-Ben McCormick

A year ago, the United States won the 2010 Milk Cup in convincing fashion with a 3-0 victory over hosts Northern Ireland. On July 25, the Americans will begin their title defense when the U-18 national team takes on Israel before playing Mexico on July 27. The knockout rounds will start on July 29.

The U-18 squad represents the age group that will be eligible for the 2013 U-20 World Cup, and most of its players are currently based in America, but the four that play their club ball outside the US and Canada are likely to feature prominently in the tournament.

Cody Cropper of Ipswich Town FC in England enters this U-20 World Cup cycle as the starting goalkeeper and with news of the professional contract he is about to sign with Ipswich, he looks to be a player who will be relied upon in the Milk Cup.

Juan Pablo Ocegunda is a left back plying his trade for UANL Tigres of the Mexican Primera Division. He has an opportunity at the Milk Cup to gain the upper hand over Molde FK's Sean Cunningham in the battle for the starting left back position, a battle that is likely to continue for much of the next two years leading up to the World Cup.  

Will Packwood joins the Milk Cup squad in the midst of his pre-season with Birmingham City. He is under contract with the club for another two years and is looking to break into the first team this coming season. The midfielder/defender will be vitally important to the team's control of the midfield, specifically the breaking up of opposing attacks.

The last international player playing for the US in the Milk Cup is Hertha Berlin's Jerome Kiesewetter. In May, Kiesewetter played with the U-20 team a friendly against France and he will be looked to in the Milk Cup for goals. Many are also hoping for a good partnership to form between Kiesewetter and Vancouver Whitecaps striker Omar Salgado who should be a vital figure in the Milk Cup squad and the U-20 team going forward.

Salgado and Real Salt lake midfielder Luis Gil highlight the MLS contribution to the Milk Cup team. As of late, Gil has seen a lot of playing time with the RSL first team, performing well despite only being 17 years old. Salgado, the number one pick in the 2011 MLS Superdraft, saw a healthy dose of playing time at the 2011 CONCACAF U-20 Championship, and in the next two years he should be counted on as the primary goalscorer in both the Milk Cup and the U-20 team as it works toward the World Cup.

The Americans will bring a very competitive squad to Northern Ireland, but there are still some important names missing from the roster. Charles Renken, Fabian Huerzeler and John Anthony Brooks are all participating in pre-season activities with their clubs in Europe, although they remain among the most talented US U-18 prospects.
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