CHICAGO (November 6, 2003) — A record 44 teams are scheduled to play more than 80 games in four days at U.S. Soccer’s third-annual Nike Friendlies at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., from December 5-9. In addition to elite club teams from 15 different states across the United States, this year’s competition also includes youth national teams representing Brazil and the USA’s 40-player Under-17 Residency Program. A full schedule of games will be available next week.
U.S. Soccer’s Nike Friendlies is an annual youth soccer competition in which the best youth soccer clubs in United States are invited to the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., to play high-level games against like competition in a competitive environment that stresses quality soccer and player development over wins and losses. Each team plays four 80-minute games across the four-day competition and no tournament standings are kept.
In three years of existence, the Friendlies has become a highly anticipated event by clubs and college coaches because of the emphasis on quality soccer and the top-level competition. With 44 teams this year and 28 teams in last year’s event, the competition has more than doubled in size since 19 teams competed in the inaugural competition in 2001.
With 40 players in U.S. Soccer’s U-17 Residency Program now, the U.S. Under-17 Men’s National Team will continue to be split into two teams: an older team made up primarily of players born in 1987 and a younger team made up primarily of players born in 1988. The U-17 ‘87s will compete in Under-18 age bracket at the Nike Friendlies, while the U-17 ‘88s will be placed in the Under-17 bracket.
Brazil’s Under-17 Men’s National Team is also one of the 44 teams scheduled to appear, marking the second consecutive appearance by an international team after Finland’s U-17 team participated in 2002.
“We have worked very hard to put together a competition that will benefit all of the teams involved, as well as the coaches who come in for the symposium,” said U.S. Under-17 Men’s National Team head coach John Ellinger. “We believe that this event is an excellent showcase for some of the best young players in the United States, but more importantly, creates an environment that is conducive to quality soccer. This is our third year and there is no doubt that the level of soccer and competition continues to grow.”
As part of the extended weekend, Ellinger, who also serves as U.S. Soccer’s Director of Youth Development, will host a free, three-day coaching symposium. The symposium will run from Dec. 5-7, and the presenters include Ellinger, U.S. Soccer’s Director of Advanced & International Referee Development Esse Baharmast, members of Ellinger’s staff and U.S. Men’s National Staff Coaches. More information on the symposium is available at ussoccer.com.
U.S. Soccer also conducts a Premier Referee Academy at the Nike Friendlies, inviting 15 of the nation’s most promising referees to officiate at the Friendlies. The academy is a chance for referees to be evaluated and to learn what it takes to advance and to work at the game’s highest levels. A select number of the referees who work at the Friendlies will be asked to work the MLS Combine and from there individual officials may be invited to join U.S. Soccer’s referee pool for the professional level.
The U.S. Under-17 Men’s National Team recently competed at the 2003 FIFA U-17 World Championship in Finland where they advanced out of their group with two victories before losing to Brazil 3-0 in the tournament’s quarterfinals on Aug. 24. With most of those players moving on, the current crop of 40 U-17 players in U.S. Soccer’s Residency Program feature just four players from that team: Freddy Adu, Stephen Sandbo, Danny Szetela and Julian Valentin. The new group of elite U-17 athletes is the fourth group to move through the residency program, which was created in January of 1999 and has seen each of the previous classes qualify and compete in FIFA’s bi-annual U-17 World Championship.
2003 U.S. Soccer/Nike Friendlies
Austin Capitals (Texas)
Austin Capitals (Texas)
Albany Black Watch SC (N.Y.)