BY CHRISTIAN ARAOS
While the bulk of American soccer fans’ attention was on the struggles of the senior national team of the US, u-20 Head Coach Tab Ramos named his 18 (eventually 20) man roster for the U-20 CONCANCAF Championship in Mexico. The squad is a mix of European, Mexican, college and MLS based players that is led by young domestic products Jose Villarreal, Luis Gil and Wil Trapp.
Villarreal and Gil have had different paths in becoming young stars in MLS. Villarreal represents the improving success of the homegrown player. Until recently, the homegrown player was barely a concept in MLS with little incentive based on development. The signings of Villarreal and Trapp amongst others around the league, including U-20 teammates Shane O’Neill (Sporting Kansas City)and Mikey Lopez (Sporting Kansas City) show how the tide is changing.
Villarreal burst onto the scene during the Galaxy’s second half title surge with 14 regular season appearances and a superb goal in a 2-2 draw with Vancouver in July. He combines raw athleticism and refined creativity to become a threat as a winger and an attacking midfielder and is also the team’s leading goalscorer with seven goals in ten games – including a goal against Jamaica last Sunday.
While Villarreal is one of many emerging attacking talents on the U-20s, Luis Gil is a relative old timer. Entering his fourth season with Real Salt Lake, Gil already has 54 league appearances and 45 caps with the US on various youth levels. A Generation Adidas player who had peaked the interest of Arsenal, he entered the league with a reputation of being a playmaker.
While Gil hasn’t been a star playmaker for RSL, he has shown he can deal with the league’s physicality at a young age. With a 33-year old Javier Morales signed until 2015, it will be interesting to see how coach Jason Kreis works Gil more into the playmaking role instead of the right sided position he had when Morales returned from his infamous ankle injury.
Wil Trapp is the unknown out of the three. A four year academy player for Columbus, he recently signed with the Crew after a two year career under Caleb Porter at the University of Akron. Trapp, like Gil, has received interest from clubs in Europe, but his local club was the main choice all along.
In his two years with Akron, Trapp was named to the all-MAC team twice and was the 18th ranked upperclassmen by Top Drawer Soccer. Top Drawer also named him as the number 1 freshman in the nation after his first season. He is a defensive midfielder who can build out of the back. His control and distribution make him a player who is known more for the ability to generate possession rather than taking it away.
With the Americans, Gil has been a youth team captain in the past but the belief is that Caleb Stanko of SC Freiberg will be the captain for the Americans in Puebla. Stanko will have either defensive midfield or centerback responsibilities for a team whose biggest concern is at the center of defense (sound familiar?). While Stanko may or may not be in the defensive midfield, Trapp will be. With Stanko and/or Trapp anchoring the midfield, Gil will handle the creative work from an advanced midfield position with Villarreal likely on the left wing. It is the natural position for both players in the US attack.
The new crop of MLS players have the capability to end what has been a dry spell for the US on the youth level. And while not making the U20 World Cup is not the end of the world, failure to qualify for two straight tournaments will be a major concern, especially given the wholesale regime changes implemented by US Soccer in 2011.
If Ramos fails to qualify, then the US will be 0 for 2 with it’s new coaches, leaving only Jurgen Klinsmann up at bat.