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:
• 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.