Q & A with U.S. U-15 Boys’ National Team Head Coach Tony Lepore
U.S. Under-15 Boys’ National Team head coach Tony Lepore named a 20-player roster earlier this week to travel to the International Marveld Tournament in Groenlo, Holland. Lepore will lead the group to its first international tournament at this age level as part of a U.S. National Team. He took some time to answer a few questions for ussoccer.com about the roster, the upcoming tournament and what’s in store for this cycle of U-15 BNT players.
ussoccer.com: How did you go about selecting the roster for this tournament?
Tony Lepore: “The roster for this trip is made up of a core of players who have been a part of the U-15 Boys’ National Team pool throughout this ’97 cycle; three domestic camps so far. We also have three players currently in Residency with the U-17 Men’s National Team (Mukwelle Akale, Cameron Lindley, and Tommy Redding), who rejoin their age group for the benefit of same-age international competition, and two players that are new to the group. We’ve called up 1998 goalkeeper Abraham Romero from the U-14 Boys’ National Team, who we were able to evaluate during our side-by-side camp with the ’98s at The Home Depot Center in March. He will be our only underage player, and Rigoberto Rojas from Chicago Blast is the only player that is new to the group. Rigo was highly recommended by his club and subsequently evaluated by our scouting network and our U.S. Soccer Training Center program.”
ussoccer.com: What can you tell us about this particular team?
TL: “We are excited about the potential of this 1997 age group and they have made a lot of progress throughout the three domestic camps. They have been a privilege to work with so far, on and off the field. There is good depth in all positions for the 1997s so the selection process was very competitive. We feel like we are leaving some talented players behind that we will look to re-evaluate at our final domestic camp at The Home Depot Center in early September. The other thing to mention about this 1997 pool, as we track their progress constantly through our scouting network, is that we have many players, it seems more than ever before, that are ‘playing-up’ for their Development Academy club U-15/16 teams and these weekly matches and regular training with and against older players has really accelerated their development.”
ussoccer.com: Can you tell us why you chose to participate in this tournament and how that will help the players’ development?
TL: “This trip to Holland is a great opportunity for the players to develop. We expect them to be challenged, and it is very important to measure ourselves against the most talented same-age players from some of the top soccer nations in the world. Over the past several years, we have traveled with the U-15s to Spain, Germany, Argentina, and Croatia. Europe and South America are our choice destinations. Like the nations visited on these previous trips, Holland is one of the world leaders in youth development with such a rich soccer history, one for us to try and emulate in many ways as we continue to focus on improving our own youth environments. So these international soccer and cultural experiences provide incredible value for the development of our Youth National Team players. For this age group in particular, it also serves as a great way to evaluate the player pool, and ourselves as coaches, as we identify players for the future—those that will continue to be a part of our youth and hopefully senior National Teams program. We will have matches against some of the top clubs in the world like Real Madrid, Bayer Leverkusen, and Ajax to name a few so we are looking forward to testing ourselves against competition where we expect the players will really be held accountable for their awareness, execution and decision making. And like all camps, domestic or international, being together every day for a long period helps us to continue to instill our style of play while reinforcing good habits on and off the field to help the players learn to become like young pros. There will be many lessons for them to take back to their own environments, which is very important since we bring them together only five or six weeks a year.”
ussoccer.com: This cycle of U-15 BNT players has more camps and trips than previous U-15 BNTs. Can you talk to us a little bit about the increased programming?
TL: “Typically, we have one international camp as part of U-15s cycle. This year, we are very fortunate to have a second. We were invited to a tournament later in June being hosted by Mexico and it was simply too good of an opportunity to pass on, even though there were some logistical challenges with having two big trips in such a short time. It is different than the Holland trip in that we will play other U-15 national teams. I haven’t seen our group yet but we know that Spain, Colombia and Nigeria also plan to attend and, of course, we hope for the opportunity to play against hosts Mexico as it always represents such a meaningful game. Playing against club teams in Holland who we expect will be in very good form after just finishing their leagues will present us with the challenges of playing against teams who have been training and playing together for 10 to 11 months while we are just coming together. The goal, and challenge, like every camp is to start where we left off the last time we were together, which was in March, while quickly integrating the new players. At the tournament in Mexico, everyone is in a similar situation since the competition will be all national team selections.”