STILL THE RIGHT MAN FOR THE JOB
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BRIAN SCIARETTA - Wednesday, December 23, 2009
This past week it became news that US Soccer would retain Thomas Rongen as the head coach of the USA U20 national team for the 2011 World Cup cycle. It will be Rongen's third straight cycle as head coach of the U20 team and fourth overall.

Despite his weaknesses and the disappointing results of the 2009 U20 team at the World Cup this year, Rongen remains the right person for the job for this cycle. There are several reasons for this.

The first reason is that Rongen remains an offensive minded coach that has always attempted to build his midfield around creative players. More importantly, Rongen provides room in his system for these creative players to use their individual talents and skills to dictate the pace of the games.

In the 2003 cycle, Rongen built his team around the playmaking of Bobby Convey and Justin Mapp. The result was the best soccer the US has ever played at the U20 age group. The US posted convincing wins over Paraguay, the Ivory Coast and South Korea before falling 2-1 in extra time to Argentina in an end-to-end thriller.

In the 2007 cycle, the team's playmaking was even more explosive. The midfield was centered on Freddy Adu but he was aided by Robbie Rogers, Sal Zizzo, Michael Bradley and Danny Szetela, all of whom excelled in the system. The team managed wins over Poland, Brazil, and Uruguay before falling to Austria in extra-time.

While the 2009 cycle was disappointing for the US, the system was still built around attacking soccer. The best field players on the team were Dilly Duka, Bryan Arguez, and Jared Jeffery. Rongen's system did provide for a player like Duka to use his creativity to manufacture offense. Still, it remains a distinct possibility that this team's poor results may just have been a result of it being less talented than the three previous U20 classes.

Far too often, youth soccer coaches in the US are accused of playing a very robotic or rigid form of the game that stifles creativity and individual skill. Many American youth teams lack playmaking in favor of bunkering and long ball tactics. While this may be a fair generalization for most coaches in this country, Rongen does not fall into this harsh stereotype.

The backbone of Rongen's system is simply freedom on the field for talented playmaking midfielders. The success and failure of his teams will depend solely on a player's talent and vision. Rongen will allow his players, not his system, to determine how far the team goes.

At the youth level, this type of system is the right one. While results are important, an even bigger priority should be to allow the players to play in front of scouts and show off their talents. A less rigid system like the one Rongen uses will truly show where the American talent stands compared to the rest of the world at this particular age group.

While the 2009 suffered from a lack of explosive players that Rongen needs, the players in the 2011 cycle will not have this problem. The only thing that can drain talent to render Rongen's system ineffective would be if the players elect not to participate because they are beyond youth soccer (similar to how Jozy Altidore and Freddy Adu declined to play in the 2009 U20 World Cup despite being age-eligible).

While other young players will emerge in over the course of the cycle, right now the team will have players like Luis Gil, Sebastian Lleget and Carlos Martinez running the offense. These type of players should do exceptionally well under Rongen's system because they will be given the freedom to use their creativity.

Another major reason why Rongen is still a good coach at this age group is his inclination to search far and wide for players that will thrive in his teams. For example, over the 2009 cycle, Rongen called in 113 different players and several of these players developed in unique ways. In the cases of Mix Diskerud and Giuseppe Nazzani (who was called into several camps but didn't make the final team), the players never even seriously played organized soccer in the United States.

It's very important to have a U20 coach that has such a willingness to search for players that develop outside the typical routes of US Soccer youth development like The Bradenton Academy. It shows both independence from the US Soccer structure as well as acknowledges the fact that there are good players who develop their games later and through other routes.

During Rongen's tenure, there have always been players that have emerged very late in the cycle to make the World Cup teams. Gabriel Ferrari emerged just a few months before the World Cup in 2007 and there were many players that made the roster in 2009 that did not make the qualifying roster. Again, this is a good thing in that it shows an open mind by constantly looking for players during the course of the entire two year cycle.

This certainly does not mean Rongen is without his flaws. He most certainly has them. His failure to make a third substitution in the 2003 quarterfinal against Argentina allowed Javier Mascherano to equalize at the end of second half injury time and cost the US a stunning victory. In 2007, Rongen stuck with the same group of players for every game and by the quarterfinals, they were worn down. In 2009, the starting lineup in the opening game did not appear to be the best the USA had to offer given the games leading up to the World Cup in the summer.

