Justin_rennicks_-_asn_top_-_isi_-_u20_2018_wcq_-_roy_k_miller Roy K Miller/ISI Photos
U-20 spotlight

Rennicks eager to step into the spotlight at U-20 World Cup qualifying

The internal competition for minutes and roster spots is tight on the U.S. U-20 team but Justin Rennicks is hugry to take advantage of the opportunity at World Cup qualifying in Florida. 
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
November 09, 2018
6:30 AM
THE UNITED STATES U-20 team winds up the first stage of group play on Friday and the players on the team are well aware that after a series of lopsided results, much more difficult opposition awaits them next week. And while the results are important, there is also stiff internal competition for both minutes and roster spots on the team.

Justin Rennicks, 19, has played well so far in the group stage with three goals and has also helped with the buildup to several others. But on this team, competition is tight and nothing is ever assured.

Following tonight’s game against Suriname, head coach Tab Ramos will be able to make six changes to his roster and one potential option is Sebastian Soto who is scoring goals seemingly every game for Hannover’s U-19 team. Then should the team qualify for the U-20 World Cup next year, Josh Sargent and Tim Weah are options as well.

That internal competition, however, motivates Rennicks and he welcomes the challenge.

“There is always going to be competition,” Rennicks told ASN from Florida. “When it comes down to those six [possible cuts after the group stage], it's always going to make you work harder and perform better. Those cuts are serious because it doesn't matter who you are or how long you've been with the team, they'll cut you right there. That's it. For Josh Sargent, Tim Weah, and myself, we all have different skills. For myself, I've just gotta show what I can do.”

But unlike the other top forwards who are professional, Rennicks is in college at Indiana University where he is a sophomore at one the top programs in the NCAA. His path to college was highly unusual to say the least.

As a native of Hamilton, Mass. he was brought up in the academy of the New England Revolution where he was one of the top youth players in the organization. But during the offseason between the 2016/17 seasons, he flew to Germany to train with Eintracht Frankfurt and was removed from the Revolution’s academy. Under MLS rules, the Revolution still own his rights and with him not being in good graces at the club, his domestic professional options are limited.

Now playing with the U-20 team in World Cup qualifying and possibly aiming for a spot on next year’s World Cup team, Rennicks has been thinking about his professional opportunities. While he has interest in MLS, he is not afraid to start abroad if necessary.

“I have been thinking about it,” Rennicks said. “There are some people I've been talking to but nothing too serious just yet. It's been on my mind all the time and I have think about. I plan on being in the league at some point, hopefully sooner than later. I would love to start abroad. If that's an option, I would love to go over there. Some of the best soccer is over there.”

Despite its declining role among top American prospects, Rennicks believes that college soccer has served him well because Indiana’s approach resembles a professional and competitive environment under head coach and former Columbus Crew midfielder Todd Yeagley.

“For myself, I actually think it's been pretty great because there are areas where I need to focus on - like finishing and dribbling,” Rennicks explained. “The coach, Todd Yeagley, will take us in personal sessions and work on those. The level isn't horrible, it's actually really good. You play good soccer throughout the year. It feels like a professional environment. I've been with the Revolution in the past, and it's similar. It gets me ready for situations in the future.”

So far Rennicks has taken advantage of his opportunity, even with the lower level of competition up to this point. Throughout the U-20 cycle, Rennicks has been a regular with the team and stood out in a June camp where he scored two goals in an away match against Honduras. His teammates have also been impressed with his growing role within the team.

“Justin is a great guy and great player,” said the team’s attacking midfielder Paxton Pomykal. “We were together for an entire U-18 cycle. He was in my first ever camp. He's very physical and is a big presence up top. He runs really hard and really fast. He covers a lot of ground in the press, which is key to what we want to do because we try to drown teams. He's a big part of that. We've also been very successful in front of the goal and he's a big part of that as well.”

Should Rennicks remain with the team after Ramos makes his changes, the spotlight will only intensify on the players. In the previous two U-20 cycles, many players have used success with the team to spring board their professional careers. A look at the current national team roster reveals numerous players like Tyler Adams, Josh Sargent, Cameron Carter-Vickers, Matt Miazga, Zack Steffen, and Kellyn Acosta who were veterans of either the 2015 and 2017 U-20 teams

The upcoming year will be critical for Rennicks and in Florida he is happy to have the opportunity to show many people what he can do.

“I've been with the national team for a pretty long time now,” Rennicks said. “I've had the experience playing in big international games. I've played against big teams. Coming in here, the pressure is higher because you have to win your group, win the whole tournament…This is where people really start to see you - because everyone is watching the World Cup qualifiers to see who is performing well and scoring goals. It doesn't affect the way I play but it’s always on my mind.”

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