Though Thomas Rongen's latest roster has a professional look to it, there's a small group of college players who have caught the US U-20s head coach's attention.
This past week, the U-20s convened in Dallas to begin final preparations for the CONCACAF World Cup qualifying tournament set to start next week in Guatemala.
Of the 20 players called into camp, 16 are full-fledged pros, including eight pulled from MLS ranks. The remaining four—Kelyn Rowe, Eder Arreola (both from UCLA), Sebastian Ibeagha (Duke) and Dillon Powers (Notre Dame)—play their soccer for elite NCAA sides.
The presence of Rowe and Arreola on the roster, along with Philadelphia Union midfielder and former Bruin Amobi Okugo, came as a delight to UCLA head coach Jorge Salcedo.
“You’re always happy for young players and guys that represent our country in qualification and hopefully the World Cup,” UCLA head coach Jorge Salcedo said. “And the Under-20 World Cup is a huge milestone in every player’s career, so I was really excited for Amobi, Kelyn and Eder.”
Salcedo has coached each player for varying lengths. Okugo played one season in 2009 before he signed a Generation Adidas contract and was drafted in 2010. Rowe played under Salcedo just this last fall. Arreola, however, has played at UCLA for three seasons.
“All three are players [that are] dedicated and motivated," Salcedo said. "I think that’s the common thread that you see in players that are successful."
Both Arreola and Rowe are somewhat of a surprise on the final roster. Rowe had impressed in previous camps after Salcedo made sure to bring the midfielder to Rongen’s attention after an excellent freshman year.
“Because of the success Kelyn had here, we as a coaching staff felt very strongly about communicating to Thomas that we thought he could do a good job with his team,” Salcedo said. “We thought his tendencies as a player translated to the international game, so we were in constant dialogue with Thomas.”
Arreola’s rise has been a bit more out of the blue. The forward has been in and out of the various youth national setups over the years, but things were favorable this time around.
“In Eder, he’s an incredible story," Salcedo said. "He was with the U-18s a little bit, on the fringe of youth national teams all the time, but never a real mainstay or never someone that was a main figure within each of those youth national teams. He’s probably been in the best form of his life the last three months.”
The two Bruins played against MLS competition in recent weeks, going up against the LA Galaxy and Chivas USA as the two clubs completed their preseason preparations. Salcedo said both players showed well in each of those games.
Rongen, who is likely to continue using his favored 4-3-3 setup in Guatemala, can fit both Rowe and Arreola into the system pretty easily. Rowe will likely play an attacking midfielder role while Arreola can support from either the left or right forward position.
Being in an environment with mainly professionals will require some adjustments.
“The main thing is self-confidence and belief in themselves that they have the ability to be successful with those players that are in an every day professional environment,” Salcedo said.
World Cup qualifying play for the US starts on Tuesday, when they play Suriname.