Less than one month before the United States Men's Under- 20 National Team travels to Argentina for the FIFA World Youth Championship, the U.S. will travel to the French Riviera to compete in the 29th Festival International Espoirs of Toulon from May 24 - June 2. The Toulon Festival, an eight-team tournament this year, is generally regarded as one of the top annual youth tournaments anywhere in the world.
The U.S. will be making their seventh appearance at the Festival, and will be joined in group A by Italy, Colombia and the Netherlands. Group B is made up of Japan, Poland, Portugal and France.
"The prospect of facing several of the world's top youth teams in a tournament such as Toulon is very exciting for us," U.S. head coach Wolfgang Suhnholz said. "I don't think there is really a better way for us to prepare for Argentina and the World Youth Championship than by playing the type of competition we will play in France."
The U.S. plays the first game of the 2001 Festival, opening against Italy on Thursday, May 24 at the Stade Mayol in Toulon. The match will be shown live on Fox Sports World and Fox Sports World Espanol at 12 p.m. ET. Italy finished third in last year's Toulon Festival and are the 2000 UEFA Under-21 Champions.
The USA's second match will be played on May 26 against two-time defending Festival champions Colombia at the Stade Fargues in Le Pontet, and will be shown live on Fox Sports World and Fox Sports World Espanol at 10 a.m. ET. Colombia topped Portugal in the 2000 final and bested Argentina in the 1999 final. The U.S. will wrap up group play in the Stade De Lattre in Aubagne against the Netherlands on May 28. The match will also be shown live on Fox Sports World and Fox Sports World Espanol at 1 p.m. ET.
The top two teams in each group will advance to the tournament semifinals on May 31 at the Stade Mayol in Toulon. The third-place match and the final will take place on June 2.
The U.S. team will likely be led by the starting backline of Nelson Akwari, Oguchi Onyewu, Alexander Yi, Philip Salyer and goalkeeper D.J. Countess. U.S. midfielder Brad Davis, who returned from injury to score two goals in qualifying, is expected to carry some of the offensive load for the Americans.
Suhnholz will name his roster for the Toulon Festival following the Chula Vista training camp that runs from Friday (May 3) through May 13, and he is expected to leave a number of his MLS regulars off the Toulon roster. Suhnholz is expected to choose the majority of his team for Toulon from the squad that enters training camp on May 3.
The U.S. has posted a 4-0-1 record in international matches in 2001, with their only draw coming against Costa Rica after the U.S. had already secured a berth in Argentina ‘01.
The United States last competed in Toulon in 1997, when the team finished fifth out of ten teams. In six previous appearances at the Toulon Festival, the USA's best finish was third place in 1989. That squad was led by future Men's National Team players Kasey Keller, Jeff Agoos, Marcelo Balboa and Eric Wynalda.
The Toulon Festival regularly attracts the best youth players and youth teams in the world. From 1989 - 1997, all five eventual World Youth Championship winners played in the Toulon Festival. The list of players that have stepped up to the international stage at this tournament is no less staggering and includes Zinedine Zidane (1991), David Beckham (1995, 1996), Thierry Henry (1997), Pablo Aimar (1996), Alan Shearer (1991), Fabien Barthez (1991) and many more.
Seventeen of the first 22 Toulon Festival champions were from Europe, but the trend has changed as five of the last six tournaments have been won by South American squads, including the last two by Colombia.
Toulon, which lies near the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, is located less than 50 miles to the southeast of Marseille.