ANDY SCHREUR - Friday, March 1, 2013
Santos Laguna midfielder Benji Joya is extremely confident after the US Under-20 National Team booked their ticket to the U-20 World Cup in Turkey this summer.
Joya, who has played every minute in the three matches for the US in the CONCACAF U-20 Championship, was not worried after the US found themselves down 1-0 to Canada in the 23rd minute.
"[Being down a goal] didn't bring us down at all - the team got together, got united and told each other we have to win this," Joya told YA between trainings in Mexico. "There really was no choice but to get the win so we got the work done and the goal came, then the second one, then the third one."
"It was just exciting, being down 1-0 in an international game is really not that easy to come back but we got together, put ourselves together and got the result."
Accroding to Joya, the catalyst for the team's fight was head coach Tab Ramos, and the youngster was eager to praise his boss.
"[Coach Ramos] told us that there's going to be times in the games when we're going struggle and be in situations like that," Joya recalled. "Obviously we don't want to fall onto those [times]. I think it was more about the team being united and knowing that we have to win."
"It was the World Cup we were playing for. All we worked for - for a year and a half - was this particular game. He got us ready and told us there's going to be struggles and we just have to maintain together and fight harder and try harder."
The talented midfield trio of Luis Gil, Jose Villareal and Wil Trapp had much to do with the teams' poise throughout the World Cup clincher and dominated possession throughout the contest - a point not lost on the Mexico-based Joya.
"Knowing I have talented players around me - Shane [O'Neill], Trapp, Jose [Villareal], [Daniel] Cuevas, Mario [Rodriguez] - they're very talented players and I know they're going to work hard for the ball, they're going to work hard for the team."
"I guess we bring our chemistry outside the field onto the field because being united is important," Joya said of team spirit. "We're more like brothers outside and on the field and just bringing the chemistry to work and putting it together and I'm just happy I have very good teammates that support me."
Joya assisted on the US's fourth goal when he unselfishly passed on a shot and dropped the ball back to Villareal, who beat the Canadian keeper for his second goal of the match and third of the tournament. That spirit of team play and togetherness comes from Ramos.
"I think that everyone thought that [I was going to shoot,] but the coach told us to be a giver on the field and think about the team instead of thinking about ourselves," Joya said. "This sport, this game... we play as a team, not as an individual. I got the ball, I waited for the centerback to get more inside the box and I knew Jose was back there so I just played the ball back and thank God he scored it."
The close knit team's primary goal was qualifying for the World Cup and Joya acknowledged the pressure of Wednesday night's do or die performance.
"I think we relieved stress," Joya said of qualifying for the World Cup. "We went into a big game, and Canada is not a bad team, but we dominated. I think we were all on the same page and we were ready to qualify. I have a lot of hope for this team, we're really united."
Looking forward, the US play Cuba on Friday evening in a semifinal matchup, while the other side of the bracket sees hosts Mexico face off against El Salvador. The San Jose, California native is confident heading into Friday's match and the atmosphere around the team is focused and determined to continue on into the Final.
"Our objective was to qualify for the World Cup. We did it as a team and now going on to Cuba - my next objective is beating Cuba, going on to the finals and hopefully becoming champions by winning CONCACAF. If we play the way we played last night [against Canada], I don't think any team can stop us. We have a strong mentality and we have a lot of technical players."
Joya's confidence has also improved as a result of the extended U-20 camp and qualifying campaign, which he'll be looking to take with him when he returns to Santos Laguna next week. The reality of World Cup qualification and achievement of a lifelong goal is starting to set in for Joya.
"I've really gained my confidence again," said Joya. "It's just so nice playing with the U-20's, with the national team and it brings my confidence up knowing that I'm in the starting 11. I'm just excited."
"I'm just excited overall for the World Cup-doesn't matter where it's at, I just want to play in the World Cup," Joya said of this summer's tournament in Turkey. "When I was young, my goals were to go pro and play [in the] World Cup and I think it's a great start for me and my career."