Editor's Note: MFUSA is happy to welcome Ben McCormick, a high school senior from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to the fold.  A supporter of Newcastle United and the USMNT, Ben will matriculate to Marquette University in the fall where he plans to major in journalism. Follow Ben on Twitter

- Ben McCormick

When Thomas Rongen released his 20-man roster for the CONCACAF U-20 Championships, he wasn’t a happy man. Despite being what some consider the deepest squad in the history of American U-20s, the omissions were glaring. Missing from the squad were Juan Agudelo, Josh Gatt and Alex Zahavi, all considered key cogs of Rongen’s team. Agudelo’s omission is understandable, with the full US national team’s striker pool extremely thin. Gatt and Zahavi, on the other hand, are victims of what is becoming an annoying (and potentially costly) re-occurrence for the United States: clubs refusing to release their players.

Gatt and Zahavi are both important first team players at their European clubs, so the obvious answer given when Rongen asks to take their players away for three weeks during the season is “no”. As the US’s talent pool continues to expand as soccer grows in this country, more and more players are going to be held back during important stretches with the U-20 national team. CONCACAF’s inconvenient scheduling of the U-20 Championship and lack of official matches for the US will continue to hinder the United States until it is changed, preferably, to be more like Europe’s UEFA U-21 Championship Qualifiers.

UEFA makes it easy for clubs to release players to their youth national teams. U-21 qualifiers in Europe generally take place a day or two before a full national team match scheduled during an international break, eliminating conflict with any key club matches. There are significantly more official FIFA-sanctioned youth matches for European nations than America, who automatically qualifies for the U-20 Championships. Official matches are precious to the United States at the youth level, especially in the ever-controversial realm of dual-national players, an unfortunate reality which might cost the US Alex Zahavi.

Rongen did his best to get Zahavi, a holder of American and Israeli citizenship, released for the U-20 Championships in Guatemala, but his club was having none of it. However, when the Israeli u21 national team called and asked for Zahavi to play in a friendly tournament during an international break, Hapoel Acre had no reason to turn them down. This time it was unofficial matches, but the next could end the US’s chance to have such a talented player. Whether you prefer to call it a salad bowl or a melting pot, America’s issues with dual-national players aren’t going away anytime soon. Thirteen of the twenty-three players in Bob Bradley’s World Cup squad were dual-nationals, including six of the eleven starters against England. The US relies heavily on these players, and CONCACAF is elevating what ought to be just a headache into a full blown migraine.

Unless CONCACAF changes its formatting for the U-20 Championship, the US will forever have its hands tied. America needs more official youth matches at more convenient times for the big-time European clubs who now have American players. The US could lose out on top talent not because another country plays better soccer, but because playing for their European youth national team is simply more convenient than waiting for CONCACAF to give them a chance with the US.

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