The U.S U-20 men’s national team has more talent and depth than ever but head coach Thomas Rongen knows it will be a difficult task when his team opens their U-20 World Cup campaign. The former Ajax player took a moment to speak with Soccer365 about the tournament and his team.
By Andrew Rogers
If U.S fans are to get excited about any of their national sides’ on the global stage, it would surely be the U-20’s and their forth coming campaign in Canada. Names like Bradley, Adu and Altidore would inspire confidence in any supporter.
But despite boasting a squad that has a new level of depth, and an entire roster of players that can make a positive impact, Head Coach Tom Rongen remains skeptical about his side’s chances of doing well in Canada.
While acknowledging his side has a new level of firepower, and deserved levels of confidence when playing the world’s big guns, he is concerned at the lack of first team experience the players have at the top level, and the fact that competing nations can unleash talents like Lionel Messi and Ronaldinho in previous tournaments.
Soccer 365 caught up with the former Ajax player to discuss in detail, what should be one of the most exciting World Cup campaigns in the history of U.S men’s soccer.
The U-20’s produced a great result against Chile how have the preparations gone?
Our preparation has gone well we played two games against good opposition. Chile draw Argentina and Brazil in their pre qualifier fixtures, and have four or five guys that will play in Europe next year. We got the result and we managed the game well, so even though we had some poor patches we didn’t give anything away. That is very encouraging for this side. We will go as far as the way we defend as a unit, and our technical players buying into our defensive concept. The goals also came from great offensive play. We have players that can produce in tight games which is important in big tournaments. We are going there as a confident team.
You have some huge names in the side, can you improve on the 2005 campaign?
You never know. You look at the side I coached in 2003 and there are some similarities, but can you compare a Eddie Johnson with Jose Altidore or Freddy Adu with Bobby Convey? That is the comparison and then again in 2005 we had some very special players. I think for us at youth level from a realistic stand point getting out of the group will be the main achievement, and then if we get there, it is one game at a time, we have the capabilities to go far.
Is this the best squad you have had?
No I don’t think so. Just because we have more pro’s than in previous years it doesn’t automatically make it a better team. For example Dempsey was a college player that emerged, being a pro’s doesn’t count for everything and in many ways at a professional level we still have a long way to go in comparison to the world game. We don’t play enough games in the reserve league and a lot of these players don’t get first team competition at their respective clubs. Having more pro’s doesn’t mean we will be more successful.
What will be your strengths? You have some serious firepower going forward.
We do. Adu, Altidore and Bradley will make a difference and you could see the precision going forward against Chile. Altidore although he is the youngest player in the squad could play in another World Cup for us, he doesn’t have the most experience and talent isn’t enough at this level because there are many talented players out there. But between the players I mentioned and Ferrari we have the forwards to create chances and finish games off. But the key to our success will be how well we can play as a defensive unit, and how well the players will embrace that and so far it has been very positive.
Does the tournament being played in Canada help?
Yes. The little things help, the winning is in the detail. When we played New Zealand they had traveled from Australia to LA to Mexico City, to Costa Rica, Miami and then to New York. They are physically and emotionally shattered before the tournament has even started. It’s their first tournament and a new experience for them but for us to have been up there once already, and to have slept in the same hotels and knowing the practice facilities and grounds, this can sometimes make a difference. It won’t make you a world champion. We have played in other countries and not had that level of preparation and done very well like the UAE in 2003 but clearly the players that don’t travel well will be more comfortable and familiar.
What can you tell us about Gabriel Ferrari?
Gabe Ferrari is playing in Italy but has not got too many minutes at the moment, he played 20 minutes in a cup game recently and has played for the reserves. Like any young player he still has a lot to grow in terms of his technical ability and tactically. But we feel with his size and his pretty decent feet and good physical qualities he is a guy with very strong upsides. We brought him in very late in the process. He can help us as a starter and coming off the bench, and I think the one thing we have done well over the last 2-3 cycles. Due to the fact that players are turning pro at a younger age we are deeper now in terms of quality. In the past once you got past players 12-13 you started getting a little bit concerned, but now the decisions involved for players 19 through to 21 are very tough for us and that is great. From a quality stand point we have become a lot deeper. The sessions are a lot better and the starters are being pushed a lot harder for their places. There is a healthy and competitive team spirit and in think on any given day the whole squad can contribute and Gabe very much is one of those guys.
The squad consists of College players through to EPL players does this wide spectrum of affect the squad?
For the complete Rongen interview Click here