun playing the game. That’s the most important thing for me, when I’m having fun I’m at my best. These guys around, they’re awesome, we have a great time. This is the closest I’ve ever been to my actual age group so we’re having a great time, we have everything in common and we’re just enjoying ourselves. It helps that we have a coach that lets us be ourselves. It makes you feel comfortable and makes you want to play for a guy like that. As I pro, I need to take the same attitude because I’m going to be with a guy in John Ellinger who’s the same kind of coach as Thomas Rongen is in that he lets me be me. He knows that he can’t overload me with information. He knows to just give me one or two points and then let me go out and play and let talent take over."

U.S. U-20 MNT Forward Jonathan Villanueva
On clinching a berth to the 2007 U-20 World Cup in Canada:
“Canada is going to be a lot of fun. We’re going to go there, expecting to do very well, and see what happens. We’re a good team, very talented and we have a lot to bring to the table.”

U.S. U-20 MNT Defender Quavas Kirk
On the feeling of clinching a berth to the 2007 U-20 World Cup:
“I’m quite excited and I think everyone else is too because we wanted to come out and win (vs. Panama) and that’s just what we did.”

On the swing of emotions before the game as the team found out that Haiti had upset Guatemala:
“We were just coming out to win. We didn’t really care about the Haiti game at all because we just wanted to play well in our game.”

U.S. U-20 MNT Defender Ofori Sarkodie
On seeing his first action of the qualifying tournament vs. Panama:
“It was good, it was exciting. The atmosphere was great and it just felt good to get out there and play with these boys and get that victory.”

On if he felt any rust for his first game:
“No, I felt like I was ready to go, for sure.”

On the play of the defense, which allowed zero goals from the run of play during qualifying:
“We always want to keep the zero. At first, we knew we had to sit back a little bit and keep our outside midfielders tucked in. As the game played out, we got our chances and we finished them. We started to control the pace of the game, we felt comfortable and more importantly, we kept the zero.”

U.S. U-20 MNT Defender Nathan Sturgis
On the mentality of the defense:
“It’s always to try to keep the zero, that’s always our goal. Unfortunately we didn’t keep it against Haiti, but we knew going into the game vs. Panama that if we could keep the zero, we would go through to the World Cup.”

U.S. U-20 MNT Midfielder Tony Beltran
On the physical nature of the match, especially in the second half:
“When a game goes that way and a team is down that much, especially the home team, of course they’re going to try to take it out on you physically. The tackles were flying in, the tempers were high but that’s natural when the game goes that way.”

On how a physical match can impact the rhythm of a team:
“It definitely disrupts your rhythm and throws off your flow of the game. You just need to concentrate that much more to overcome it and be the better team.”

U.S. U-20 MNT Goalkeeper Chris Seitz
On the swing of emotions before the game as the team found out that Haiti had upset Guatemala:
“The news in the locker room was the Haiti won, 2-0, which was good for us, but we knew we still had to come out and take care of business so that we could get on a roll going into Canada. Before we walked out, the Panama crowd did a little cheer and congratulated us. That was a neat moment for us.”

On coming up with a few big saves while otherwise seeing very little action:
“Defensively, we held them to hardly anything. I thought our defense played well enough to get the zero and I was just happy I could help them out to get it. All tournament, we’ve been great. We only allowed one goal and it was on a penalty kick, so defensively I thought we were solid and we did well together as a team.”

U.S. U-20 MNT Forward Johann Smith
On his mentality going into his first start of qualifying:
“I just wanted to prepare myself as best as possible. I haven’t been playing as much as I would like, especially in England, so I didn’t know if I was fit enough, but I just wanted to give it my all. Going into the game, I knew I could add a lot of pace to our team, so I just wanted to go all out, and that’s what I did.”

On using his speed to create chances vs. Panama:
“Coach always tells me to get the ball, and if I’m in a 1v1 situation, to just go the defender. That’s what I did today. I just wanted to be as dangerous as possible.”

On his goal:
“Nate (Sturgis) played it over the top. The coaches kept telling us about Panama holding a high defensive line, so they were feeding me over the top quite a bit, and I just got in the right position at the right time. I was one-on-one with the goalkeeper and he was leaving a lot of the side of his goal wide open so I just put it there. I went to the crowd and it was an amazing feeling, it was great.”