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U-17 MNT Quote Sheet: The Aegean Cup Experience

U.S. Under-17 Men’s National Team goalkeeper Will Pulisic, midfielder Alexis Velela and forward McKinzie Gaines speak about their experiences winning the 2014 Aegean Cup in Turkey. Pulisic also elaborates on winning the tournament’s Golden Glove award and his friendship with fellow U-17 goalkeeper Kevin Silva, while Velela sheds some light on being team captain, and Gaines describes his first international experience with a U.S. Youth National Team.

U.S. U-17 MNT goalkeeper WILL PULISIC
On the overall experience of the tournament:
“The tournament went really well for our team. I thought we were able to dominate most of the games. We felt we were the better team. The better teams don’t always win, but we were able to find a way to win. In the final, the last 20 minutes was really tough. We were up one goal and we learned that as long as we keep our focus and keep playing we can come out on top even when we’re playing against Turkey in their home stadium with their fans.” 

On the team’s confidence in playing its style of football against quality opposition at home and abroad:
“We’re all a family here. Everyone is close with everyone. So, whenever someone gets down, everyone is there to pick him up. We stick together and always have each other’s back throughout tournaments and everything we do.”

On the run of winning results the team has achieved at international tournaments dating back to August:
“We just want to keep winning. We learned from the last cycle that it’s important to win. You can play as well as you want, but in the end, it’s down to winning if you want to qualify [for the 2015 FIFA U-17 World Cup]. It all starts now, and that’s what we’re working up to. We just need to start winning now and hopefully keep winning all the way through.”

On being part of a team that has a growing string of winning results:
“It feels really good. It builds your confidence up, makes you play a lot better, makes the chemistry with the team a lot better, and makes you want to keep winning even more, which, in the end, that’s good.”

On being the team’s primary goalkeeper for the tournament:
“This was definitely my first time being the No. 1, and I saw it as a good opportunity to prove myself. I took advantage of it. I thought I played pretty well and I was happy with that. Whenever I get my name called, I’m going to step it up.”

On winning the tournament’s Golden Glove award:
“The guys were all happy for me. It’s a good honor to win that award. I couldn’t have done it without the rest of the team though. There are a lot of guys in front of me that helped me out, so that was a nice job from them.”

On his camaraderie with fellow U-17 goalkeeper Kevin Silva, who won the Golden Glove at the team’s previous tournament: 
“We’re really good friends. He’s one of my best friends on the team. We’re really close. We’re great competition for one another. When he’s in, I got his back and when I’m in, he’s got my back. It’s a good relationship between us.”

On what he is looking forward to with the team:
“Well, here in Florida, we just need to keep working hard and then the next international trip we’ll try to win it again.”

U.S. U-17 MNT midfielder ALEXIS VELELA
On the overall experience of the tournament:
“The experience was really good playing different teams that we haven’t played before. I think we dominated most of the games and deserved to win.”

On the similarities and differences between the competition in the team’s last two tournaments:
“Brazil, Portugal and England are really good teams. They were different than these teams that we played here. The big difference was we played them on our home field and in Turkey, we’re playing somewhere else, dealing with the crowd, the environment and everything, so it was different.”

On staying composed in a hostile atmosphere to beat Turkey in the final:
“We just wanted to win and go home with another victory. We motivated each other and talked with each other before the game, picked each other up, ‘Let’s have a good game, finish on a good note, and let’s take [a trophy] home’.”

On being part of a team that has a growing string of winning results:
“For me personally, I don’t like losing. Our team is not a losing team, we do anything to take the win, but since Mexico we’ve been doing really well. I’m just so proud of this team with how we’re doing, how we’re playing with each other.”

On being team captain and how it builds leadership skills:
“Being captain is really important. Taking a leadership role and helping others keep moving forward. If they made a mistake, keep putting their head up, keep going. We all make mistakes, so pushing the team forward is basically it. We have a lot of good leaders in the team like Eric Calvillo; he’s a really good leader too. We just push everyone forward, keep going and don’t let the mistakes get to you.”

On scoring his first international goal for a Youth National Team in the U-17s 5-2 win against Norway:
“At first, I didn’t even know it was my goal. It was an own goal basically, but it hit me at the end and it felt really good to score my first goal with a National Team.”

On his assist to Joe Gallardo for the opening goal in the final against Turkey:
“It was from a goal kick I think, and the ball was coming at me. From the corner of my eye, I saw Joe standing by himself with no one behind him. I didn’t think if I hit the ball it would go right to him, but I hit a good through ball and Joe finished it.”

On what he is looking forward to with the team:
“We’re a really good team, and I think we can still improve and get better together as a team to keep moving forward toward the [U-17] World Cup and Qualifiers. That’s what we’re heading to.”

On the over experience of his first international tournament with a Youth National Team:
“It was great! Seeing all of the talent from the other countries at the tournament was great. It was nice playing at the highest level.”

On the learning opportunity the trip provided and what he took away from the experience:
“I learned that there are players all over the world who are just as good as you, and you can’t take anything for granted. You have to go out there and play your hardest every single day at training or in a game.”

On scoring his first international goal for a Youth National Team:
“It was a great feeling scoring my first international goal. I think Logan [Panchot] had a free kick and crossed it into the box. It was a great cross, and Hugo [Arellano] was there and met it with a header, but the keeper saved it. It fell to me and I headed it in.”

On an eventful last few months in his burgeoning soccer career:
“I think I have had time to process all of it. We had [the Development Academy Winter] Showcase in December and I played in one of the Select Games. From there, I came to Residency, then the trip and then, I ended up scoring. Hopefully, I can just keep getting better and better and just keep it up.”

On his outlook in the midst of such a successful time in his young career:
“It’s great to be recognized for something that you love to do. To make the [tournament] roster was a great feeling. It definitely gives me motivation to keep going. It tells me I’m on the right path, but I need to keep improving every single day because if I stopped right now nothing would come of it; I wouldn’t reach my dreams. I just have to keep going and working hard every single day.”