What You Missed At The Milk Cup

This is a guest post by Brian Mechanick

In a thoroughly dominating performance Friday, the U.S. U-20 National Team won the Milk Cup in Northern Ireland. After wins over China and Denmark got them to the final, the U.S. had to face the home nation for the right to lift the trophy.

Friend of TSG 723 Football Films has the highlights:

Thoughts on the U-20’s, and their performance in the Milk Cup as a whole:

Okugo

•            Let’s start on those not in Northern Ireland, before we get to those on the field. A couple of MLS regulars were notable absences: Tristan Bowen, Jack McInerney, and Amobi Okugo. Of the trio, keep an eye out for Okugo to challenge for a senior holding midfielder in the future.  Also to watch are two midfielders, West Ham’s Sebastian Lletget, who was recovering from Mono and Alexander Zahavi, who is rehabbing a leg injury.

Top goalie or Facebook CEO?

•            Maryland’s Zak MacMath was a star at goalkeeping throughout the tournament, and the world has taken notice. ESPN’s Brent Latham has reported the USA star is staying across the Atlantic to train with Tim Howard’s own Everton. Don’t expect a contract, but this kind of hype could earn MacMath a contract with a European club or make him a high draft pick, perhaps as high as his Maryland predecessor Chris Seitz (drafted #4 by RSL in ’07).

•            MacMath’s understudy in the tournament is Porto’s Samir Badr, who looked up and down in his start versus Denmark. The Egyptian-American showed some fantastic shot stopping and athleticism, but was indecisive on crossed balls.

•            Captain and most famed player of this U-20 squad, Gale Agbossoumonde looked the part of a future USMNT member. He controlled the game in the air, showed the strength and agility to stop attacks, and even had the skill on ball to open the USA’s scoring in the final. Expect “Boss” to lead this team throughout this U-20 cycle.

The "Boss" of the backline...

•            Akron is the soccer powerhouse that has produced Steve Zakuani, Blair Gavin, and Teal Bunbury in recent years, and they are keeping the pipeline flowing with two more fantastic defenders. Zarek Valentin shined at right back today, providing intent going forward and a lovely ball to boot. Valentin provides a needed utility of being just as comfortable at right back as center back. His fellow Zip Perry Kitchen showed himself well pairing with Agbossoumonde, playing the smaller half with confidence.

•            Greg Garza was what US fans always dreamed of today: a true left back.  The Sporting Lisbon defender played deeper today, but he showed a nice cross and talents in locking down the Northern Irish’s right wing. TSG fave and utility fullback Eric Lichaj not withstanding, Garza looks the best young left back around these days.

•            Alex Molano looked confident in central midfield, but his free kicks were the hallmark of his play, delivering perfectly aimed crosses into the box. His free kicks on goals left something to be desired, but it’s interesting to see the Dinamo Zagreb player bring a unique skill-set to the table.

Agudelo is going to learn from the best...

•            The MVP in the final for the U.S. was NYRB’s own Juan Agudelo. Confident on the ball with some fancy footwork and cutting speed, Agudelo looked a dynamic and powerful force down the right wing. He has no better player to learn from now than Thierry Henry, so let’s hope the Colombian-American does well to learn from one of the best attackers of his generation.

•            Omar Salgado is a raw talent, emphasis on the raw. At 6’4” he can win those vital balls in the air to score goals, but on-ball he is a half step slow. His upside is Edin Džeko, but he could become just another stiff if not careful (although I’d hedge a bet on him becoming a center back if he can’t cut it at forward). His Generation Adidas contract is a good start to starting to harness his talents, as the youth development is getting better and better in MLS. Hopefully he can get loaned out for the rest of this year for further seasoning, and then get drafted by a MLS team that helps him grow his talents.

•            Adrian Ruelas came out of obscurity into the U.S. team, but the Santos player looked a ball-hawking forward this tournament. Leading the team with three goals, Ruelas combined his tall frame with strength and technical ability. With so many American forwards lacking that scorer’s mentality, Ruelas’ finishing is a breath of fresh air.

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14 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Rob Usry on 2010/08/01 at 10:43 PM

    Good write up. Very excited by this whole team. They played with the quality and confidence that I’ve not seen from a USMNT youth side ever. Of all the players in the tournament the two I see having a chance at breaking into the full National team this cycle are Gale Agbossoumonde and Juan Agudelo. Both players were sensational in all three games. Agudelo has a combination of speed, skill, and technical ability I haven’t seen from any USMNT winger prospect before.

    Boss completely dominates from the back. He’s physical and mobile. He’s also very technically sound. About all you can ask for from a CB. He will not only be cornerstone for the USMNT for a long time but I think he’ll be a future candidate for the armband. I’m sure someone will bring up his red card in the final but let me say that it was bogus red and should never have happened.

