By Travis Clark
Despite the bad taste of the disappointing failure of the U23 Men’s National Team still lingering, look no further than the latest roster of the U20 men’s team for comfort.
There was an outpouring of negativity after the U23s failed to even qualify for the semifinals of CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying Tournament. But now it’s time to move on and focus on the next task lying before the youth men’s national team – U20 qualification in 2013.
There’s no secret that the U.S. failed at this age group last time under Thomas Rongen. And while qualifying for the U20 World Cup is far from assured, there’s plenty of talent in the current crop. Camp starts next week in Portland, Oregon, and there’s little question who the central focus of the group will be – Luis Gil.
Gil’s star is slowly on the rise, a rather unusual characteristic in U.S. men’s soccer, where even the most minute talent becomes overhyped in no time. He’s currently in his third season with Real Salt Lake, and is someone this U20 team can be built around. Players who aren’t even coming into camp for various reasons, like the injured Marc Pelosi, forward Vilyan Bijev and midfielder Alejandro Guido, are sure to be involved.
Along with that, there’s plenty more than just Gil and a couple of no shows. Crew Academy and Akron midfielder Wil Trapp continues to develop into a talented player, and FC Dallas Academy product and North Carolina central defender Boyd Okwuonu is a pro center back in the making. Then there’s the oft-overlooked Will Packwood, a defensive midfielder who has slowly but surely cut his teeth in Birmingham of all places.
These names are a reminder that while U.S. Soccer still has a long way to go, there is reason for optimism on the immediate horizon. And while there’s nothing guaranteed when navigating the traps and pitfalls of CONCACAF qualifying, you shouldn’t give up hope. Next year, another promising crop of men’s talent is going to take center stage and restore the sense of optimism that might just be hard to feel at the moment.