How did this trip with the U-17 team come about?
Mike Sorber: “This particular plan started when Wilmer Cabrera came in with the full team staff in March before the match against Argentina. Going in with the U-17s helps us to get to know his staff and his players better, and the kids also have an opportunity to see the connection between all the programs. The team was going to Mexico to play two preparation matches before the U-17 World Cup this summer, so it was great timing. It’s important to try and connect the dots amongst our teams so that from the full men’s team all the way down we are working together.”
This is not the first time that there has been this time of integration amongst the staffs. How has the relationship worked?
MS: “The U-17 staff has been out to California and had discussions with Bob [Bradley], and we keep an open dialogue. Different members of the full team staff have been to Development Academy events where the U-17’s have played international matches, and we watch as many of their matches as possible. It continues to be a good relationship.”
When you go into a situation where you are spending time with one of the youth national teams, what are you hoping to accomplish?
MS: “There are always two parts. The first is communicating with individual players to give them more ideas on all the details about becoming a professional player and what it takes to compete at the international level, and also to remind them of the significance and privilege of representing your country. The U-17 staff does a great job of that, and it helps to reinforce the message.”
“The second part is from a team perspective. The youth teams face the same challenges that the full team does when the bar gets raised and you are competing against the best in the world. We want to continue to educate the younger players on those challenges and ways that they can deal with them.”
Are there specific messages you want deliver?
MS: “Ultimately, when you are coaching kids at the youth level you are a teacher. In this situation, the idea is to take each person individually and try to help paint a picture of what games and players look like at the highest level so they understand the direction they need to go, and also give ideas on tools they can use to make themselves better. If we can help them move along farther and quicker, then we are on the right track.”
The U-17s played two games against Mexico at altitude and in front of more than 20,000 fans. How beneficial is it to the national teams program to get these younger players that type of experience?
MS: “It’s certainly important to expose these players to different environments and new challenges. When you move from qualifying to the World Cup, for example, it’s another level up at times, so the players need to be tested in these circumstances – dealing with the crowd, dealing with the conditions, that type of thing. They need to be playing above their heads so they can learn what it means to be tuned-in, focused and ready for the challenges at the next levels. The hard part at times is to keep getting enough good games so they progress farther along.”
ussoccer.com: What can the coaching staff take away from the two matches against Mexico as they continue to prepare for the FIFA U-17 World Cup this summer?
MS: “First of all, you could see the kids learned quite a bit from the first game to second game. They had a much better idea what to expect, a better feel for the level, and what the atmosphere can be like. It helps the coaches as they move forward in terms of knowing what areas they need to work on in training, and equally important they have a good assessment of which players handled that situation well and those that struggled. It helps give a lot of answers.”