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Under-20 World Cup

Monday Morning Centerback: Why did the U.S. Under-20s fail?

USUnder20s(ISIphotos.com)

Whose fault is it?

That is the question some U.S. national team fans are asking after the U.S. Under-20 national team's early exit from the Under-20 World Cup. Who is to blame for the failings of a collection of what is supposed to be the best Under-20 players this country can produce? Is it as simple as the pointing of a finger at head coach Thomas Rongen, or do the issues that plagued this team go far beyond a coach or his roster selection?

Rongen will face some heat, as he should, for a team that seemed to lack discipline as much as it appeared to lack talent. It is a thankless job coaching a youth national team in a country with few real opportunities for young players to get professional caliber experience, but Rongen was always going to be judged on results and he had to know that with every Korean goal came the increased likelihood that he will wind up paying for this early tournament exit with his job.

With that said, how much of it was Rongen's fault, and how much of it was the product of a weak Under-20 pool?

Rongen gets some blame for sticking with a 4-3-3 formation when he simply didn't have the players to make it work against disciplined teams. He also gets the expected blame for his roster selection because we all know when a team of chosen players fails, the players who weren't chosen were always the right ones. In this case though, Rongen will face even more heat for his selections after Bryan Arguez, a player who wasn't initially chosen but who came in as an injury replacement, wound up being one of the team's best players in the tournament.

Roster nitpicking takes attention away from one very fair question. Was this cycle of players good enough? Consider that the last U.S. Under-17 national team finished 1-3 at the 2007 Under-20 World Cup, advancing to the second round on goal difference after going 1-2 in group play just as this Under-20 team did (and that team's coach, John Hackworth, also paid with his job).

Yes, there were players missing, with Jozy Altidore and Freddy Adu focusing on their club careers, but the same could be said for almost every other team in the tournament. A truly full-strength Under-20 World Cup wouldn't exactly favor the United States in this cycle, even with Altidore and Adu, not with teams from Italy to Brazil to England being able to call on established teenage pro standouts.

So why does this particular tournament exit hurt so much for some USA fans? The disappointment also stems from the fresh memories of the 2007 U.S. Under-20 team, a stacked team by USA standards that upset Brazil and gave so many signs of promise. Ultimately though, what may have been forgotten by some is that each team is its own entity, and you can't expect continued improvements in results from one youth team generation to the next.

That doesn't make the U.S. team's performance any easier to accept, particularly not when we consider the final group stage match against South Korea, an opponent that also featured college players but still managed to play like a cohesive, disciplined and skillful team. The losing wasn't the worst part for U.S. fans who took the time to watch this generation of American youngsters, it was the way they lost, by being thoroughly outplayed and looking lost, uncreative and undisciplined for stretches.

Those are the reasons why Rongen stands a good chance of paying for this performance with his job, but blame can certainly be pointed elsewhere. You can point to some untimely injuries, a tough group draw, and you can point to the closing down of the MLS reserve division, which limited playing time and development for key Under-20 players. The need for for top American teenagers to have an alternative to college for regular playing time is something that MLS needs to work on addressing, but that alone isn't why the USA came up so short this time around.

In the end, what we had was a pool of players that just wasn't as good as the previous group, and one that just wasn't equipped to do much in this tournament. We can delude ourselves into believing that a different coach, and a few different roster choices, would have meant a deep tournament run, but that is wishful thinking.

When we saw a disappointing Under-17 team struggle at the World Cup two years ago we should have known this was coming. Some different decisions might have made it less ugly, but we should at least consider the possibility that this U.S. Under-20 cycle simply wasn't good enough.

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What did you think of the U.S. Under-20 team's performance at the Under-20 World Cup? Writing it off as a weak cycle, or do you see it as evidence of a worrisome trend?

Share your thoughts below.

84 comments
  • mike

    alot of you guys are clowns.

    Claiming european youth players (who you’ve never seen play) are better than the talent we had out there.

    Rongen saw them, he monitored them.

    just because your in europe doesnt make you better than someone whos not.

    eurosnobs

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  • Conor Casey's knee

    @Mike

    Just because you play in the US does not make you better than the Euro-based talent.

    MLS/American snob

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  • Felix

    Part of it is on Rongen who made poor roster selections, chose poor formation for this squad, did not coach the team up enough in terms of discipline. But also, it was a poor cycle of players. There is no way getting around it, especially in light of the ’07 squad.

