Joe Gyau and Josh Gatt are both appearing in their first U-20 camp for the United States national team. Their respective roads to Thomas Rongen's week-long training session in Sunrise, Fla., however, couldn't have been more different.
Gyau, son of former American international Phillip Gyau, starred as a member of the U-17 squad. He grew up going on training trips to Brazil, joined the residency program in Bradenton, Fla., and is one of the few Americans who can claim a game-winning assist against the Samba Boys.
In August 2009, the Silver Spring, Md., native and fellow prodigy Charles Renken signed with German club Hoffenheim. Gyau struggled at first to find his feet and his form, but a recent run of strong play with the U-19 side indicated he was settled enough for Rongen to bring the winger back into the American mix.
"Man, it's great being back," he told MLSsoccer.com after playing the final 12 minutes of the US's 2-0 victory over Canada on Thursday. "I'm really enjoying seeing the old faces I knew and meeting some new ones. I wasn't really nervous [after being out of camp for so long]. I'm eager to come back and prove myself again in the US system."
Gatt, on the other hand, is relishing a chance to show what he can do on the national-team level.
The former Michigan Wolverines midfielder grew frustrated with the academy system because he felt he was one of the best players on Michigan's roster – which included fellow U-20 camp invitee Soony Saad – but wasn't getting the same recognition from the national team coaching staff. As a result, Gatt left America for Austria's SCR Altach, hoping that he'd get noticed by proving himself abroad.
"When I first got there [Austria], it was a big struggle for me," he said. "Coming from the academy system, I was really far behind [from] where the coaches saw that I needed to be. For the last six months, I've been working my a-- off to see the field. The last month or two, it's really paid off for me. I've gone from someone who didn't see the field to a team starter."
The 19-year-old has netted four league goals for Altach and is helping them fight for promotion to the Austrian Bundesliga. His strong play caught Rongen's eye and earned him an invite to his first national team camp.
Despite their different paths to Sunrise, Gyau andn Gatt have plenty in common. Both fancy themselves as attacking wing players who are comfortable on either flank. In fact, the two have spent much of the week-long training camp playing on the field at the same time, switching from right to left.
Most importantly, each player arrived in Florida with a chip on his shoulder.
"There are a lot of really good players, but I stack up well against them," Gatt said.
Added Gyau, "It's my first camp back, but I think I'm kind of confident about my play. I think in this next game [against Canada's U-20s on Dec. 18], I can prove to the coaches I can be on the qualifying team."
Both should start Saturday's rematch against Canada, giving them one final opportunity to impress Rongen in 2010. Then there's a short break for the European-based pair to spend time with family and friends in America before the next US camp begins on Jan. 4.
It took Gatt and Gyau a while to make their way on to the U-20 squad, but don't expect either to leave anytime soon.
Noah Davis covers the Untied States national team for MLSsoccer.com. Follow him on Twitter at @noahedavis.