Still, the positives outweigh the negatives in evaluating the decision to retain Rongen as head coach for the 2011 U20 cycle. This hold true especially when you consider the players he will have at his disposal this time. Rongen is a good coach of skilled players and this cycle he will certainly have an abundance of type of players that have done well under him in the past. It should certainly be an attractive brand of soccer with plenty of skill and creativity on display.
SOL KESSLAR
Tuesday February 2, 2010 9:54 am
Decent recent results out of Mexico. Some of you are just haters for the sake of being constantly negative, some U.S. fans think that is a sign of their football knowledge.Simply put, Rongren exposes the young players to total football, thus furthering development. As for Subotic, he was not going to play for the U.S., he lived here for barely two years, and left. If he was so soft skinned over Rongren's comments, he must have toughened up before his trip to the B-liga. Rumor has it they spare the pc talk and are rather direct,a tough pill to swallow for the avg. coddled American child.
jay Manning-Laisne
Wednesday January 27, 2010 5:52 pm
@fernando, its a two year cycle...
Fernando Sanchez
Thursday January 14, 2010 3:28 pm
Another four years of the same good ol' COACH CAROUSEL...It is time for a change man...How difficult is to realize that....
Felix
Thursday January 14, 2010 10:35 am
I'm personally not a big fan of Rongen. I'll give him some credit that he does seem to attempt to cater his system to the players he has at hand and he has expanded the pool.
But on the other hand, he underperforms with the talent he does have at disposal and his penchant to criticize the team/players in the media has proven to be detrimental. Remember these are kids, 20 years old and younger.

And I will always always always fault him for the fiasco over Neven Subotic. To me there isn't a question in my mind that Subotic would be a US international right now if Rongen handled the build-up to the '07 U-20 WC differently.

One of the best defensive talents this system has produced in the last five years slipped through our fingers because the manager couldn't keep his mouth shut.
BPainter
Wednesday January 6, 2010 10:07 pm
I usually don't post twice on an article, but I really can't understand the silly, snide comments by some who can't distinguish between brown nosing and the balanced analysis that the article actually provides.

Again, the knee jerk reflex of some soccer fans to can the coach after one disappointing performance is curious at best. The 2007 U20s were very impressive and clearly well coached. And the success of many of the players after that tournament was even better and showed how well Rongen was able to showcase their talents positively in front of the most important scouts on the planet.

Think of where some wound up: Adu to Benfica; Szetela to Racing Santander; Altidore to Villareal; Arguez to Hertha Berlin (not to mention Rogers' and McCarty's success in the MLS). Rongen deserves much credit for this as well as for feeding the pipeline to the national team with quality players, which I will always maintain is the most critical function of the U20s.
Thommy
Wednesday January 6, 2010 9:44 am
Great points- Especially liked the insertion of "W" into Rongen's last name. Clever.

But apologies - the low expectations was in reference to another post suggesting Rongen is reflective of a loser mentality and of low expectations surrounding the USMNT.

The article was simply one side of the coin. There are plenty of reasons to put Rongen out to pasture....as there are of most coaches. His track record in the MLS and as U 20 coach, however, suggests that he may still be the right man for the job.
Warren
Wednesday January 6, 2010 12:00 am
Article was about the u-20s coach, not about what the senior team has done.

Of course U-20's are a training ground; but of course the players to be given the field should be the ones capable of performing; likewise for the subs.

Cabrera's shown way more in his short time with USSF than Wrongen has through several cycles.

Wrongen was past due to be put to pasture; Cabrera should have been given that gig and new blood brought in for the u-17s.

Oh but wait, my mistake, of course Rongen and BB are the best of all possible coaches. Right.
Thommy
Monday January 4, 2010 9:24 pm
Nice article--surprised by a lot of the responses. Not sure what some people expect of the U20 team. Do major league baseball teams expect their farm teams to win their respective leagues every year? Winning is important, there's no doubt about that, but the primary purpose is to provide the senior team with developed players. The 09 results weren't great, but the 07 Canada performances were just fine. That's the way it goes with the U20 players-- ask Sir Alex Ferguson what he thinks of his youth system after Sunday. I doubt he's ready to fire his coaches and give up on his players.

To suggest that there are incredibly low expectations surrounding U.S. soccer is simply just not true. Recent World Cup performances have shown promise. The Confederations Cup showed the potential of the team to come up with big performances on a pretty big stage.

Good stuff Sciaretta, not your fault there is too much pessimism out there.
Warren
Monday January 4, 2010 1:43 pm
Completely wrong-headed.

I've followed Wrong-en's career since he flopped with Revs in MLS, and he clearly hasn't learned anything since then.

Because he plays a more attractive than kickball game he should stick around? he started the wrong guys in 09, and even the brown-nosing author admits his tactical shortcomings cost games in past cycles.

Just goes to show USSF rewarding home-boy medocrities again and again.

Cabrera should have been given the u-20 gig to stick with the core of the crew he groomed at u-17, and new blood found for the u-17s. Oh well, maybe some day ussf will learn (NOT).
Arcticrules
Saturday January 2, 2010 11:43 am
My impression of Rongen is of an arrogant guy who does not believe he has an responsibility when his team plays poorly. I lose all respect for a coach who says to the press -- "we just don't have as much quality in this group." That is a crap thing to say, even if true, and demoralizes your team. He said that even before the results came in at the U-20 WC and I think he said it to lower expectations in case he couldn't get his group to perform. That alone makes me want him out but he has never said anything else that makes me think his high regard of his own abilities is merited.
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