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U-20 Update

The Time Is Now for the Latest U.S. Under-20 Squad

SC Freiberg's Caleb Stanko and Georgetown's Brandon Allen are two of the players who hope to lead the United States to the U-20 World Cup. Jasper Wilson talks to the pair about a recent camp and the future.
BY Jasper Wilson Posted
December 24, 2012
7:10 AM
In international soccer, each youth cycle lasts two years. Teams often come together quickly, then move on to the next challenge.

The United States U-20 squad is no exception. Tab Ramos' charges, who will attempt to qualify for the age group World Cup at the CONCACAF championship in February, just finished a week of training in Florida.

Caleb Stanko, the team's 19-year-old captain who spent the last two years playing for Germany's SC Freiberg, says the progression he has seen over the course of the year is most evident in the way the team plays.

“When we first started out, a lot of guys were being extra selfish. Of course, you’re gonna have guys being selfish on the team because they want to show what they have,” he told ASN last week. “But now that we’re getting closer [to qualifying] and have had more good camps, you can see a bonding and an understanding of how everyone plays with each other, how one guy plays with another, the building of chemistry.”

The results are coming, too, as the team beat Venezuela 4-0 on Friday in a game closed to the public.

This need for understanding on the field is crucial given the short length and the infrequent nature of training camps. “With the U.S. team we play a different style so it takes the guys and me a few days to get adjusted back to that system because we haven’t played it for a few months,” Stanko said.

The U-20 setup is also unique in how it combines college and professional players. The squad in Florida featured a 50-50 split, but the players say it didn't have a negative effect.

“It’s always been pretty much a core group of guys [here],” Stanko said. “All the guys that have come in from college or from MLS or wherever have all done a really good job at their positions, so it hasn’t really affected us too much.”

One of those college players is freshman forward Brandon Allen, who reached the national championship game in his first season with Georgetown.

Allen, a New Jersey native, notices a difference between the college players and the pros, but he thinks he can compete. “[The pro game is] a little smarter, but I think I’m able to keep up with them and play like them, so I’m not too worried about it,” he said. “I just play how I always do. Play with confidence, play with heart, and don’t give up on any plays.”

The U.S. opens February's U-20 CONCACAF championship against Haiti, and Ramos tried to get his team to focus on that game during the week-long camp. Given the format of the tournament, winning that first game would almost surely secure a place in the quarterfinal knockout stage, leaving the U.S. a single win away from qualification. All semifinalists will advance to June's World Cup in Turkey.

“We are definitely focused on that first game against Haiti,” Stanko said. “That’s our goal from here on out—to play Haiti. That’s what we’re preparing for.”

Allen agrees with his teammate. “We definitely want to beat Haiti and we've got to come out and work hard every day on the practice pitch and hopefully it’ll pay off during the World Cup,” the forward said. “We’ll see what happens.”

Ramos intends to make sure to avoid past failures. The U.S. failed to reach the 2011 U-20 World Cup and this summer's Olympics after falling short in CONCACAF championships. “I want to make sure that in particular for this group, we have been and will continue to spell out how important it would be for them to participate in the Under-20 World Cup and to showcase themselves to the world,” he said in an interview with ussoccer.com. “None if that can happen if we don’t have a great tournament [in Mexico]. We won’t look past what we have in front of us, and, as everyone says, we will take it one game at a time.”

The team’s next training camp will take place next month in Puebla, Mexico—the site where the qualifying matches will be played.

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