CHICAGO (Jan. 8, 2007) – United States Under-20 Men’s National Team head coach Thomas Rongen has named the 20-man roster that will represent the U.S. in Group A of the CONCACAF Under-20 Final Round Qualifying Tournament from Jan. 17-21 at Rommel Fernandez Stadium in Panama City, Panama.
Rongen brought in more than 70 players during nine camps in 2006 before making his final decision on the 20 that would represent the U.S. in Panama as they attempt to qualify for their sixth consecutive FIFA U-20 World Cup (formerly known as the FIFA World Youth Championship).
Of the 20 players on the qualifying roster, nine are currently professionals, with six in Major League Soccer and three overseas, and several players could be available in the 2007 MLS SuperDraft, which will take place on Friday, Jan. 12, in Indianapolis, Ind. There are more professionals on this U.S. Under-20 qualifying roster than ever before.
“We’ve looked at a large number of players during the past year and believe that the 20 we’ve chosen to represent the U.S. in qualifying will provide us with the best chance of qualifying for our sixth straight World Cup,” said Rongen, who is attempting to qualify a second U.S. Under-20 team to a World Cup after leading his first as head coach in 2003. “This is the first time in two cycles that we have to try and qualify outside of the United States which will make it that much tougher, but we are confident we can head down to Panama and come away with a ticket to the World Cup in Canada.”
The U.S. players will meet in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on Wednesday, Jan. 10, where they will train for three days before heading to Panama early in the morning on Saturday, Jan. 13. The U.S. will then have a few days to prepare before opening the six-game round-robin qualifying tournament against Haiti on Wednesday, Jan. 17, at 6:30 p.m. ET. Two days later, on Friday, Jan. 19 at 6:30 p.m. ET, the U.S. will face Guatemala, a team that is no stranger to the U.S. Under-20s as the two countries met twice in November (once in a closed-door scrimmage) with the U.S. coming away with 2-1 victories in both matches. The U-20s wrap up the qualifying tournament against Panama on Sunday, Jan. 21, at 6 p.m. ET. Fans can follow all three games on ussoccer.com’s MatchTracker.
The top two finishers in Group A will advance to the 2007 FIFA U-20 World Cup in Canada, which will take place from June 30-July 22 across six cities – Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Edmonton, Burnaby and Victoria.
Rongen had initially planned to name his roster before the New Year, but delayed the announcement until U.S. Soccer received final word on whether Heerenveen midfielder Michael Bradley would be released by his club for the qualifying tournament. The Dutch club had already released midfielder Robbie Rogers, but despite numerous discussions during the past week, ultimately decided it would not release Bradley. Without Bradley in the mix, Rongen made the decision to bring back UCLA midfielder Tony Beltran, who was featured in Studio 90’s “Roster Spot” on ussoccer.com and initially named an alternate.
“We had planned on getting Michael … and felt with his and Danny Szetela’s international and MLS experience that we were well covered, but after learning Michael would not be with us it left us with a hole in our depth chart,” said Rongen. “After our final camp we felt that Tony was the best player to replace Szetela if needed due to injury or card accumulation. (Click here to hear more about Bradley’s situation and why Tony Beltran was called in)
Despite not having Bradley, the U.S. has capable players leading the team with Freddy Adu, Nathan Sturgis, Tim Ward and Szetela, all professionals in MLS. While being the third youngest player on the roster, captain Freddy Adu has the most experienced player, having played in the past two FIFA World Youth Championships and for three years at D.C. United. Along with Adu, Sturgis and Szetela were also part of the 2005 FIFA World Youth Championship squad, while Ward was named to the roster only to be replaced due to injury.
The other two MLS professionals on the roster are N.Y. Red Bulls forward Josmer Altidore and Los Angeles Galaxy midfielder Quavas Kirk, both of whom will be pushing for a starting spot. Altidore is coming off a thumb injury and attempting to get match-fit after an impressive end to his rookie season, while Kirk is still getting adjusted to his new position at right back.
Of the three overseas professionals, Rogers will be the only one that will join the team on Jan. 10 in Fort Lauderdale. Forwards Johann Smith and Preston Zimmerman will fly directly from Europe to Panama City on Jan. 13 to meet up with the Under-20s. Smith, who is in his second year with Bolton FC, earned his first EPL appearance with the first team this season and is continually pushing to earn more minutes. Zimmerman has been playing with the youth and reserve teams at Hamburg SV.
