BRENT LATHAM – The Milk Cup is an important international youth tournament. But it’s not such a huge deal. It’s great that the U.S. won it, but let’s get some perspective here.
How many people, before being reminded this week, could have told you the last time the U.S. won the Milk Cup? We know now it was 2005, and that the star of the team was Dax McCarthy. We also know Northern Ireland was the two-time defending champ before the U.S. knocked them off today. Haven’t seen them on top of any U-20 World Cup podiums, or even at an U-20 World Cup, well, in quite a while at least.
And the U.S. was a last-minute Danish keeper’s error from playing for third with Mexico. So let’s not go overboard about the future of U.S. soccer, any more than we should have been weeping had the U.S. fared poorly.
That said, this is a very positive development.
The team played without half a dozen or so of its best players. Wingers Tristan Bowen and potentially Alex Zahavi have the experience to fight for starting spots. Sebastian Lletget could be better than Alex Molano in the creating role.
There’s probably a spot for Amobi Okugo alongside or in place of Dillon Powers. And Kofi Sarkodie would be competing along the backline for a spot if he weren’t trialing for a pro contract in Denmark right now.
At forward, Bobby Wood of 1860 Munich is a guy Rongen seems to like who likely missed out to club commitments. Jack McInerney and Luis Gil can’t even find a spot in the mix for this team.
Things are so deep here that good players can’t get a look and the stars of the Milk Cup may find themselves challenged for starting roles down the road. That’s positive for everyone.
But what’s the best part? The team played an attractive, possession based attacking style that required skill and poise on the ball at every position – something this group actually seems to have, along with the traditional scary athleticism and size.
Are they perfect? Far from it, but they have time and space to grow. It will be interesting to see how far Rongen can take this group, after getting a mulligan on the 2009 Egyptian disaster.
So who are the potential contenders to grow up fast? Bear in mind that even at this level it’s still very hard to tell. A year from now, at the World Cup in Colombia, we’ll be much closer to finding out.
For now, these guys are still very young, and there can be no clear cant-miss choices. But a few stand out. Here are some observations on that front, taking into account only those who played in Northern Ireland:
(Note that I’m not saying any of these guys are on the national team track. That’s foolish at this age. These are the guys I see with a good chance to be in contention for the national team in the next 4-6 years if they keep developing their strengths. )
GK Zac MacMath – I don’t get to watch much college soccer, and I hadn’t seen MacMath play since the U-17 World Cup three years ago. You never know with youth GKs, but this kid has grown into a commanding man. He runs his box with confidence and has some shot stopping skills.
Let’s hope he adds an inch or two more and he could be one for the future, not that it’s as easy to get excited over GK prospects as others. He’ll be training at Everton with Tim Howard, let’s see what T-Ho has to say afterward.
D Gale Agbossoumonde – This is such an obvious choice, but it bears mentioning. Boss is a man mountain already, though he still needs to improve his mobility and passing out of the back.
He’s already much better than when I watched him in person last year at the U-20 World Cup. This is important for Boss and the rest on this list: he’s spending his formative years in a great place to learn. CBs are always at a premium at the national team level, and I can’t see Agbossoumonde missing out on the Nats at some point in the coming years.
D Ethan White – Here’s a guy who really impressed me in the one game I’ve ever seen him play. He’s quick and athletic, and no wonder Rongen has included him in the group. I think he’s got a lot of improvement to do, and if he stays at Maryland too long I can’t see him in the full national team picture anytime soon, but the talent’s there for a Maurice Edu type rise from nowhere.
D Zarek Valentin – Surprisingly confident on the ball for a defender, and able to deliver a good last ball, Valentin could be a quality right back on the fringes of the national team one day if he can solidify his defense. He won’t get there in college, though.
Valentin is one of a large group of guys in the middle, with the potential to make it, or fade away. We’ll have to watch how he develops over the coming years at each advancing level. (I might put Greg Garza, because of the environment he’s in – in that category as well.)
Juan Agudelo, F – Has some talents that American wingers don’t usually display. He needs to grow into his frame and get a little stronger on the ball. Will be in the American talent pool for a long time. It will be interesting to see how log it takes him to break in in NY, which will have a bearing on how quickly we’re talking about him in the national team picture.
Alex Molan0, MF – Here’s an interesting case. Molano left the U.S. for Croatia at 16 and has become a better player. These creative types are always the hardest ones to call – the U.S. ha so few great number 10s – but he’s shown flashes of becoming the real deal. There’s no way to tell what will happen here, but there’s no reason to rule out continued improvement either.
Omar Salgado, F – People have been all over him this week, after signing with MLS, but Salgado is still 16 and very raw. He’s got a long, long road ahead. And it won’t be easy for him in MLS to find PT.
Maybe it’s because they’re both 6’4” Mexican-Americans from Texas, but he reminds me of Omar Gonzalez at this point. You know where Gonzalez is now, but did you know Gonzalez was a 6’4” somewhat awkward 16-year-old forward who played sparingly on the Americans’ 2005 U-17 World Cup team in Peru? Not that he can’t handle it – cause he can – but I’m a little surprised Rongen’s got him with the U-20s and I wonder if it will remain that way through next year, especially since he’ll be out of game practice through the start of the next MLS season. I also think Salgado’s best position hasn’t been found yet, and like Gonzalez, it may be in the center of defense. Once he’s settled, we’ll see what his ceiling is.
Fuad Ibrahim, F – Hard to tell if he’s the real deal or just a kid who’s been around the block enough to convince at this level. My bet’s on the career journeyman side – but he will help the national team at this level for sure.
Francisco Navas Cobo, F – I saw some flashes I liked. Wouldn’t rule this kid out of anything just yet.
Adrian Ruelas, F – A nose for goal can’t be taught. This kid may have it. If he does, it’s not going away, and it will take him to exalted places.
What do you think? Who did I miss? Who did I mention that doesn’t stand a chance? Should I be standing on m head and screaming about this title instead of playing it down?