BRIAN SCIARETTA - Thursday, June 13, 2013
With the US U-20 team currently in camp in Portugal for its final preparations ahead of the World Cup, Oscar Sorto is optimistic of the team's chances despite the difficult draw.
Sorto, 18, was not a regular with the US U-20 cycle and he first made an appearance in January for a camp in Mexico just prior the World Cup qualifying tournament in February. After camp, Sorto was informed by head coach Tab Ramos that he did not make the World Cup qualifying team.
After being cut from the qualifying team, Sorto insisted that it only motivated him even more to succeed.
"I was with them in January," Sorto told YA. "It was kind of tough because he pretty much had all of his players that he was going to take to qualifying. I respect the decision he made. I was just telling myself to train harder and harder and he'll call me for sure again. That's what I did. Since then I've just been working hard to try to prove to him that I belong with the team."
Following the U.S team's success at qualifying, the first step in the team's preparation for the World Cup was a March camp in Los Angeles. Sorto was invited and he performed very well.
Sorto was subsequently invited to play in the team's final preparation for the World Cup in the Toulon Tournament at the end of May. Sorto was playing well in the months leading up to Toulon but he suffered a sprained ankle and was unable to play until the team' final game against South Korea.
Prior to the tournament, Ramos told Sorto that he was unsure if he was going to make the roster for the World Cup. As he continued to train with the team in France, Sorto played well - including in the 1-0 loss to South Korea. Afterward, Ramos informed him that he would be on the team traveling to Turkey.
"I was happy because I honestly didn't think I was going to make it," Sorto recalled of hearing the news. "Before I came to camp, I was injured with a sprained ankle. The coach told me I was on the edge of not making it. He told me just to play my game. I did my best in the last game and I was happy."
Now that he has made the team and feels 100% fit, Sorto's goal is to be part of the team's starting lineup at the World Cup. As a right back, his competition is DeAndre Yedlin who currently is among the best rookies in MLS with Seattle.
The team will also need to perform better than it did at Toulon where it won just one out of four games. The full roster is now assembled in Portugal and it will head to Turkey next week for its game against Spain on Friday.
"I think we're going to be really prepared," Sorto said. "At Toulon we went out there to see how the Euro and other teams were playing. They play at a faster pace and that's what we're going to try to do these couple of weeks is to prepare for Spain. It's a faster place and we will play faster."
It has been a long road for Sorto to make it into Ramos' plans for the World Cup but the U.S team was not his only option in Turkey. Sorto was born in the United States to El Salvadorian parents and El Salvador was one of four CONCACAF teams to qualify for the World Cup.
After qualifying, El Salvador invited Sorto to be part of their U-20 team for its preparations for the World Cup. It was a difficult decision for Sorto as his ties to El Salvador are strong but he wanted to continue to wait longer to make the U.S team despite missing out on qualifying.
"I was waiting for the U.S to call me," Sorto said. "I told one of the guys from El Salvador that if the USA doesn't call me, I'll 100% sure I'll go with you guys. But then the USA called me and I was like ‘I'll go with the USA.' It was tough. My parents wanted me to play for their country but the USA has given me all these opportunities and I had to choose the USA."
While Sorto's family was hoping he would decide for El Salvador, they are equally excited for his chances now with the United States.
"They're happy for me right now that I'm going to the World Cup with US U-20s," Sorto said. "That's what they wanted was for me to go to a World Cup."
2013 has already been a good year for Sorto who is settling into his first season as a professional after signing a homegrown contract with the Los Angeles Galaxy in December. After the World Cup, he is optimistic that his MLS debut is not far off.
"I have a feeling that I am going to debut when I get back soon enough," Sorto said. "With the Galaxy I've been learning a lot and Bruce has been talking to me and the whole coaching staff just supports me and gives me confidence to play my game. I'm pretty confident right now."
Sorto is from the Los Angeles area and developed playing with Pateadores, one of California's top youth teams that also produced Galaxy and US U20 forward Jose Villarreal. Sorto elected to sign with the Galaxy because he felt comfortable with head coach Bruce Arena as well as the well-known veterans on the team.
Sorto credits the environment at the Galaxy as being a significant factor in his improvement this year.
"Bruce is a serious guy but I try to listen to him when he talks to the older players," Sorto explained. "I just try to get some opinions from him. It's a good experience and I'm playing next to the big stars. I just try to learn little things from them and see how they move around the field. Obviously the Galaxy is a big team and I signed because I feel comfortable playing next to those big players. They give me confidence to play and I just try to bring my game when I play with them."
For now, however, Sorto is focused on the U.S U-20 team and its difficult task at the World Cup where it was drawn into the Group of Death with Spain, France, and Ghana. The U.S team will now embrace an underdog role but Sorto is confident in his team's ability to compete with the world's elite soccer powers.
"We can compete with any team, to be honest," Sorto concluded. "We just have to play with confidence and be patient with the ball. Then we'll do well against all those teams."