The USA U20s officially start their Junior World Championship buildup with a two-game series against the Canadian U20s this week.
The teams will meet at the National Sports Center in Blaine, Minn., and this is the final opportunity for players to push for a place in the JWC squad.
“We have to balance training and games,” said USA U20 Head Coach Jason Kelly. “In a lot of ways we get more done with training, because with a series of games, such as this one, we’re working on recovery and then one session, and then a run-through, before the next game. But at the same time, you train to play, and I think it’s important to see the guys compete as a unit.”
Kelly said he feels his squad is “highly skilled” but probably smaller than the 2012 version. That would be an issue as they go up against South Africa, France and England.
“These are kids that go from an academy setup – they are essentially professionals,” said Kelly. “Some of them have played for their national 7s team. It is a massive challenge.”
Of course, the USA does have the likes of Mike Te’o, who has suited up for the USA 7s team on the World Series circuit. And he, along with the likes of Cameron Falcon, Nick Barrett, and Henry Hall, will provide some much-needed veteran leadership.
“We will have to rely on the players who were on the squad last year,” said Kelly. “Their experience is crucial.”
The coach said there’s still a ton of work to be done with the team, which will assemble in Atlanta before moving on to France to play in June. Their realistic goal will be to win one game, which will be enough to keep them in the JWC for another year. That all starts with May 8 and May 11 against Canada in Blaine.