Five MLS products are headed south of the border this spring as part of Tab Ramos' 18-man roster for 2013 CONCACAF U-20 Championship, from which four teams will qualify for the U-20 FIFA World Cup.
Real Salt Lake's Luis Gil (above), Colorado's Shane O’Neill, Sporting KC's Mikey Lopez, Columbus' Wil Trapp and the LA Galaxy's Jose Villarreal join a roster made up 11 professionals and a collection of college players who will compete for the Americans' 13th U-20 World Cup berth in Puebla from Feb. 18 through March 3. The squad includes a sizeable contingent hailing from Mexican clubs, including two players from Santos Laguna and one from Chivas Guadalajara.
The team left Thursday for camp in Toluca, Mexico, before arriving in Puebla next week, where they will attempt to qualify from Group A alongside Costa Rica and Haiti. Two additional players are expected to be added to the roster before the start of the CONCACAF qualifying tournament. The U-20 World Cup will be held from June 21 through July 13 in Turkey.
“We are excited and looking forward to the World Cup qualification process with this group of players,” Ramos said in a statement. “This is a cohesive, talented and professional roster, and the majority of the players were on hand for our two international friendly matches against Panama in January. Having played those games in Puebla will be helpful for qualifying as the players are now familiar with the environment we will face in the CONCACAF Championship.”
The US will open the tournament on Feb. 18 against Haiti at Estadio Olímpico Universitario Lobos BUAP in Puebla (6:30 pm ET) before taking on Costa Rica four days later at the same time and venue.
Eight of the 12 teams participating (see groups below) will advance to the quarterfinals, one win away from a semifinal spot that would ensure qualification. If the US advance to the quarterfinals, the match would be played on Feb. 26, with the semifinals sceduled for March 1 and the final for March 3.
Group A: Costa Rica, Haiti, United States
Group B: Canada, Cuba, Nicaragua
Group C: Jamaica, Panama, Puerto Rico
Group D: Curaçao, El Salvador, Mexico
Ramos' squad is led by four players with 19 career U-20 caps to their names: Daniel Cuevas, Benji Joya, Lopez and Boyd Okwuonu. The US recored a 4-6-0 record in 2012, with Joya the only player to appear in all 10 games.
The Galaxy's Villarreal leads the current squad with six goals in nine U-20 appearances.
After qualifying for seven consecutive U-20 World Cups, the US failed reach the 2011 competition after losing to Guatemala in the quarterfinals.
US U-20 NATIONAL TEAM ROSTER
Goalkeepers (3): Cody Cropper (Southampton FC; Maple Grove, Minn.), Kendall McIntosh (Santa Clara Univ.; Santa Rosa, Calif.), Zackary Steffen (FC DELCO Academy; Downington, Pa.)
Defenders (5): Eric Miller (Creighton Univ.; Woodbury, Minn.), Juan Pablo Ocegueda (CD Guadalajara; Riverside, Calif.), Boyd Okwuonu (Univ. of North Carolina; Edmund, Okla.), Shane O’Neill (Colorado Rapids; Boulder, Colo.), Javan Torre (UCLA; Santa Monica, Calif.)
Midfielders (5): Luis Gil (Real Salt Lake; Garden Grove, Calif.), Benji Joya (Santos Laguna; San Jose, Calif.), Mikey Lopez (Sporting Kansas City; Mission, Texas), Caleb Stanko (SC Freiburg; Holly, Mich.), Wil Trapp (Columbus Crew; Gahanna, Ohio)
Forwards (5): Brandon Allen (Georgetown Univ.; Old Bridge, N.J.), Daniel Cuevas (Santos Laguna; Sacramento), Daniel Garcia (Univ. of North Carolina; Dallas), Mario Rodriguez (FC Kaiserslautern; North Hollywood, Calif.) Jose Villarreal (LA Galaxy; Inglewood, Calif.)