U.S. Under-20 Menâ€™s National Team head coach THOMAS RONGEN
On putting together the most important roster so far for this cycle:
â€œAs a staff, weâ€™ve done our due diligence over the last year and a half. I canâ€™t speak enough about the support of the staff and all the players that weâ€™ve looked at who have put in a tremendous amount of work and energy in each and every camp. That made this selection probably tougher than any other cycle, and this is my fourth cycle. Thatâ€™s a good thing. It means weâ€™ve gotten deeper in every position. Weâ€™ve got an ever-evolving talent pool.
â€œWeâ€™re also finding a number of players abroad. Weâ€™ve got a lot of players obviously in MLS as well and that makes for some interesting choices because theyâ€™re great environments. I feel really good about this team. â€œ
On the decisions behind some of the selections:
â€œWe try to look at players who can fit into the way we play, out of a 4-3-3, so there are specific technical, tactical, mental and physical attributes that are required at every position. We spent a lot of time looking at which players fit our system best. We feel good about our selection that will go forward and represent us in Guatemala against Panama and Suriname.â€
On the blend of MLS, European and college players on the roster:
â€œI think thatâ€™s the way it will be going forward. Certain groups grow a bit, others donâ€™t. With MLS expansion there are more places for younger players now. That trend will continue. There are a couple of Home Grown players who have gone through our Development Academy, and itâ€™s been great to see our pro clubs working with Academies now and giving players the opportunity to play alongside the professionals. Weâ€™ve seen differences in those players over the last four to five months, getting more frequency and quality to their training. Itâ€™s a great extension and itâ€™s the evolution of soccer in our country.
â€œWeâ€™ve also noticed that a lot of our players are getting noticed by good teams abroad. Weâ€™ve got players now in the first division in Sweden, guys in England and Portugal. We have players who play as far away as Croatia and Israel. Theyâ€™re at big clubs. We also still have the exceptional college players who, for their own reasons, choose to stay in college and thatâ€™s the great thing about our country. You have choices: going abroad, going into MLS or continuing your education at very good schools who continue to produce great players who go on to great careers."
On what the team will be focusing on during the week in Dallas:
â€œThere are a few things that fall in our favor this time around. The prior times that Iâ€™ve been involved [at this level], qualifying always fell sometime in January, which is offseason in MLS and college, and sometimes during winter break in Europe as well. So weâ€™d always have to build in a tremendous conditioning component as well. Now weâ€™ve got guys ready to play their first games in MLS so theyâ€™re at the tail end of preseason, as fit as they can be. Theyâ€™ve been working extremely hard and gotten a lot of playing time in preseason. I expect them to be really sharp. The European guys are past the halfway point of their season so theyâ€™re peaking right now, and the Scandanavian teams are in preseason now as well. Thatâ€™s one thing we donâ€™t have to worry about. We can focus on our team formation, settling into our starting 11 and working on our substitution pattern. So, weâ€™re talking now about team tactics, predicated by our strengths and what weâ€™ve seen from Suriname.Â They're theÂ first game weâ€™re going to play onÂ March 29Â so weâ€™ll look at their strengths and weaknesses and put a game plan together that makes sense.
â€œOur training intensity will be high, but the frequency wonâ€™t be as high. We wonâ€™t need to do two-a-days because theyâ€™ve done that for months now. Itâ€™s more about mental and tactical preparation as much as anything else and I feel that we have a pretty good feel for this group. We can push the right buttons so when game time comes around theyâ€™re not only excited to represent their country, but will play well and want to qualify for the World Cup in Colombia.â€