Whitecaps' Salgado takes on role of leader for US U-18s

Omar Salgado antes de enfrentar a Columbus

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VANCOUVER, B.C. — Omar Salgado is getting ready to take on more responsibility for the United States Under-18 team at this year’s Milk Cup in Northern Ireland.

It’s a bit of a role reversal for the young striker, who was selected first overall in the 2011 MLS SuperDraft. He’s the youngest member of the Whitecaps senior roster, but for the US U-18 side, he’s the only returning player from the 2010 Milk Cup championship squad.

“You take a role of more of a leader [as a returning player],” Salgado told MLSsoccer.com earlier this week after training in Vancouver. “It’s going to be a great tournament for me and for the whole team, since it’s going to be our first real tournament with our whole team together.”

In the 2010 edition of the Milk Cup, a prestigious youth international event, the United States claimed the championship with a 1-0 win over China and a 3-2 victory over Denmark in the group stage before defeating hosts Northern Ireland 3-0 in the final.

That tournament represented Salgado’s first appearance for the US at any level, having previously represented Mexico at U-18 and U-20 levels, and he made an immediate impact by scoring the only goal in the Americans’ opening match against China.

“For me, it was a great experience and a great tournament,” Salgado said. “We were playing in the middle of nowhere — it was all green and then there was the stadium. It was real fun to able to be there with all those people. It was cool to win it there and hopefully we can do it again.”

With injuries to a number of the ‘Caps attacking players in recent weeks, Salgado has been playing more regularly, starting three of his club’s last four matches.

“Any time a young guy is given an opportunity to play, it’s going to help them grow as an individual and as a player,” Whitecaps head coach Tom Soehn said. “He should relish those opportunities, as everybody does, and grow from them.”

The United States start the defense of their Milk Cup title against Israel on July 25, before squaring up against Mexico on July 27.

“Those experiences are amazing for young kids,” Soehn said. “While he’s in our environment, we expect him to showcase himself and now be above the rest, having been in a professional training environment every day. We’re expecting big things, but it’s a great experience for him.”

Martin MacMahon covers the Vancouver Whitecaps for MLSsoccer.com. Follow him on Twitter: @martinmacmahon