    Reply

  2. A lot of write-ups have pegged Agudelo as being a right winger, which I think sells the team short to a certain extent: there was a lot of interchanging throughout the match. All of the attacking players showed up in a bunch of different places–Agudelo’s goal, for example, had him starting on the left side and pinching in middle.

    Reply

  3. Posted by Antonio H. on 2010/08/01 at 11:00 PM

    How tall is Ruelas? And 6’4″ Salgado? JEEZUS. 5 years ago that 16 year old would be practicing with a varsity football team somewhere. It’s so great to see youth soccer in the U.S. Growing at an exponential rate. Would’ve been nice to see Duka or Luis Gil participate, not like they’re getting PT anyway -__-.

    Any reason on why Charlie Renken & Joseph Gyau didn’t play?

    Reply

  4. I only caught the last ten minutes of the final and the commentators brought up the US team’s athleticism when talking about how the US went about their victory against Northern Ireland. As mentioned here: http://bit.ly/8XKrWr that statement can sometimes be seen as a backhanded compliment or just general ignorance of the US players.

    However, this time I thought the BBC commentators were using it out of pure shock and awe, as if they couldn’t believe how large our players were at this age. All that being said, they were definitely conceding that that US was the better team (both physically and skillwise) and deserved winners of the tournament.

    Reply

  5. Posted by Robbie on 2010/08/02 at 6:27 AM

    Great write-up. I was trying to follow the games from forums since I was unable to watch, and this sounds spot-on.

    Remember, Salgado is a 6’4″ SIXTEEN year old playing in a U20 tournament. The sky is the limit for him.

    I’m stoked to watch these guys next year at the U-20 WC.

    Reply

  6. Posted by kaya on 2010/08/02 at 4:15 PM

    I thought the Milk Cup was U-19? Is this something the rest of the teams were adhering to but not the US? I only watched the highlights posted here, but my first impression was that it looked like a U-20 team playing a U-16 team, so I’m not surprised at the commentary, but wondering if the N. Irish really brought their comparable team.

    Reply

  7. Posted by Ben on 2010/08/02 at 5:31 PM

    Yeah the commentators in the final remarked on the size difference the whole game. I don’t think it was backhanded, they were just making conversation and it stood out to them. But the US won with their skills primarily — none of their goals were headers, and it wasn’t a particularly hard-foul kind of game. I did notice NI taking all their corner kicks short, they apparently didn’t want to compete in the air.

    Reply

    • I agree, they tone of their voice was more of exasperation about the size and our ability to constantly put high pressure on the ball for almost the entire 90 minutes.

      Reply

  8. Posted by GeorgeCross on 2010/08/02 at 7:21 PM

    I am surprised that people are making such a big deal regarding size. Especially as it’s only been a matter of weeks since Spain won the World Cup with a lot of midgets in their team / squad…

    Reply

    • Posted by Antonio H. on 2010/08/02 at 11:58 PM

      imagine a 6’1 Pedrito or a 6’4 David Villa

      Reply

      • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2010/08/03 at 7:57 AM

        Assuming that this increased size won’t affect their current skill set.

        Obviously in a team you need balance, and one that can mis it up a bit, I understand that. But I am saying that many of the world’s best (offensive) players, past and present have hardly been the “stereotypical” idea of an athlete… Look at the USMNT, the players that fans are ooh-ing and ahh-ing over for the 2014 cycle have been players like Holden and Torres.

        Reply

    • George – that is an excellent point.

      We have, in the past, churned out bigger and better athletes that don’t have the same feel for the beautiful game as other nations. But, from what I saw in the Milk Cup we’re starting to find a middle ground between the size and skillset conundrum, but then again it was the Milk Cup and we were playing Northern Ireland (hardly a nation to measure ourselves against in the long run).

      The kids on our U-20 team could also have hit their growth spurts sooner than the N. Irish kids and in a few years they’ll all be about similar size and only true soccer skills and mentality will win the day, and hopefully we’ll still come out on top, but who knows.

      Reply

      • Yeah, I think at this point in their careers physical development is a much bigger deal than it is later on. And that is a point regarding Spain, but when a team is able to dominate a game in part because of their size and strength I think it’s a valid point to consider. I like Antonio’s comment too :-)

        Nick, exactly what I was thinking watching some of the games, we’ve got some young guys who can seriously PLAY. I’m really looking forward to seeing how these kids develop, exciting stuff.

        Reply

  9. […] Freddie Ljundberg might head to Celtic in the Scottish Premier League, word is the US star of the 2010 Milk Cup, Adrian Ruelas is set to sign with the storied franchise come the January transfer window. Again, […]

    Reply

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