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  • Angel

    @Mike
    you just prove are point that Rongen Suck as a coach, he took players from the college & MLS base player and he didn’t do any better or did he? Please you sound stupid calling people eurosnobs only cause we asking to call players that in europe. How can you compared the style of coaching, the style of playing they are getting in Europe compare to the Collage,MLS & USL level. Don’t get me wrong I’m not saying that we don’t have any talent here but the system of trying it reflect on what you saw in this U20 World Cup. a quote from tfina “lack of tactical smarts, total lack of close ball skills, complete inabililty to pass the ball around without kicking it to the other team – can be laid at the feet of an Amateur organziation top to bottom that is somehow tasked with trying to produce professional players. Disgusting.” Please

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  • Josh.2

    I think someone said it best earlier, the problem with youth development in the US is that it’s pay to play. They’re so many good young players, especially in the inner city who are of immigrant decent who never go past playing high school, because they don’t have money. The ODP system which is supposed to showcase the best young players in each region, costs something like $2,000. And the worse part, is that some of these coaches often pick players they already know. When I was growing up in the DC area, I heard stories of kids going to ODP trials and being told that the coach already knew who he was picking. It’s nice to have a relationship with players, but sometimes players are out of shape, or their skill lever hasn’t improved and If you close your eyes to other players, you miss out and they miss out. There was a player by the name of Erwin Diaz who was just phenomenal to watch, and he was being tracked by Atletico Madrid, and he went to one of the US youth tournaments, and sat on the bench. The Atletico recruiters were there, but he didn’t play. Not every phenomenal youngster is going to be the real deal, but US Soccer needs to start funneling money down to the youth leagues and regional leagues, so that players who actually want to play the game won’t be turned away just because they don’t have the money. There are tons of mexican-Americans, and other foreigner’s kids who are raised within a culture that demands appreciation for the game, and a lot of them dream of being like Ronaldinho and Messi, but then they either don’t have the money to pay in order to play, or their grades aren’t good enough to play college soccer. US Soccer is certainly not recuiting at the parks.

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  • Angel

    @josh: Well said, you are in one of my good Post comment friend list. And yes that is one of reason we don’t have phenomenal players and believe me in this country that is so big there have to be at least about 100 of them. But we don’t have a good scouting system and good coaching staff.

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  • James

    Two groups are at fault.

    First, Rongen. His only success has been on the backs of others. His reputation is only because of other people putting teams together and him riding the waves.

    Second, Rongen is right about one thing – the “black hole” that is pro soccer once these guys leave Bradenton. Whether it is the crap that is college soccer or those people who are in MLS without a reserve division, these guys go from being really pushed to be great players to practice players.

    I put Rongen first because if that isn’t fixed, even if you bring back the reserve division, you’ll still have major tactical issues that will hamper the team.

    But both need to be fixed.

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  • usadcu

    Felix Garcia? I am not a Rongen supporter, but he would have been nuts to bring Garcia who has basically dropped off the face of the soccer world. Let Garcia get his act together in general before he gets called in to any sort of NT camp.

    Adding to Gerald’s point on the facts, Sam Garza was on the team, he blew out his knee and had to be replaced. Rongen cost us Rossi? Since when? Castillo? Nazzani and Bernardo – are they being called up by Italy, even for a youth team? Diskerud just played for the Rongen team and was, at best, OK. He might play for Norway some day, but it won’t be because Rongen didn’t pick him. It might just be that the pool is deeper at the full NT level for the US than for Norway – in fact, that’s pretty likely at the moment in midfield.

    I do think Rongen needs to go because I don’t think he got enough out of the mediocre talent he had, but I don’t think Cabrera or Fabio Capello or anyone else would have gone much further with this team, or one with more Italian Americans, or Mexican Americans and certainly not Felix Garcia. Out of pool play, maybe, but not much more.

    The whole debate about college soccer/pay to play and all the rest is a related, but much bigger topic. Get some sponsors and form your own team of players missed by the current system. Scout the Rec and other non-travel leagues/Middle School/High Scool, etc… It doesn’t cost that much in most places where soccer is popular like Cali/DC Metro, etc to join a competitive local league and play in tournaments that don’t require expensive travel. If your beef is about (low) representation of Latino players, get your local Salvadoran or Honduran or Mexican businesses to put up some modest sponsorship money and go win some tournaments – you will get attention that way and the players will get a look for college or MLS academies or Mexican teams – and the NT programs. Don’t just complain, do something.