Out of the eleven amateur players invited into camp, three are from UCLA with Beltran, goalkeeper Brian Perk and midfielder Sal Zizzo making the roster. Perk will be the backup goalkeeper, while Zizzo will push for a spot on the right wing with impressive speed.
Along with Beltran, Harvard forward Andre Akpan and Wake Forest midfielder Julian Valentin were featured in Studio 90’s “Roster Spot” on ussoccer.com. Despite coming in an underdog to make the team, Akpan impressed the coaching staff by continually scoring goals in training and games, while Valentin created some drama with a come-from-behind story as the central defender made the team with quality match performances after struggling through the first few days of fitness.
Maryland’s Chris Seitz is the first-choice goalkeeper, while Amaechi Igwe from Santa Clara could end up starting in left midfield. Bryan Arguez and Anthony Wallace will both be looking to earn a spot in the holding midfield position.
The final two college players are Indiana’s Ofori Sarkodie and Virginia’s Jonathan Villanueva. Sarkodie gives Rongen options at the central defender position, while Villanueva provides speed and an attacking style of play from midfield.
During Rongen’s last tenure as the Under-20 head coach, the U.S. finished second in 2003 qualifying at Blackbaud Stadium in Charleston, S.C. The U.S. won their first two games against Haiti and El Salvador to advance but fell to eventual champion Canada, 3-2, in their final match. In the 2003 FIFA World Youth Championship in the United Arab Emirates, the U.S. won their group for the first time ever and finished in fifth place after falling to Argentina in overtime.
The other two of the four CONCACAF berths (not including Canada which gets an automatic berth as host) will come from Group B, which will occur a month later from Feb. 21-25 in Culiacan, Sinaloa, located on the west coast of Mexico. Competing with the hosts will be Costa Rica, St. Kitts & Nevis and Jamaica.
2007 CONCACAF Final Round Qualifying Tournament
|Jan. 17||USA vs. Haiti||Rommel Fernandez Stadium||6:30 p.m.|
|Jan. 17||Panama vs. Guatemala||Rommel Fernandez Stadium||8:30 p.m.|
|Jan. 19||USA vs. Guatemala||Rommel Fernandez Stadium||6:30 p.m.|
|Jan. 19||Panama vs. Haiti||Rommel Fernandez Stadium||8:30 p.m.|
|Jan. 21||Guatemala vs. Haiti||Rommel Fernandez Stadium||6 p.m.|
|Jan. 21||USA vs. Panama||Rommel Fernandez Stadium||6 p.m.|
Roster by Position
GOALKEEPERS (2): Brian Perk (UCLA), Chris Seitz (University of Maryland)
DEFENDERS (6): Quavas Kirk (L.A. Galaxy), Ofori Sarkodie (Indiana University), Nathan Sturgis (L.A. Galaxy), Julian Valentin (Wake Forest), Anthony Wallace (University of South Florida), Tim Ward (Columbus Crew)
MIDFIELDERS (6): Freddy Adu (Real Salt Lake), Bryan Arguez (Miami, Fla.), Tony Beltran (UCLA), Amaechi Igwe (Santa Clara), Danny Szetela (Columbus Crew), Jonathan Villanueva (Virginia)
FORWARDS (6): Andre Akpan (Harvard), Josmer Altidore (N.Y. Red Bulls), Robbie Rogers (SC Heerenveen), Johann Smith (FC Bolton), Preston Zimmerman (Hamburg SV), Sal Zizzo (UCLA)
Head Coach: Thomas Rongen (Stuart, Fla.)
Assistant Coach: Dave Dir (Dallas, Texas)
Assistant Coach: Brian Maisonnueve (Bradenton, Fla.)
Goalkeeper Coach: Tim Mulqueen (Bradenton, Fla.)
Head Scout: Juan Carlos Michia (Miami, Fla.)
Team Coordinator: Alfonso Cerda (Carson, Calif.)
Equipment Coordinator: Andrew Dessert (Long Beach, Calif.)
Doctor: Dr. Jason Scopp (Salisbury, Md.)
Trainer: Forrest Pecha (Atlanta, Ga.)
Message Therapist: Steve Jurch (Charleston, S.C.)
Press Officer: Neil Buethe (Chicago, Ill.)