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U.S. push toward FIFA under-20 World Cup begins tonight

Feb 18, 2013, 3:48 PM EDT

CONCACAF Herediano Real Salt Lake Soccer

Our blog is, by definition, about pro soccer. So why would we write about the U.S. under-20s, who are about to begin regional qualifying for the upcoming FIFA Under-20 World Cup?

Because a dozen members of Tab Ramos’s 20-man U.S. roster have already signed professional contracts. They include six men on MLS rosters and three each who are already earning paychecks from Mexican and German teams.

The United States under-20 team begins its qualifying push Monday against Haiti in Puebla, Mexico. Tonight’s match begins at 6:30 p.m. ET on FOX Soccer Channel.

It’s on Ramos and the young men to reverse a trend that is slipping toward “alarming.”

Two years ago a U.S. team directed by Thomas Rongen crashed out of regional qualifying, falling to Guatemala in the quarterfinals and failing to advance into the Under-20 World Cup in Colombia. It became harder to write that off as an anomaly when the United States’ under-23s flamed out in CONCACAF qualifying on the way to 2012 London Olympics.

The schedule and tournament details from U.S. Soccer are here.) What Ramos told U.S. Soccer in summing up his group’s prep for the 12-team tournament, from which four teams advance. (The quarterfinals represent “money time,” as all four quarterfinal winners move into the 2013 FIFA U-20 World Cup in Turkey this summer.):

I believe we’re as ready as we can be. We’ve had eight camps already [this past year] and in this particular group we have guys who have all been here [in Mexico] before, We have players who are prepared and we’ve had a couple of great weeks of training. We are training in great facilities, playing in an excellent stadium, the temperature should be OK, so there are really no excuses for us but to do the best we can and try to get to this first game.”

A list of past CONCACAF qualifying teams is here from CONCACAF.com.

Good roster notes from U.S. Soccer’s communications staff are here.

The U.S. name to remember: Real Salt Lake’s Luis Gil, the club’s playmaker and most experienced man, as discussed thoroughly in this piece from RSL Soapbox. Just 19 years old, Gil (pictured above) has already appeared in 54 matches for RSL.

Just last week, RSL coach Jason Kreis mentioned to me how big a year this was for Gil, a California native already in his fourth pro season. Kreis wants to see the imminently talented attacker advance to the next rung in leadership and consistency. No better place to start than tonight in Mexico.

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