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  • Dudinho

    @JOSH

    Pay to play is exactly the problem and also not to mention the power those afluent suburban club teams have. Thats their selling point to potential players hey were expensive but we get you into ODP. thats why you get a ton of suburban kids playing on the national team. They have too much sway over whats happens at the youth level. its their money train and dont want that changing anytime soon. its why they refer to Wilmer Cabrera as an outsider and want him to fail. because hes calling up kids from all kinds of Club teams not just the ones with money with ties inside the USSF. Look the the pool of players at the 17’s that team has soo much character. And different types of styles

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  • Dudinho

    and anyone who thinks we dont have gems in the inner city is either a fool or dont want things changing. I challange anyone who thinks its a myth to drive into the Lower income communities and take a stroll through the public parks. And see how much passion and footy is being played every weekend. footy gets played so much that parks litterally are putting up no footy signs due to the lack of grass growing. ive seen 7 year kids in these leagues trap balls gain control and make a simple pass to an offensive player. Go to an Ayso game in the burbs and all you see are 22 kids running around chasing a ball.

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  • Mike Caramba

    Ives,

    I just thought it was interesting how fine the line is between a great success and an epic failure. You’re right that “only difference” is an overstatement, but there are an awful lot of similarities: In the Confed Cup, we lost 3-1 to a traditional European power. In the U-20, we lost 3-0 to a traditional European power. In the Confed Cup, we beat the African champs 3-0. In the U-20, we beat the African runners up 4-1. Comparing Brazil to Korea isn’t really fair, but we lost both 3-0. In the Confed Cup, we were plagued by red cards. In the U-20, we gave up a penalty in all three games (and suffered a red). In the Confed Cup, we scored 4 goals and gave up 6. In the U-20 we scored 4 goals and gave up 7.

    I just thought it was interesting how close our biggest success of the summer (Confed Cup) was to being on par with one of our biggest failures (U-20).

    (SBI-Yes, it was interesting from a purely results standpoint, but the comparison isn’t nearly as close as you wanted to make it, even with your follow-up attempt to equate the two. Compare a full-strength Italy senior team to what was clear and away a Germany Under-20 B team? Not close. Comparing a two-time African Nations Cup champion to a team that finished runners-up in a U-20 qualifying tournament with no Under-20 stars playing in it? Not close. Brazil, the best team in the world, or a Korean Under-20 team made up of college kids? Not close at all.

    It was a good initial point Mike, my original issue was simply that you took some liberties with the comparison in order to make a stronger point when you didn’t need to.)

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  • advocat

    There is little encouragement for the technical players. look at Baggio for the Chicago Fire. he can make the critical one-touch passes that few can make. And where is he? On the bench collecting a paycheck. His skills will suffer or fail to develop properly. And the US future talent pool diminshes as a result. The US hasnt produced a player anywhere near Landon Donovan for over 15 years. WHy?

    Like

  • advocat

    There is plenty of talent in the suburbs. It needs to be encouraged with better coaching. Lets not turn US soccer into a ghetto game. We could become the NFL and NBA which have become unwatchable and unentertaining. TV ratings for both are in a 20 year decline. This would be a tragedy for US soccer; and its people.

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  • r.benjamin

    Only because in a Rongren conversation it can’t be brought up enough.

    Nevin Subotic was not chosen by Rongren for the 07 tournament. His team would have let him go because the tournament was in June/July.. not like this year.

    By October of that year, Nevin was already touted as a good standout on a Bundesliga2 team that eventually won promotion. One year later he was a starter in the Bundesliga.

    Rongren’s job is to assess and develop talent. How did he miss aguably the only US player ever, who had the chops to be a bundesliga2 standout at basically the same time?

    Forget that we eventually lost Nevin (boy we could us him now), can you really ever trust his assessment of talent after that?

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  • Aquaman

    I think a lot of players were left off this team other than the more popular mentions. I don’t know their age situation, but European players like Greg Garza, Ellis McLoughlin, Nazzani, Matt Luzunaris, Alfredo Morales and probably several other young MLS players who could have helped out but were left off the team.

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  • Angel

    @Advocat:
    that is a dumb statement. Do you know that in the Ghetto of what ever you call it, That where the passion of the game really is. Have u ever been to places like in Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, El Salvador or any other places where football soccer is the main sport and have u ever played street soccer. That is where u learn to dribble, make cuts to left or to the right, learn the street tricks, and freestyle and that where u learn to play a beautiful game. And when you go to play academy or a to a team you learn the main thing and that is Discipline, Tactics, to be technical and the rules of the game. Suburbs yeah you probably find good talent too but they too Robotic. So please when you said US going to turn into a ghetto game WOW that means you are calling Argentina or worst the Brazil a ghetto team. Well I rather the USA become ghetto.

