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A Look Back: U-17 MNT Qualifying

The U.S. Under-17 Men’s National Team holds the distinction of being the only team in the world to have qualified for every single FIFA U-17 World Cup (previously the FIFA U-16 World Tournament). As current head coach Wilmer Cabrera and his team prepare for the 2009 CONCACAF Championship, which will qualify four regional teams to the 2009 FIFA event, takes a look back at each team's qualifying campaign to showcase the distinguished history of the U-17 program.

1983 CONCACAF U-16 Tournament
Location: Trinidad & Tobago
Dates: Aug. 26 – Sept. 3, 1983
Group A
USA 4, El Salvador 1
USA 1, Trinidad & Tobago 1
USA 2, Honduras 0
USA 0, Trinidad & Tobago 0 (USA Wins 5-3 on penalties)

USA Finish: First place, CONCACAF Champions

Though the FIFA U-16 World Tournament did not debut until 1985, CONCACAF was ahead of the game, holding a regional championship in 1983. Two groups of three teams competed at the inaugural event in Trinidad, with the top two teams in each group moving on to the semifinals. After a 2-0 semifinal victory against Honduras, the U.S. edged the hosts in the final, battling to a scoreless draw before eking out a 5-3 victory in the penalty shootout.

1985 CONCACAF U-16 Tournament
Location: Mexico
USA: Did not participate

The Under-16 age group finally reached the world stage in 1985 as China PR held the first-ever FIFA Under-16 World Tournament and averaged nearly 23,000 spectators per game. The U.S. had actually earned their spot in China by virtue of winning the CONCACAF championship two years earlier and therefore did not compete in regional qualifying in 1985. Once settled in the Far East, head coach Angus McAlpine led the team to a victory against Bolivia but fell just short of advancing out of the tournament’s Group A.

1987 CONCACAF U-16 Tournament
Location: Honduras
Dates: Feb. 15-26, 1987

Group A
USA 4, Trinidad & Tobago 0
USA 2, Honduras 1
Final Round
Mexico 3, USA 1
USA 4, Honduras 3
USA 2, Costa Rica 0

USA Finish: Second place in Final Round
Notable Players: Mike Burns, Chad Deering

After a four-year break from regional qualifying, the U.S. U-17s kicked off the 1987 campaign in Honduras with an impressive 4-0 win against Trinidad & Tobago before the hosts to go top of Group A. In the four-team Final Round, a loss to Mexico was erased by wins against the hosts and Costa Rica as the Americans secured second place in CONCACAF and a berth to the 1987 World Cup in neighboring Canada. Once again, the U.S. was just one point shy of advancing to the quarterfinals in the16-team tournament.

1988 CONCACAF U-16 Tournament
Location: Port of Spain, Trinidad & Tobago
Dates: Nov. 12–27, 1988

Group A
USA 6, Guatemala 1
USA 7, Honduras 0
USA 6, St. Lucia 0
Trinidad & Tobago 1, USA 0
Final Round
Canada 2, USA 1
USA 1, Cuba 0
USA 1, Trinidad & Tobago 0

USA Finish: Second place in Final Round
Notable Players: Claudio Reyna

Port of Spain, Trinidad, played host to the 1988 CONCACAF Under-16 Tournament that served as qualifying for the next year’s U-17 FIFA World Championship. The American team, led by head coach Roy Rees and featuring future World Cup star Claudio Reyna, cruised through the first three matches of the first round, scoring 19 goals and allowing just one in games against Guatemala, Honduras and St. Lucia. By winning Group A, the U.S. advanced to the final round of the tournament where two wins against Cuba and T & T secured the team’s second-place finish. Cuba won the tournament for the first time to qualify for its first-ever world championship.

At the 1989 FIFA U-17 World Cup in Scotland, the U.S. was drawn into a difficult Group B with Brazil, Germany DR and Australia, and a third-straight third-place finish sent the USA home after group play.

