The FIFA World Youth Championship kicked off on Friday in The Netherlands, the best U-20 national teams from around the globe converging in Europe to fight for the world title. Major League Soccer sent 10 players to the competition representing four different countries.
Not surprisingly, the side most benefiting from the league's ability to develop young players is the United States, coached by former Los Angeles Galaxy manager Sigi Schmid. Many of the top players for the Red, White and Blue call MLS teams their home clubs, no name more familiar than that of D.C. United starlet Freddy Adu.
The 16-year-old is a major attacking force for the U.S., his clever footwork, blistering pace and natural abilities considered among the best in the world in this age category. It is unclear yet how Schmid will choose to use the versatile Adu, who can comfortably play in the midfield (both centrally and wide) or up front. Danny Szetela, who was Adu's roommate when the pair was at the U.S. U-17 residency camp in Bradenton, Fla., will probably play the defensive midfield role.
The major offensive catalyst in the center, though, is MetroStars playmaker Eddie Gaven. The New Jersey native is already in his third professional season, which has helped the youngster adjust to the fast play and tough competition that awaits in Holland. His MetroStars teammate, Tim Ward, is likely to play a major role in the USA's defense, providing he is healthy. Hunter Freeman of the Colorado Rapids also could be called upon when the U.S. team faces Argentina, Germany and Egypt in Group D play.
A pair of Chicago Fire attackers is also at Schmid's disposal. Will John - not to be confused with his Fire teammate and Canadian U-20 member Will Johnson - and Chad Barrett have both made the trip. Both are rookies in MLS but experienced youth internationals. Barrett helped the U.S. qualify for the tournament by scoring the game-winning goal against Costa Rica in the CONCACAF qualifying tournament in January.
Johnson's Canadian team has also been drawn into a difficult group. They will open Group E play against Syria on Sunday before squaring off with Colombia and Italy later in the week.
FC Dallas midfielder Ramon Nuñez and his Honduran teammates will face competition from Spain, Morocco and Chile in Group C, while Luis Gallardo of the Crew will lineup with Panama as they take on Turkey, China and Ukraine in Group B.
Games from the World Youth Championship will be available for viewing in the USA on Fox Soccer Channel and Spanish-language networks Telefutura and Galavision. The U.S. team's opener against Argentina can be seen Saturday on FSC and Telefutura live at 11:30 a.m. ET. Honduras also open their tournament on Saturday when they face Chile at 2:25 p.m. ET live on Galavision. Canada's opener against Colombia can be seen tape-delayed on Galavision on Wednesday at 7 p.m. ET. Saturday's meeting between Panama and Ukraine is not currently scheduled to be broadcast in the U.S.
Jonathan Nierman is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.