The U-20 teams from the United States and Canada are expected to compete for two of the four World Cup qualification spots up for grabs during April's 2011 CONCACAF Championship. Over the next few days, they will have a good measuring stick upon which to assess their progress: each other.
The pair will play matches on Dec. 16 and Dec. 18 in Sunrise, Fla.
Thomas Rongen’s 24-man roster features a mix of experienced veterans and new faces. Defender Gale Agbossoumonde as well as midfielders Amobi Okugo and Dillon Powers traveled to Egypt for the 2009 U-20 World Cup, while America de Cali goalkeeper Kevin Piedrahita and striker Conor Doyle are participating in their first camp.
WATCH: Amobi Okugo's video blog from Madrid
TSG 1899 Hoffenheim winger Joseph Gyau makes his return to the Red, White and Blue fold. Though the former U-17 star struggled to find his form after signing with the European side last August, he has posted a strong run of performances for the club’s U-19 squad in recent months. Rongen considered bringing the son of former US international Phillip Gyau into camp sooner but left him out while he transitioned to life in Germany.
Akron's NCAA championship-winning duo of Perry Kitchen and Zarek Valentin will look to make an impression and possibly earn a roster spot, as will Michigan freshman and camp newcomer Soony Saad.
“This team should be all pro when qualifying comes around, but there’s going to be an exceptional college player here or there,” Rongen said last month.
The Americans will take on a Canadian side that’s full of the country’s best youth talent. Manager Valerio Gazzola’s 21-man roster features five of the six nominees for Canada’s U-20 Player of the Year, including winner Ethan Gage.
Pat Onstad helped coach a recent U-23 camp in which Gage – as well as agemates Ashtone Morgan, Julien Latendresse-Lévesque, and Sean Hart – participated.
“He’s a good, solid guy,” the former Dynamo 'keeper told MLSsoccer.com by phone. “Technically he’s a defender – although he sees himself as a bit more of a midfielder – and he’s a hard-worker and good tackler.
“His best attribute is that he’s a good leader. Even if he’s not the captain, he’s the kind of guy the locker room will revolve around. He was a little quieter on the U-23 team because he was playing with guys who were a couple years older, but he stepped up as he got more comfortable.”
Onstad also had high praise for goalkeeper Latendresse-Lévesque, who finished second to Gage in the U-20 PoY voting.
“Julien has come a long way,” he said. “He’s not the biggest 'keeper at only 6 feet or 6-1, but he’s technically very gifted. He’s done well at FC Energie Cottbus and will continue to improve.”
According to Onstad, Canada – despite missing out on the 2009 U-20 World Cup – is “pretty competitive” at the age level but struggle because the opportunities aren’t there.
Gazzola can deploy just two field players – FSV Mainz ‘05’s Jaineil Hoilett and Slavia Praha’s Niall Cousens – who call European clubs home. Major League Soccer’s Canadian expansion is helping to develop the program, something Onstad believes will continue as Vancouver and Montreal join the league in 2011 and 2012, respectively.
For now, the team might not be as talented as some of their regional opponents, but they are united.
“One thing I always find about the Canadian makeup is that when they get together for any amount of time they turn into a pretty cohesive unit,” Onstad said. “There’s that Canadian fighting spirit.”
US U-20 MNT Roster By Position:
GOALKEEPERS (2): Zac MacMath (Maryland; St. Petersburg, Fla.), Kevin Piedrahita (América de Cali; Queens, N.Y.)
DEFENDERS (8): Gale Agbossoumonde (G.D. Estoril Praia; Syracuse, N.Y.), Greg Garza (G.D. Estoril Praia; Grapevine, Texas),
Sebastien Ibeagha (Duke; Missouri City, Texas), Perry Kitchen (Akron; Indianapolis, Ind.), Eric Schoenle (West Virginia; Yardley, Pa.),
Ben Sweat (South Florida; Palm Harbor, Fla.), Zarek Valentin (Akron; Lancaster, Pa.), Korey Veeder (Unattached; St. Petersburg, Fla.)
MIDFIELDERS (8): Steven Evans (Portland; Troutdale, Ore.), Joshua Gatt (SC Rheindorf Altach; Plymouth, Mich.), Joe Gyau (TSG 1899 Hoffenheim; Silver Spring, Md.), Alex Molano (NK Dinamo Zagreb; Grapevine, Texas), Amobi Okugo (Philadelphia Union; Sacramento, Calif.), Dillon Powers (Notre Dame; Plano, Texas), Kelyn Rowe (UCLA; Newport Beach, Calif.), Conor Shanosky (D.C. United; Sterling, Va.)
FORWARDS (6): Conor Doyle (Derby County FC; McKinney, Texas), Dylan Mares (Louisville; Zionsville, Ind.), Jack McInerney (Philadelphia Union; Alpharetta, Ga.), Adrian Ruelas (Celtic F.C.; Fontana, Calif.), Soony Saad (Michigan; Dearborn, Mich.), Omar Salgado (Unattached; El Paso, Texas)
CANADA U-20 MNT Roster By Position:
GOALKEEPERS (2): Julien Latendresse Lévesque (FC Energie Cottbus; Chambly, Qc.), Roberto Stillo (Genoa CFC; Mississauga, On.)
DEFENDERS (8): Sven Arapovic (Toronto Croatia; Etobicoke, On.), Derrick Bassi (Simon Fraser University; Delta, BC), Vince Caminiti (AEK London FC, Lambeth, On.), Sean Hart (Schulz Academy; Toronto, On.), Doneil Henry (Toronto FC; Brampton, On.), Ashtone Morgan (Toronto FC Academy; Toronto, On.), Chris Suta (University of Detroit Mercy; Windsor, On.), Roger Thompson (University of Cincinnati; Brampton, On.)
MIDFIELDERS (6): Kevin Cobby (Vancouver Whitecaps FC; Brampton, On.), Oscar Cordon (Toronto FC Academy; Toronto, On.), Ethan Gage (Vancouver Whitecaps FC; Cochrane, Ab.), Jaineil Hoilett (FSV Mainz'05; Brampton, On.), Jonathan Osorio (Clarkson Sheridan; Brampton, On.), Matt Stinson (Winthrop University; Toronto, On.)
FORWARDS (5): Jerome Baker (Unattached; Toronto, On.), Niall Cousens (FC Hlucin on loan from Slavia Praha; Vancouver, BC), Erik Grigore (North York Astros; Toronto, On.), Nicholas Lindsay (Toronto FC Academy; Brampton, On.), Massimo Mirabelli (Portugal FC; Brampton, On.)
Noah Davis covers the United States national team for MLSsoccer.com. Follow him on Twitter at @noahedavis.