1991 CONCACAF U-17 Qualification
Location: Trinidad & Tobago
Dates: March 24 – April 4, 1991

Group 2
USA 5, El Salvador 0
USA 6, Puerto Rico 0
USA 1, Cuba 1
Final Round
USA 1, Trinidad & Tobago 1
USA 1, Cuba 0
USA 1, Mexico 1
USA Finish: Second place in Final Round
Notable Players: Matt McKeown, Nelson Vargas

The CONCACAF U-17 Qualification tournament again made its way to Trinidad & Tobago in 1991, and the U.S. again got out to a fast start, with a 5-0 drubbing of El Salvador and a 6-0 victory against Puerto Rico. Once into the final round group, draws with T & T and Mexico combined with a win against Cuba to lift the Americans into second place and another appearance on the world stage.

In Italy, the U.S. kicked off the tournament with a shock win against the hosts and an equally surprising win against Argentina. A third win against China PR to round out group play meant that the U.S. would advance to the quarterfinals for the first time in its history. Set to play Qatar in the knock-out round, the two teams battled to a 1-1 draw and the U.S. suffered a heartbreaking loss in the ensuing penalty shootout.

1992 CONCACAF U-17 Qualification
Location: Cuba
Dates: Aug. 12–23, 1992
Group C
USA 2, Honduras 1
USA 3, Guatemala 0
USA 4, Netherland Antilles 0
Final Round
Mexico 4, USA 3
USA 1, Canada 0
USA 2, Cuba 0
USA Finish: First place in Final Round
Notable Players: John O’Brien, Jon Busch

Three wins and nine goals scored took the U.S. to the top of Group C during qualifying for the ’93 World Cup, vaulting Roy Rees’ team to the Final Round. A tough defeat to Mexico wasn’t the ideal way to kick off the all-important four-team final group, but the Americans bounced back to topple Canada and Cuba to win the tournament title. At the ensuing FIFA U-17 World Cup in Japan, the U.S. took a draw with Czechoslovakia and some vengeance against Qatar with a 5-0 win to propel them to the quarterfinals for the second-consecutive cycle. In the final eight, the U.S. fell to Poland, but had also set a new standard for success at the World Cup by advancing to the knock-out phase.

1994 CONCACAF U-17 Qualification
Location: San Salvador, El Salvador
Dates: Nov. 2–13, 1994
Group C
USA 7, Netherlands Antilles 0
USA 5, Trinidad & Tobago 3
Costa Rica 4, 1 USA
Final Round
USA 2, Costa Rica 0
USA 1, Canada 0
Mexico 2, USA 1
USA Finish: Second place in Final Round
Notable Players: Tim Howard, Nick Rimando

A potent American attack paved the way to the final round of qualifying in 1994, as a 7-0 win against Netherland Antilles and a 5-3 showing against T & T put the U.S. into the final group of four in San Salvador, El Salvador. The U.S. kicked off a difficult final group against Costa Rica and pulled out a 2-0 win against the Central American side before a 1-0 win against Canada all but sealed a berth to the 1995 World Cup in Ecuador. With the regional title up for grabs, the U.S. fought rival Mexico in the final game but fell 2-1 to our southern neighbors, settling for the second CONCACAF spot in Ecuador.

Once at the 1995 FIFA U-17 World Championship, the U.S. slumped to a poor performance in Group A. Losses against eventual champions Ghana, hosts Ecuador and Japan meant the U.S. left South America with no points and just one goal scored to show for their efforts.

