The Americans arrive at their 11th FIFA U-20 World Cup, and sixth in succession, with perhaps the finest collection of talent ever to pull on the all-white kit. With no less than ten domestic-based and overseas professionals in the squad, head coach Thomas Rongen will be handing the duties of on-field leader, captain and sparkplug to one Freddy Adu. At only 17 years of age and the third-youngest member of the side, the wunderkind is already a veteran of two FIFA U-20 World Cups and is more than ready to slip on the armband and get the job done for the stars and stripes.
Adu played every minute of CONCACAF qualifying Group A in Panama in January of 2007. Leading from the centre of the park in a playmaker's role he even managed to cap off his fine performances with a brace in the States' final match with the hosts. Early on, the Americans got things rolling with a 4-1 hammering of Haiti in which Harvard University scholar-athlete Andre Akpan scored a wonderful hat-trick to get the North American giants on their way. After a 0-0 draw with Guatemala in their second game, they got things back on track and sealed top spot in the group with a 5-0 goal fest in which Adu (2), Robbie Rogers, Johann Smith and Jonathan Villanueva all got on the scoresheet.
Thomas Rongen knows something about winning. He has manned the helm at MLS outfits Tampa Bay Mutiny (1996), New England Revolution (1997-8) and D.C. United (1999-2001) where he became the coach with the most number of victories (82) to his name in MLS history. The Dutchman, whose last pro stint was with Chivas USA in 2005 - was selected as MLS coach of the year in 1996, and won an MLS Cup with DC United in 1999 and has experience in US youth circles as well. As coach of the American side at the FIFA U-20 World Cup in UAE in 2003, Rongen steered a side led by Bobby Convey and 14-year-old Freddy Adu to the quarter-finals. Rongen's playing past is equally impressive. He began his career with Ajax Amsterdam before moving to the United States and the now-defunct North American Soccer League (NASL) where he played first with the Los Angeles Aztecs, then alongside legendary compatriot Johan Cruyff with the Washington Diplomats before moving to the Fort Lauderdale Strikers, where he also began his managerial career. Rongen also lined up 25 times with the Dutch Olympic team before making the move Stateside
At just 17 years of age, Freddy Adu is already a seasoned veteran. After going pro at the age of 14, the Ghanaian-born phenom has become the youngest ever player to line up for the senior US national team and has taken part in no fewer than three world championships (two at U-20 level and one at U-17). With bags of pace, distribution skills to rival some of the world's best and a nose for goal, Adu - who recently transferred from DC United to Real Salt Lake after trials at Manchester United - will carry the heavy hopes of US Soccer fans and team-mates alike on his shoulders. One of the biggest names at these finals, Captain America will be one to watch.
What they said…
"There were 20,000 people there, everyone wearing Panama jerseys and I told the guys, 'If you don't get excited for a game like this, in an atmosphere like this, then there's something wrong with you, because as athletes, this is what we live for.' You could just see it in the guys' eyes - they were ready to go. It was great." (Captain Freddy Adu, after the US beat hosts Panama 5-0 in qualifying)