Breaking down the unknowns of Rongen's U-20 team
The United States U-20 squad began a 12-day training camp on Sunday, with head coach Thomas Rongen calling in stalwarts including Dillon Powers, Gale Agbossoumonde, Juan Agudelo, and Omar Salgado.
But some new talents will also make their debuts or highly-anticipated returns, which begs the question: who are these kids?
The youngest goalkeeper in camp, the Ipswich Town signing earned his first cap for the U-20 side during May's Cor Groenewegen Tournament in Uitgeest, Holland. He turns 18 in February and will sign a pro contract at that time.
A veteran of the U-17 Residency Program in Bradenton, Fla., Cropper -- whose father played professionally in the US -- had trials with Arsenal, Birmingham, Portsmouth, West Ham, and Wolverhampton before latching on at Ipswich. The keeper played 90 minutes during a 2-0 loss to Colombia in September and he was on the roster for the Torneo de las Americas in November but club commitments prevented the 6-foot-4 netminder from making the trip.
In Florida, Cropper will compete for time with Zac MacMath and Brian Sylvestre. He'll also face competition from Sporting Kansas City's Jonathan Kempin to make the U-20 World Cup team.
The inclusion of the captain of Germany's U-17 team and youngest player on Bayern Munich's reserve side represents a coup for Rongen. Huerzeler was born in Houston but matured in Germany and scored five times in nine matches for the country's U-16 side. The central midfielder hasn't officially filed a federation switch with FIFA, but he will need to if he plans to be on the Stars and Stripes roster for April's CONCACAF Championship in Guatemala or the U-20 World Cup.
Huerzeler, who turns 18 on Feb. 26, will be age-eligible for the 2013 World Cup as well as this summer's tournament in Colombia. He joins Hoffenheim's Joe Gyau and Bobby Wood from 1860 Munich as the three members of the 25-player crew who play professionally in Germany.
The attacking midfielder and winger tallied one assist during five matches (three starts) for the U-20 squad in 2010. Molano is one of Rongen's first choices -- playing a starring role during the American's Milk Cup victory in July. The Dallas-born midfielder moved to Europe this summer but missed preseason at Dinamo Zagreb due to international duty, and then suffered an injury to his groin and hip flexor that took months to rehab. He regained his form in the fall, starting against Colombia in the Torneo de las Americas.
Molano, formerly a member of FC Dallas' youth program, wants to appear in the World Cup in part because his father hails from the South American country. A product of the US' U-17 squad, the 18-year-old says he's good friends with Powers and Sebastian Lletget.
The Munich 1860 forward last appeared in a US uniform in May. Since then, Jack McInerney, Juan Agudelo and Omar Salgado have earned the majority of the headlines involving Rongen's striker corps. Wood, though, has quietly shined in Germany. He's become a fixture on his club's U-23 side and has joined the first team for training, following in the footsteps or Americans including Josh Wolff, Gregg Berhalter, Taylor Twellman and Kenny Cooper. Rongen tried to get Wood into camp on multiple occasions since the spring, but 1860's coaching staff balked at the prospect.
The 19-year-old, who joined the European side in 2006, checks in at 5-foot-10 and credits his speed on the wings as one of his best assets. He's not a target striker, but thrives playing off of one and can take on men much his senior.
Noah Davis covers the United States men's national team for MLSsoccer.com. Follow him on Twitter at @noahedavis.com.