1996 CONCACAF U-17 Qualification
Location: Port of Spain, Trinidad
Dates: Aug. 18–31, 1996
Group 1
USA 5, Bermuda 3
USA 3, Dominican Republic 0
Costa Rica 3, USA 2
Final Round
Mexico 3, USA 1
USA 2, Canada 0
USA 1, Costa Rica 1
USA Finish: Second place in Final Round
Notable Players: Taylor Twellman, Danny Califf

The 1996 tournament was (until 2009) the last time CONCACAF crowned a champion at the U-17 level and the Americans had put themselves in good position to take that title. With a pair of wins against Bermuda and the Dominican Republic to open the campaign, a loss to Costa Rica in the final Group 1 game proved to be just a blip on the radar as the U.S. advanced to the Final Round. With three teams advancing to the world championship in Egypt, the U.S., under coach Jay Miller, didn’t get off to the best start with a 3-1 loss to Mexico but rebounded with a resounding 2-0 win against Canada. A draw with Costa Rica sealed second place for the U.S., clinching a berth to Egypt.

The U.S. effort at the 1997 FIFA U-17 World Cup fell short of the knock-out stage, as the team’s lone victory against Austria, offset by losses against Brazil and Oman, was not enough to advance to the last eight.

1999 CONCACAF U-17 Qualification
Location: Montego Bay, Jamaica
Dates: Feb. 24-28, 1999
Final Round, Group A
USA 2, Costa Rica 2
USA 3, Honduras 0
USA 0, Jamaica 0
USA 6, El Salvador 1, first leg in San Salvador
USA 4, El Salvador 0, second leg in Columbus, Ohio
USA Finish: Second in Group A, advanced in playoff as third place in CONCACAF
Notable Players: Landon Donovan, DaMarcus Beasley, Oguchi Onyewu

With eight regional teams competing for just three regional spots at the 1999 FIFA U-17 World Cup, the U.S. took its qualifying campaign down to the wire. After an opening draw with Costa Rica, the Americans had their work cut out for them, needing to finish first or second in the group to have a chance to make it to New Zealand. A win against Honduras was followed by a scoreless draw with host Jamaica, setting up coach John Ellinger’s team for a home-and-home playoff series with the Group B runners up, El Salvador. The U.S., now anxious to prove itself worthy of a place in the world’s best 16, came out firing in San Salvador and jumped out to an impressive 6-1 win. A 4-0 win in Columbus, Ohio sealed the Americans' place in New Zealand.

As the World Cup began, young U.S. stars emerged on the world stage as Landon Donovan led the way to a best-ever fourth place finish en route to claiming the tournament’s Golden Ball. The team, which included Silver Ball winner DaMarcus Beasley and current MNT teammate Oguchi Onyewu, spent much of the buildup to New Zealand in the newly formed U.S. Soccer Residency Program. The fourth-place finish still stands as the best-ever result for a U.S. men’s team at a world championship. 

2001 CONCACAF U-17 Qualification
Location: St. Louis, Mo.
Dates: April 18–22, 2001
Group A
USA 2, Jamaica 1
USA 4, Canada 2
USA 4, El Salvador 0
USA Finish: First in Group A
Notable Players: Eddie Johnson, Santino Quaranta

The U.S. hosted the CONCACAF U-17 event for the first and only time, making quick work of the four-team group to ensure advancement to Trinidad & Tobago 2001. Three straight wins against Jamaica, Canada and El Salvador in St. Louis propelled the team to the top place in Group A. For the first time, the regional event was being held as two groups in two separate venues as the tournament was solely held for World Cup qualifying purposes, therefore not crowning a champion.

The U.S. stayed within the region for the World Cup in Trinidad & Tobago but could not continue the recent trend of advancing out of group play. Drawn into a difficult group along with Nigeria, France and Japan, the U.S. was unable to nab a single point from three.

2003 CONCACAF U-17 Qualification
Location: Guatemala City, Guatemala
Dates: March 5–9, 2003
Group A
USA 3, Jamaica 0
USA 1, El Salvador 1
USA 3, Guatemala 0
USA Finish: First in Group A
Notable Players: Freddy Adu, Jonathan Spector, Danny Szetela

Settled quickly into Guatemala City, the United States wasted no time jumping out to the top place in Group A with a 3-0 win against Jamaica. After a 1-1 draw with El Salvador, the U.S. shut out the home team 3-0 in the third Group A game to clinch the top place in the group and secure a bid to that year’s World Cup in Finland, joining Mexico and Costa Rica in representing CONCACAF.

