By Jon Levy
Tonight is an important night for American soccer. Maybe not as important as last night– congrats to Real Salt Lake and Major League Soccer, by the way–but important. Our berth in the World Cup is on the line. Yes, it’s the Under-20 World Cup, and no, you’re not allowed to ignore it.
Need proof? I got you.
Let’s flashback four years to when Canada hosted the U-20 World Cup in the summer of 2007. My TYAC colleague Raf and I were spending a lot of time at local watering holes that summer, and luckily those bars were showing soccer. Aside from the fact that the mercurial and already famous Freddy Adu seemed to be living up to his hype, we had some observations on other players we were just getting to properly know.
Here’s a sampling:
This dude with the weird name working up top is a beast! And he can’t stop scoring! – Jozy Altidore
Who’s the lanky white dude with weird name and the long hair and all the good service? – Sacha Kljestan
This guy is everywhere! They can’t get the ball into our half without him intercepting and starting the offense. Is he also Adu? Or is that “Edu” on his jersey? – You can do the mental legwork on this one yourself.
That team dazzled in group play, hammering Poland and beating Brazil (Brazil!) in back to back matches, before losing 2-1 to Austria in extra time of the first knockout match. But the experience that these soon-to-be senior national teamers gained was valuable to their development, and in turn to the growth of the US Soccer program.
Back to the present.
The current incarnation of the American U-20 team once again has the look of something special. Now’s the time to “buy low” on these guys so you can tell your friends everything you know about them when they get excel at your favorite club or get a senior team call-up. More importantly, this team deserves our attention as they enter into a tricky fixture in the CONCACAF U-20 Championship.
Wednesday night at 10 p.m. Eastern the US takes on Guatemala in the quarterfinals of the tournament. The winner advances to the final four, and nabs one of the four CONCACAF berths for the U-20 World Cup this summer. Kind of a lot to play for huh? To make matters more interesting for the young Yanks, they’ll be playing this match in Guatemala City, in a rarely seen true away match for the US (or most anyone else, for that matter), in an international tournament.
The US has been a better team than Guatemala in this tourney, but the magical displays of international soccer tournament host teams are well documented.
Not bought in yet? I got one more for ya.
Dutch manager Thomas Rongen, a product of the Ajax academy and a former Fort Lauderdale Striker (Broward County represent!), has this team playing something close to a real, actual, high-functioning 4-3-3. It’s a revelation to watch! Possession starting attack from the back, acres of space, the passing options into and around the box, the cheeky layoffs and open shooting opportunities, it’s all there. It may not be all the way to “total football,” but the type of soccer Rongen has his talented team playing is extremely easy on the eyes.
The Match: Tune in to either ESPN Deportes or stream this one live on ESPN3 at 10 p.m. Eastern tonight! Watch for the possession and interplay between midfielders Sebastian Lletget and the US player of the tournament to this point, Kelyn Rowe. They have the ability to boss the game and link up well with the forward line, where Derby County Ram Conor Doyle has done everything but chug a pint of Guinness on the pitch (underage, but not in Guatemala) on his way to a goal and two assists through two matches.
Prediction: USA 3-2 Guatemala
The boys pass a stiff road test, but not without their fair share of nail-biting moments. Winner of this one gets Costa Rica on Friday night. Come on you Yanks!
Jon Levy is Co-Founder and Associate Editor of The Yanks Are Coming. He can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org and you can, and should, follow him on Twitter at @TYAC_Jon, especially as his New York Rangers approach the playoffs and West Ham fights relegation. The man is loyal.