US SoccerUS Soccer

U-16 Girl's National Team: What a Difference a Year Makes

You hear it all the time: What a difference a year makes.

It correlates to soccer as well.

In a year, the U.S. WNT’s dominance in women’s soccer took a hit as they fell to Germany in the semifinals of the 2003 Women’s World Cup.

In a year, Freddy Adu went from whispers and rumors to a real-life figure standing in front of a podium, speechless after just being picked first overall by D.C. United in the MLS SuperDraft.

In a year, Brazil once again proclaimed their dominance in the beautiful game by winning the World Cup, World Youth Championship and the U-17 World Championship.

Okay, maybe the last one was more like 18 months than a year, but you get the drift. A year makes all the difference. Or does it?

In terms of the success of the U.S. Under-16 Women’s National Team it doesn’t seem to make any difference at all. The U-16s have been able to have a lot of success, even while playing a majority of their games against competition that is one year older.

Last year, the U-16s international record was 5-0-2, with 17 goals for and only four goals against, and most of those teams were Under-17. Sue Montagne-Patberg, the head coach of the U.S. U-16s, said a number of countries don’t have a U-16 girls team, but do have a U-17 squad, so a lot of the time the U.S. is playing against older competition. While the year might not make a difference in results, the coach says it makes all the difference in other ways.

“The physical development in a year in some aspects of a player can be a lot,” Montagne-Patberg said. “Being exposed to that level and having the players understand how strong they have to be on the next level is very important. Knowing that now means they will be that much farther along.”

The U-16 girls are getting a first-hand look at what they will need to do to improve as they have faced the German U-17s and the U.S. U-17s, and will face the Canadian U-17s on Friday. Both of their earlier matches against the Germans (2-0 W) and the U.S. (0-1 L) were hard-fought grudge matches, with enough physical play make it seemed like they have played four games instead of just two in the past few days. Which is exactly what Montagne-Patberg wants.

“Playing our own U-17s is the best competition we will probably face,” she said. “It really gets the competitive juices flowing and lets the team know where they are they are and what they need to do to get better.”

The coach stressed that the most important thing is improving the players as they go up each step of the ladder, from the U-16s, to the U-17s, to the U-19s, U-21s, and eventually to the full WNT. By making sure the players’ progress, U.S. Soccer is guaranteed to stay near the top of the women’s soccer world for years to come. And possibly, in 2007 in China, some of the current U-16 GNT players will help the U.S. World Cup champions once again and say, “What a difference a year makes.”