[CONCACAF UNDER-20 CHAMPIONSHIP] The USA begins play in qualifying for the 2013 Under-20 World Cup when it opens play Monday in the Concacaf championship against Haiti. Only one player, goalie Cody Cropper, returns from the team that was upset in the quarterfinals of the 2011 Concacaf championship and did not advance to the world championship in Colombia. With a team that includes three players who have already made their pro debuts -- Luis Gil (Real Salt Lake) and Jose Villarreal (LA Galaxy) in MLS and Benji Joya (Santos) in Mexico, Coach Tab Ramos has assembled one of the most talented U.S. U-20s ever.
"I believe we're as ready as we can be," said Ramos. "We've had eight camps already [this past year] and in this particular group we have guys who have all been here [in Mexico] before. We have players who are prepared and we've had a couple of great weeks of training. We are training in great facilities, playing in an excellent stadium, the temperature should be OK, so there are really no excuses for us but to do the best we can and try to get to this first game."
Ramos has been able to get what is close to his first team. The only concern may be on the backline, where John Anthony Brooks, who is eligible to play for Germany or the USA, remained with Hertha Berlin, Birmingham City defender Will Packwood is sidelined with a broken leg, and FC Dallas pick Walker Zimmerman is still injured.
Added Ramos, "It is very important for us that the guys who have been associated with this particular age group -- guys like Luis Gil, Jose Villarreal, Mario Rodriguez, Caleb Stanko, who's a leader on the team, and Cody Cropper, who has been here before -- are really up to task when game time comes and that they're the ones who lead the way for us to get to the next round."
The team includes a mix of pros and college players. There are seven players based at foreign clubs and six in MLS. The six collegians include Brandon Allen, the 2012 Soccer America Freshman of the Year. Zack Steffen, the lone high school player, will play for Maryland in the fall.
Three players -- Kendall McIntosh, Dillon Serna and Rodriguez -- were on the 2011 U.S. U-17 World Cup team, while Boyd Okwuonu and Gil are the only holders from the 2009 U.S. U-17 World Cup team.
GOALKEEPERS (3): 1-Cody Cropper (Southampton/ENG), 12-Kendall McIntosh (Santa Clara Univ.), 22-Zack Steffen (FC Delco Academy)
DEFENDERS (6):18-Eric Miller (Creighton Univ.), 3-Juan Pablo Ocegueda (Guadalajara/MEX), 2-Boyd Okwuonu (Univ. of North Carolina), 5-Shane O'Neill (Colorado Rapids), 4-Caleb Stanko (Freiburg/GER), 14-Javan Torre (UCLA)
MIDFIELDERS (5):10-Luis Gil (Real Salt Lake), 8-Benji Joya (Santos/MEX), 15-Mikey Lopez (Sporting KC), 16-Dillon Serna (Colorado Rapids), 6-Wil Trapp (Columbus Crew)
FORWARDS (6):19-Brandon Allen (Georgetown Univ.), 20-Daniel Cuevas (Santos/MEX), 17-Danny Garcia (Univ. of North Carolina), 11-Jerome Kiesewetter (Stuttgart VfB/GER), 9-Mario Rodriguez (Kaiserslautern/GER) 7-Jose Villarreal (LA Galaxy).