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Jan. 22, 2007

Players enjoy win, qualification
By Andrea Canales

Nathan Sturgis will soon return to the LA Galaxy, with the U20 World Cup qualification secured.
Nathan Sturgis will soon return to the LA Galaxy, with the U20 World Cup qualification secured.
Linda Cuttone, SportsVue Images
The U.S. U20 team that won the CONCACAF qualifying tournament in Panama enjoyed being the first American squad to ever clinch the title away from U.S. soil. After a listless draw versus Guatemala, the squad bounced back with a defeat of Panama in the final match.

“Everyone on the team knew that this was a really important game,” said U20 and LA Galaxy defender Nathan Sturgis. “Everyone knew that they needed to step up their game in order to beat Panama in front of their home fans.”

The U20 squad featured some unexpected surprises. Los Angeles Galaxy fans, for example, might not have been surprised to see Sturgis playing as a central defender, since that was his position in college, but few would have expected to see Quavas Kirk playing right back.

Sturgis, however, was encouraging about Kirk’s switch.

“I think that the main thing that he needs to work on is his positioning,” Sturgis observed. “The more he plays that position the better he will get at it.”

It was an open question, however, as to whether or not Kirk would get the chance to develop at that spot.

“I think that Quavas can play right back in the league, but it just depends on how Frank wants to use him,” explained Sturgis.

Though Kirk caused a penalty that led to the only goal for the opposition in the tournament, the U.S. won both games he started handily, with scores of 4-1 and 5-0. Without him, the team drew against Guatemala, 0-0.

In all the matches, Sturgis, along with Freddy Adu, Danny Szetela and Robbie Rodgers, was a stalwart, playing every minute of the three games, though in a position he does not currently play for the Galaxy.

“I’m still figuring out where my best position is,” said Sturgis, who has played as a left back and defensive midfielder for the squad. “I honestly don’t really care where I play, I just want to try to get on the field in whatever position the team needs me to play.”

It may have also surprised fans who tuned into the U.S. matches that forwards from college, like Harvard’s Andre Akpan and UCLA’s Sal Zizzo, saw more playing time in the tournament than professionals such as Preston Zimmerman or Josmer Altidore.

Bolton forward Johann Smith had previously played with Zimmerman and Altidore.

“We are good friends and we know what each others strengths are and we try to play to that,” said Smith, who also indicated that he was willing to work with a new striker.

“I don’t know Andre that much, but hopefully we can forge a good partnership in time.”

Zizzo vouched for Akpan's skill. praising the talent of the forward who bagged three goals in his first match.

"Not only is he great at holding the ball up top," said Zizzo of Akpan. "but he [also] has the abiltiy to make pentrating passes and lay nice balls off."

Smith scored once at the tournament, courtest of a long pass from Sturgis.

"I saw Johann check to me and I saw that the defense was high, so I just played the ball behind Panama's defense and Johann did well to run onto it and finish," detailed Sturgis.

It remains to be seen how coach Thomas Rongen will compose the squad for the youth World Cup in Canada this summer, though many of the same players on the current roster are good bets to return.

With the U20 championship serving as a showcase for player’ talents and skills, a good performance could see more of them joining Smith and Zimmerman on teams abroad.

“I haven’t really thought about that much,” admitted Sturgis about contemplating a move abroad. “I would just have to wait and see what the offer is before I can say if I would take it or not. But I am very happy where I am right now.”
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