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  • JP

    A few have already mentioned it, one of the problems with US youth soccer is that it is TOO ORGANIZED… Now I undertstand that some of it comes from being a more developed society but we need to come up with ways to broaden the reach of youth soccer recruiting in this country and develop more creative players…

    How can our kids compete with kids in Brazil who play on the streets for 3+ hours DAILY when ours come to practice twice a week and play on the weekends? These “not-for-profit” youth clubs are a disgrace and they are everywhere. Try to get in an open field for a pick up game and the odds are that some duffus with show up saying that some youth club has the rights to it and you can’t play there… Then they have these 11 year old kids under contract and treat them like prisoners. You cannot even go have a pick up game with another team without your coaches consent?! Who does that protect? I say the lub, not the kids…

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  • usadcu

    Dudinho and Advocat are both over the top with their arguments here. There is nothing wrong with continuing to improve the quality of what is going on in the “suburbs” while ALSO finding ways of reducing the impact of cash on people’s ability to progress in the game (and therefor helping those in inner city and less well off ‘burbs to participate).

    Personally, I am not a big NFL fan but it is simply not true that they are on a 20 year decline. In fact, it is a strength of the NFL that their appeal crosses ethnic and economic categories both from the persepctive of marketing and attracting players. In the US, building soccer means doing some of the same, even if most of the details will be different.

    We are not about to be Brazil tomorrow with the game played everywhere by everyone (including the middle class and rich, by the way), but we can build on what we have and draw strength from it rather than critizing “AYSO” and “soccer moms” or, on the other hand, ignoring what ethnic communities can bring to the game as they always have in US soccer, going back to when these ethnic groups were Germans or Italians 100 years ago.

    The difference today is that we have a chance to combine a stable professional league (with all its faults) with players from the burbs AND the ethnic poplulations, whether Latino, more recent African immigrants, or whatever.

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  • Josh.2

    @Advocat,

    I’m sure you were joking. I grew up in DC and our team of inner city kids, always did well against teams in the suburbs. One of the best youth teams in recent years, Casa Mia Bays, was a suburban team, made up largely of inner city kids. I think Angel already handed you your ass on a plate. Rio de Janeiro is probably the most dangerous ghetto in the world, and look at how many great players have come through there. And just because someone is from the city doesn’t make them ghetto. I have no problem with suburban soccer players, in fact, I would love it if more businesses and parents in the city would put more money behind teams from the city so they can have exposure. My point was that when it comes to the ODP level, money because a big issue. The kids from the inner city just don’t have the means to pay for it. Even if a kid from the city was to bypass the prejudice and get a coach to pick him over a player the coach knows from his contacts, chances are that he can’t afford to pay the fees. I don’t think US Soccer has to pay for all youth clubs, I think communities need to step up their grassroot efforts, but when it comes to regional teams like the ODP programs, I think the US Nats would benefit in the long run if US Soccer had some money available to help players who can’t afford it. There’s a lot of talent out there, but not everyone in this country plays for FC Delco.

    Like

  • alex

    You guys are beating this pay to play to death without acknowleding that many teams have cut out the costs, NYRB academy is free, Houston Dynamo is free there are a lot that MLS clubs are doing to help develop the talent the problem is that its happening now and the benefits won’t be until maybe 5 or 6 years down the road, Secondly lets end the class warfare, Soccer is a game loved by many it doesn’t matter where you grew up its like math its the same in every lanuage, but lets be factual we don’t live in the streets in this country nor would you raise your children in the streets, I keep hearin this argument that our kids don’t play in the streets they don’t want it enough cause there not poor, its absolute crap! Kids find all sorts of ways to define themselves to excel at what there good at, with more direction and a clearer path more kids would choose soccer if they new it would lead to a better life and thats whats missing, the clarity. If all of us want it to be better in this country then support your local MLS club and the youth teams around you.

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  • Andrew

    Not to say that we should have expected this team to advance, but youth teams are all inconsistent. We played three teams of approximately equal strength, lost two games by 3 goals, and won one by 3 goals. Also recall the friendly tournament in South Korea a couple cycles back where our U-20s lost 5-0 to the hosts in the first game, then beat an Argentina team featuring Messi and others in the next.

    We’re not the only inconsistent team either. Argentina didn’t qualify at all; Tahiti qualified over New Zealand. In Group F, Hungary got thrashed by Honduras but won their other two games easily, while Honduras lost to the same two opponents. Spain cruised past Nigeria and Venezuela (in addition to blowing out Tahiti), then got knocked out by an Italian team that was decidedly unimpressive in the group stage. No matter what country they come from, the players in this tournament are teenagers, there are no steady veterans among them.

