Absence makes the heart grow fonder. For Houston Dynamo right back Kofi Sarkodie, that’s why his call-up to the U.S. Under-20 national team for next week's training trip to France is extra sweet: It marks the rookie's first summons to the U.S. youth set-up in almost exactly one year.
“It feels good to be back in the mix and get another look,” Sarkodie said of his call-up, which was announced on Monday. “For me, I just want to get focused for this camp and leave a good first impression and play the best football I can.”
Sarkodie was one of 20 players called into caretaker coach Tab Ramos' squad, which will head to France on May 15 and face the French U-20s twice. The University of Akron alum is a veteran of the U.S. youth system and has featured at the U-15, U-17, and once at the U-20 level in a friendly against South Korea in May 2010.
The Houston rookie — along with Dynamo Academy product and Duke University defender Sebastien Ibeagha — will join a U-20 squad that’s reeling from not making this summer’s World Cup. Without a summer tournament to prepare for, Sarkodie sees this as an opportunity to impress ahead of the age group’s next big event: the 2012 Olympics in London.
“One hundred percent, we’re looking toward the Olympics,” Sarkodie said. “Each cycle I’ve been involved in from the U-15s up has started at the beginning of the cycle, and going to camp to evaluate guys. So over the next couple of months we’ll be going to camp to evaluate guys and look at different players to shorten the roster and get an idea of who they’re going to bring to the Olympics next year.”
Because Olympic qualifying is contested by U-23 squads, Sarkodie is one of several Dynamo players who could get a look for next year's Olympic qualifyiers, including midfielder Danny Cruz and forward Will Bruin, although both are too old for this camp.
Putting himself in the mix is important, but an added attraction is getting games. Sarkodie is behind fullbacks Hunter Freeman and Corey Ashe on Houston’s depth chart. He’s played in one game, a start against Seattle in Week 2. The 20-year-old has done well in two Reserve League games, but the call-up offers a chance for the speedy defender to get on the field in a competitive setting and sharpen his skills against a top quality opponent.
“It’s great for Kofi to go and play some great competition,” said Dynamo head coach Dominic Kinnear, who said he had spoken with former U-20 head coach Thomas Rongen about Sarkodie but has not spoken with caretaker Ramos.
“It’s a new look with the interim coach and it’s a chance to get a look at the U-23s for the next Olympics, which is right around the corner," Kinnear said. "It’s a little bit of a break from your club football, and anytime you get a chance to represent your country, it’s an honor.”
Darrell Lovell covers the Houston Dynamo for MLSsoccer.com. Follow him on twitter at @Dynamoexaminer.