BRIAN SCIARETTA - Monday, December 3, 2012
Nearly 20 months ago, the 2011 US U-20 team disappointed in a failed attempt to qualify for the World Cup but the players are continuing to progress well.
The COCNCACAF U-20 World Cup qualifying tournament is designed to leave little room for error as once a team advances past group play, they face a must win situation in a winner take all quarterfinal. Essentially one game will determine a team's qualifying fate.
Now it just so happens that the U-20 team was forced to play Guatemala in Guatemala City in that quarterfinal game. The US team won their two group stage game but did not play well in the 2-1 loss in the quarterfinals.
Despite the fact that the US senior team struggles on the road in CONCACAF for important games, many questioned whether it was a poor generation or if US Soccer was not producing talent.
While no one will dispute that it was a disappointment not to qualify for the World Cup, the class of players from that group could still very successful. It's important to realize that the success of youth national team is measured in the years following the class. The success of a team is not as important as the progress of the players.
But let's look at how a few members of 2011 U-20 class have done recently.
Players on the U20 World Cup qualifying team
Joe Gyau: Currently under contract with Hoffenheim of the Bundesliga. He is on loan at St. Pauli in the 2.Bundesliga where he is gradually earning consistent minutes usually off the bench but with an occasional start. In November he earned his first national team callup but did not play in the game against Russia. Unfortunately, he was battling an injury at the 2011 U20 qualifying tournament.
Sebastian Lletget: Is continuing to develop through the system at West Ham United and made the bench for the first time this past week in a Premier League game.
Bobby Wood: Prior to the 2011 World Cup qualifying tournament, Wood was one of the highest rated U-20 players for the US team. He played in the qualifying tournament hurt and after a series of near career ending injuries later, Wood appears to be progressing and is back on the first team at his club 1860 Munich. This past week, he earned his first ever career start and the next game scored a spectacular goal.
Gregory Garza: The year following World Cup qualifying was difficult for the left back Garza. He left his club, Estoril, in Portugal and struggled to find a new one. Later in 2011, he signed with Club Tijuana where he is earning first team minutes for a club that is now the Liga Mx Champions. He has even scored some crucial goals for the club during the season.
Kelyn Rowe: In the year after qualifying, Rowe was drafted by New England with the third overall pick in the 2012 MLS Superdraft and earned high reviews for his play in his rookie season.
Zarek Valentin After being drafted in 2011 by Chivas USA, Valentin is now with Montreal where he is an above average player in MLS.
Zac MacMath - Drafted by Philadelphia, MacMath is now the starting goalkeeper for the Union. In 2012 he made 32 starts for the club.
Perry Kitchen After leaving Akron in 2010, Kitchen was considered one of the top prospects in the 2011 MLS Superdraft. He immediately became a member of the starting lineup and while the club narrowly missed out on the playoffs in 2011, they rebounded with a run to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2012 where he made 36 starts in the season.
Amobi Okugo During his first few seasons with Philadelphia, Okugo was primarily a defensive midfielder but in 2012 he began regularly playing central defense where he has impressed. His time on the backline has shown that he has a bright future at his new position.
Players not on the 2011 U20 qualifying team due to other commitments
Josh Gatt - Gatt was not released by his club Molde for the 2011 U20 World Cup qualifying tournament and since then he has grown into one of the top young American players. The speedy Michigan native has won two Norwegian titles with Molde and has finally earned his first cap with the US team.
Juan Agudelo - Agudelo was not on the 2011 qualifying team because US Soccer made the controversial decision for him to play with the senior national team instead. Agudelo had a difficult 2012 where he was traded from the Red Bulls to a woeful Chivas USA team. He is now training with Celtic FC in the offseason where he has reportedly impressed. He has one more season on his contract and it is very possible that he moves abroad. His recent cap with the US national team against Russia shows he is still in the picture.
Terrence Boyd - Boyd was not on the US U20 team in 2011 because he was still in the process of acquiring his American passport. He would later make his debut with the U20s in 2011 for friendlies against France after the ill-fated qualifying tournament. Had the US U20s qualified for the World Cup, it was likely he would have been on the team as Thomas Rongen was very much interested in the German American. After leaving the Borussia Dortmund system where he was a top U23 player but unable to break into the top team, Boyd is now a star for Rapid Vienna and one of the top scorers in the Austrian Bundesliga.
Players who did not make the cut
Jack McInerney - McInerney has come into his own in 2012 for the Philadelphia Union and finished the season on a hot streak with eight goals. Physically he is small but tactically he his smart and reads the game well. His improvement as a player in 2012 has many with high expectations in 2013.
Kofi Sarkodie - It may have taken awhile but Sarkodie, a right back, finally broke into the starting lineup with Houston where he started in the 2012 MLS Cup final against Los Angeles.