Behind a hat trick from then-14-year-old Freddy Adu, the U.S. opened its World Cup campaign with an impressive 6-1 win against Korea Republic, a result that still holds as one of the biggest margins of victory in U.S. men’s world championship history. Another win against Sierra Leone secured a place in the quarterfinals for the Americans with a second  place finish in Group D. Unfortunately, their prize for advancing was a date with eventual-champions Brazil in the quarterfinals.

2005 CONCACAF U-17 Qualification
Location: Heredia, Costa Rica
Dates: April 12–16, 2005
Group A
USA 3, El Salvador 0
USA 1, Cuba 1
USA 2, Costa Rica 1
USA Finish: First in Group A
Notable Players: Jozy Altidore, Brian Perk

After a powerful start and a 3-0 win against El Salvador, the U.S. managed only a draw against Cuba in the second match to set up a winner-take-all third game against Costa Rica. With the Ticos holding home field advantage, the U.S. was also battling a raucous crowd that was fully behind the team on the fielde. The Americans scored once in the first half and once in the second to take a 2-1 victory and a place at the U-17 World Cup in Peru. The qualifying campaign marked the third-straight first-place finish for the U.S.

In Peru, the U.S. used wins against Korea Republic and Italy to book a place in the knock-out stages. In the quarterfinals, however, they met a team from the Netherlands that would eventually take third in the tournament and who promptly ended the Americans run.

2007 CONCACAF U-17 Qualification
Location: Kingston, Jamaica
Dates: April 28 – May 6, 2007
Group B
USA 3, Trinidad & Tobago 0
USA 2, Canada 1
Jamaica 3, USA 2
USA 2, Costa Rica 1
USA Finish: Second in Group B
Notable Players: Jared Jeffrey, Josh Lambo

The U.S. traveled to Kingston, Jamaica for qualifying in 2007 in an effort to preserve the perfect streak of qualifying for all 11 previous FIFA U-17 World Cups. Two wins against Trinidad & Tobago and Canada got head coach John Hackworth’s squad off to a good start, but game three against the home team proved to be difficult. With a 3-2 loss to Jamaica, the U.S. took its first loss and broke the USA’s 18-game undefeated streak in qualifying matches at the U-17 age level. The U.S. had not lost a U-17 qualifying match since Aug. 26, 1996, when they fell in the final round to Mexico, 3-1. In the end, that result did not impact the outcome much as the U.S. still clinched a place in Korea Republic as one of the group’s top three teams.

2009 CONCACAF U-17 Championship
Location: Tijuana, Mexico
Dates: April 21 – May 2, 2009

The current crop of U-17 MNT players and coaches will look to continue the winning tradition of the team as they look ahead to Tijuana, Mexico. The event has returned to a championship format for the first time since 1996, when the U.S. finished second. Unlike the U.S. U-20 MNT, who have never won the regional crown, the U-17s have twice taken the CONCACAF title, and will be going for number three from April 21-May 2 at Estadio Caliente. The U.S., led by head coach Wilmer Cabrera, opens Group A play on April 21 against Cuba and faces Canada two days later before rounding out the first round on April 25 against Honduras. Should the U.S. advance out of their group, they will cross over to play one of the top two teams from Group B, which is made up of Mexico, Guatemala, Costa Rica and Trinidad & Tobago, in the semifinals. Four teams from CONCACAF will travel to the 2009 FIFA Under-17 World Cup, which means progression to the semifinals in Tijuana will be enough to secure a berth to the tournament. The 2009 FIFA Under-17 World Cup will be held in Nigeria from Oct. 24-Nov. 16.