GUADALAJARA, Mexico – Less than a year after the Olympic qualifying debacle, the US national team youth set-up has a chance at redemption coming up fast. The cycle begins anew in a month's time, when the CONCACAF U-20 Championship kicks off in Puebla, Mexico.
And Tab Ramos may be able to rely on some locally based players to help the Americans get back on the right track by qualifying for this summer's FIFA U-20 World Cup in Turkey. Some of the names you know, and some you may not, but there are a good amount of prospects playing within Mexico that can help the rest of their teammates with a little bit of extra local knowledge.
All of the following players were born in the United States, are open to playing for the US and are currently playing for a Mexican club in the Liga MX U-20 tournament.
A stones throw from the border, Club Tijuana midfield duo Stevie Rodriguez and Alejandro Guido (right) have long been touted as ones to watch within the US setup. Both were involved in the 2011 U-17 World Cup and both will be bouncing around Ramos’ head as he thinks about the final squad for Puebla.
Lesser known is Raul Rodriguez, an uncompromising 18-year-old center back, who has never featured for the US, but plays week-in, week-out alongside Rodriguez and Guido for the Xolos’ U-20s and completed the full 90 against Puebla last weekend.
Rodriguez left his home in the Chicago suburbs at age 14 to join Pachuca and stayed there for more than two years before being picked up by Tijuana.
“I am the type of player that never gives up, works really hard and never backs away from anything,” the 6-foot-1 Rodriguez told MLSsoccer.com this week, adding that he has his fingers firmly crossed that an international call will come.
Staying in northern Mexico, forward Alonso Hernandez – an El Paso, Texas, native – is fresh off winning last season’s U-20 Liga MX championship with Monterrey.
He made the short trip south to join the Indios de Ciudad Juárez’s third-division side when he was 15. The striker was swiftly picked up by Monterrey when he turned 17 and the future of his former club was becoming increasingly murky.
“A player that likes to run, very strong, dedicated and responsible,” is how Hernandez describes himself to MLSsoccer.com, adding that he is a goalscorer who can play as a No. 9 or No. 10.
Hernandez started for Monterrey’s U-20s last weekend and grabbed an 86th-minute equalizer against Club América.
At crosstown rivals Tigres UANL, there has been a steady stream of American talent flowing in and out over the past couple years.
One player that has largely gone under the radar is former Porter Cowboys forward Alan Cortinas. The 18-year-old Brownsville, Texas, native joined Tigres six months ago and has already had a spell training with the first team.
Last season, Cortinas featured for the club’s third-division team, Cachorros UANL, but will play this Clausura championship with the Under-20s.
Staying within Tigres, left back Juan Pablo Ocegueda (right) has been a permanent feature of Ramos’ U-20 squad, although his club future seems insecure, with unofficial reports suggesting that he has left the club.
A couple of hours south at Santos Laguna, winger Benji Joya is expected to feature prominently in the U-20s CONCACAF qualification and is probably the most advanced of the U-20 players in Mexico, with four Liga MX appearances already under his belt.
Guerreros teammate Daniel Cuevas has also impressed Ramos with his striking ability and has been a regular with the US youth side.
In Mexico City, Pumas UNAM goalkeeper Bernie Magaña (above) must be in the mix to dislodge one of the more established names, although it could be a little late in the cycle to make such changes in that delicate position.
There are also a couple of talents the US look set to miss out on, if Ramos is or was interested.
Tigres’ Texan winger Uvaldo Luna is on course to appear for Mexico in the qualifying tournament, while Chivas’ Julio Morales wouldn’t be allowed to play for the United States due to his club’s policy of not allowing its players to play for national teams that aren't Mexico.
Tom Marshall covers Americans playing in Latin America for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.