Like any of their predecessors who have worn the U.S. Soccer jersey, the players on the U.S. Under-17 Men’s National Team comprise a group with its own unique background. Each of those players has traveled on a different path, but all with the same goal: to reach the 2013 FIFA U-17 World Cup.
Captain and starting right back Shaq Moore has spent the better part of two years at the Residency Program in Bradenton, Fla., representing part of a cohesive base under U-17 MNT head coach Richie Williams. Others, such as starting goalkeeper Jeff Caldwell, are a bit newer to the Residency lifestyle and have spent a good portion of their young career in the U.S. Soccer Development Academy system.
The players’ various experiences have converged in Panama City, where the USA opened the 2013 CONCACAF U-17 Championship with a 3-0 win against Haiti on Sunday. Next up is Guatemala on April 7 (6:30 p.m. ET on FOX Soccer).
“When you’re here together for two years, naturally you just gel,” Moore said. “You do everything together, and that creates good chemistry that’s tied to the team.
“It’s a professional environment, and waking up to that every day helps you get a lot better,” Moore said. “Technically, we work on our touches every day and you have to be able to think about the game. At this level, you can’t just play anymore. You have to be smart, too.”
Caldwell, who hails from the Academy’s North Carolina Fusion, was hoping to be on the Residency path a bit sooner and he got his chance in the fall of 2012.
“I made the Select game last December [in the 2011 Winter Showcase] and I didn’t make Residency, so that was kind of a motivator,” Caldwell said. “I’ve been familiar with how the program works and that’s where I wanted to be for the whole year before. I think I was ready for it because that’s what I was working toward the whole time when I wasn’t there. Obviously you miss home sometimes, but there’s nothing better than playing six days a week. In the grand scheme of things, it’s something I’m getting a lot out of with this experience.”
Moore’s path included club ball in Florida before his family moved to Georgia and he played for Cobb FC. In Residency, Moore has grown into a leader.
“Before Residency, I wasn’t really noticed like I would have liked to have been,” Moore said. “I didn’t go through the U-14s or U-15s. But in Residency I got noticed, and ever since I’ve gotten here I took it in stride and tried to do my best every day.”
Caldwell is quick to credit the Academy environment and the guidance of the Fusion for preparing him for Residency and now the spotlight of the 2013 CONCACAF U-17 Championship.
“The Academy is the reason I’m here,” Caldwell said. “I started playing at the club when I was in the eighth grade. It’s actually a two-hour drive from where I live. We went to back-to-back Finals Weeks – first with the U-15/16s and last year with the U-17/18s. Without that team and without the coaches I have, I wouldn’t be here right now. It’s a credit to them and it’s a credit to the system. I’ll give the Academy and my mom for driving me to practice the full credit to where I am right now.”
The U-17 Residency environment brings together the best of the best, and Caldwell has spoken to his coaches Chris Little (Fusion U-15/16 team) and Mark Nichols (U-17/18) about how beneficial the Academy process has been in making an easy transition.
“One of the things I told them is that their training sessions and preparation for the game got me ready for Residency,” Caldwell said. “It wasn’t like I was shocked by how similar it was from there to Residency. Coach Anthony Latronica has helped with my technique here at the U-17s, but the Fusion really helped me understand the game and understand my role. Both of them helped get us to Finals Week in consecutive years, so from a training standpoint, I don’t think they could have done much better than what they have done.”