Tight US U-20s fight with "all for one" mentality
GUATEMALA CITY, Guatemala – The United States national team is developing an impressive team unity at all age levels. The 11 Musketeers attitude – "All for one and one for all" – exists on the field, at the training ground and on Twitter feeds, where players are constantly conversing and gently ripping each other.
Perhaps nowhere is the bond stronger than on the Under-20 team currently waiting to play hosts Guatemala on Wednesday in the quarterfinals of the CONCACAF Championship (10 pm ET, concacaf.com) for a berth in the U-20 World Cup. The squad in Central America is unified and united, a product of an attitude and philosophy honed over the two-year cycle.
"We all carry gear," Dillon Powers told MLSsoccer.com at the American team hotel on Monday. "There's nobody that's too good for the team. ... There's nobody that I don't want to work for on this team."
An example: The Notre Dame star missed the first two games because he has been working his way back to full strength after taking a couple months off to recover from an overtraining injury. Powers spent the first 35 minutes of last weekend's match against Panama watching from the stands.
Instead of staying in the comfortable surroundings, he went to the locker room at half time and offered Perry Kitchen (at right) and the rest of the midfielders some observations he noticed from his elevated position.
He was still talking to the D.C. United rookie as the pair walked out of the tunnel to start the second stanza, only returning to the stands after he had made his point.
Powers is admittedly frustrated not to be on the field, but he is doing what he can to help. He knows his teammates have the same attitude. Ironically, the strength of this young side stems from its veteran leadership. Powers and Gale Agbossoumonde figured in the 2009 U-20 World Cup, while the defender and the Philadelphia Union's Amobi Okugo helped Thomas Rongen's squad to the finals of the '09 CONCACAF Championship.
When asked about the differences between the team in Guatemala and the side that traveled to Trinidad and Tobago and Egypt two years ago, all three players noted the increasing level of professionalism.
"You don't have to babysit the other players because everybody knows what to do," Okugo said. "Even the new guys who have gone through [MLS] preseason know what to do. They know you have to bring it everyday. We all pick up gear. We help each other out. We offer constructive criticism for each other."
Even college players like Powers, Kelyn Rowe and Sebastian Ibeagha understand they need to do extra work while in school to compete for a spot on the US roster since Rongen impressed upon them the importance of keeping their form.
As the team skews ever more professional, it also becomes increasingly skilled. The '09 squad relied too heavily on their physical gifts and did not have the soccer wherewithal necessary to elegantly enact Rongen's 4-3-3 possession-based, attacking system. That reality was apparently during their first-round exit at the World Cup (in an admittedly difficult group).
Agbossoumonde believes this cycle's team points in the direction that American soccer is heading.
"This team is very similar [to the '09 side] because we have guys who are strong and everyone is fit, but we also have that playing style," said the Togo-born defender, who will return to Djurgarden after Wednesday's nights match. "You need that nowadays. If you can't play football, you can't compete."
The 20 players at the CONCACAF Championship have certainly shown they can compete – netting six goals while posting two shutouts – and they will only get better as missing talents including Josh Gatt, Adrian Ruelas and (perhaps) Fabian Hurzeler join, assuming the US qualify for the World Cup.
No matter who makes the roster for the tournament in Colombia, one thing is certain: They will fit right into the musketeer mentality of the squad.
"The coaches have talked about the maturity level in this cycle, especially," Powers said. "I really think that the collective attitude of the team is there."
And it's not going anywhere.
Noah Davis covers the United States team for MLSsoccer.com. Follow him on Twitter at @noahedavis.