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  • joe hamilton

    The repeated references to “suburban” players smacks of racism against whites. Dunce-dihno; did you watch the games? Your reference to AYSO was also racist. Do believe only non whites should represent the USA? It is BS that if only the USSF rids the teams of those untalented rich suburban white players, the US would be another Brazil.

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  • joe hamilton

    Josh 2 you obvious have no idea what you are talking about. Brazil being successful has absolutely nothing to do with ghettos. Brazil and Uruguay (which has more division soccer players per capita than any nation in the world) young players play futbole salcao .They don’t play on regulation fields usually until their early teens.

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  • kriz

    Ives,
    Do you think that this means we can expect a drop off of fully national team talent in the near future?

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  • Josh.2

    Joe, no one is saying anything racist on here. If anything you’re the one being racist by claiming that all suburban kids are white. They’re plenty of non-whites living in suburbs. Perhaps you should read the comments carefully before you respond. And no one claims that Brazil is successful because of their ghettos, you’re simply not getting the argument. What I was saying is that people like Ronaldinho came from the ghettos, but not every Brazilian player is from Rio. Someone had said earlier that US Soccer should simply continue recruiting from the suburbs and not the inner city because they didn’t want the Nats to turn ghetto, now that smacks of racism.

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  • SJ

    Not only should Rongen fall on the sword, it’s time USSF step up and take responsibility for it’s (lack of) actions to improve all levels of NT players.

    It’s becoming more apparent that the state of US soccer is not on an upward trend–at least developmentally. We are on par with S. Korea in terms of soccer tradition. However, after watching the disparity in technical ability, the USSF is not developing the same technically sound/skilled players or is failing to identify them and bring them into the fold.

    I’m like everyone else–not sure what the answer is, but becoming frustrated. What the answer isn’t is what is being done right now. I don’t think anyone expects overnight changes, but we would like to see perceivable forward progress in the development of the future USMNT player pool.

    Gulati should also step down and USSF be overhauled to get rid of the prevalent air of mediocrity which has seemed to creep in. I’m afraid the USSF is taking on an IOC-esque mentality (not as bad as Uncle Jack, yet).

    Ives, I’d love to read your assessment of the current USSF player development process.

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  • advocat

    Kaka, Ronaldinho, Messi, Xavi, Iniesta, Deco, Cristiano, Ballck, Lampard, Gerrard, Joe Cole, Beckham, Donovan, Totti, Pirlo, Gilardino,etc etc. all from middle class to upper middle class families; some actually from extremely wealthy families. They grew up in mainly suburban style environments. It worked for them. And we can make it work for the US. I dont want to replicate the NBA or NFL which are actually losing money and have become devooid of any value or entertainment. My interest is in promoting the US suburbian kids; that is my demographic and loyalty.

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  • soccer_007

    I believe the us soccer needs to scout more in europe for US players.
    I saw 3 pretty good under 20 players when I was in Germany lately. Lukas Martinen (Kiel), Parker Walsh (Karlsruhe) or Terrence Boyd (Berlin). They impressed me and would improve the us squad.

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  • celangto3

    Talent was not the isue for our loss, but the formation. I would have put Taylor and Marosevic up front. Marosevic is more settle and Taylor is crafty and creat goals. Maybe put Duka in one wing and ibrahim in the other wing, Arguez in the mid. Really, I saw this team play before and Marosevic is a different player than Taylor, Taylor is more dangerous but they complement each other. Taylor need to have the ball on his feet and the midf. was taking to long to deliver it. I dont think Rongen made a bad choice on roster but perhaps a bad formation. But with Tayor, Marosevic, Duka, Arguez, we are getting close to what we are looking in players. We just need a coach who understand this playes and how to play them. Duka on the other hand needs to consentrate in moving the ball foward faster and not try to be a foward himself. He will be more productive this way. Like I said the midf crowd the front to much. The foward didnt have space to work. The mid was all over the place. In the end, soccer is a game of rythem and the team have to have it in order to produce. Americans dont understand this rythem, they think passing and running is it, but it takes more then that. Just look at Brasil. They get it. With the players I mention we are getting closer than before. But it will take a whole culture chance to undertand this game, and I dont think we will ever get it, is easier to blame it on Rongen , but Rongen got it for the firt time with the selections of the players I mention, it just will take more time.

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  • brb

    Why didn’t Mexico’s U20 team even qualify? Bad Coach? Down Cycle? Bad formation? Or is it because they don’t focus on soccer, or don’t let the inner city kids play? Or don’t select the minority kids who are obviously better players? Or do they need to cross the border and nationalize some o our college players so they can at least qualify.

    Like

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