PUEBLA, Mexico – If the US Under-20 national team players are nervous about playing Sunday’s final in front of 40,000 screaming Mexican fans (7 pm ET, Fox Soccer), you wouldn’t know it from talking to them beforehand.
In fact, the game seems to be bringing out the opposite reaction.
“Everyone on the team is very excited to be in that stadium,” said Columbus Crew midfielder Wil Trapp after training Saturday. “It’s probably going to be a sold out crowd, so we are pumped for it.”
With tickets being given out for free, as they have the whole tournament, the atmosphere at Puebla FC’s Estadio Cuauhtémoc will likely resemble the difficult road qualifiers the full USMNT faced. But Trapp says the whole team is focused on maintaining their composure and getting the job done.
“Against Mexico, we definitely want to keep the ball on the ground, attack them, pressurize them a little more,” he said. “We’re ready for it.”
LA Galaxy’s Jose Villarreal is sure his US side will not roll over for the heavily favored Mexico team, which has seven members of the 2011 U-17 World Cup-winning squad on its roster.
“I think we’ll be ready against Mexico,” said Villarreal, after the team physio applied heavy strapping to his ankle. “We’re going to come out strong, we’re not going to give in.”
Like Villarreal, Kaiserslautern forward Mario Rodriguez’s parents are originally from Mexico, and he is relishing the chance to go up against the tournament’s host nation.
“Mexico against the USA is something big and it’s a great opportunity to show people that our young players are developing very well,” said Rodriguez.
For the German-based forward, there will be an extra element of spice in the game, as he will be shooting against FC Dallas ‘keeper Richard Sanchez in the Mexican goal.
“We played when we were 11 or 12 on a team and that’s how I know him,” said Rodriguez. “Ever since then we’ve been in contact and we’ve been great friends.”
Nevertheless, the end goal for Rodriguez is to finish tomorrow evening on the winning side.
“I think if we win and lift that trophy in front of everyone it would be an awesome feeling,” he said.
A victory would mark the first time a US team has ever won the CONCACAF U-20 tournament.
Tom Marshall covers Americans playing in Latin America for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.