The U-17 Women’s National Team wants to keep the momentum going.
Last summer, the senior team captured the world’s attention by winning the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup.
In December, the U-20 WNT won the CONCACAF U-20 Women’s Championship in Honduras to secure their place in the 2016 FIFA U-20 World Cup to be held later this year in Papua New Guinea.
This week, the U-17 WNT kicks off their quest to reach the pinnacle of their age group as they begin the CONCACAF Under-17 Women’s Championship in Grenada. The top three teams will earn a spot at the 2016 FIFA U-17 World Cup in Jordan in late September.
“I remember seeing the women win and how they were celebrating, and then seeing the U-20s win and celebrating,” said U-17 midfielder Frankie Tagliaferri. “We talk here and we say we want that, too. We want to be able to celebrate after it all and have fun.”
The team arrived in Grenada on Feb. 27 to begin acclimating to the hot and humid Caribbean weather. The USA kicks off its qualify question on Friday, March 4, against Jamaica (TV INFO).
Tagliaferri is one of four members of the 20-player squad with previous World Cup Qualifying experience. Both her and forward Civana Kulhmann were 14-years-old when they each played in three matches on the 2013 U-17 WCQ team that fell to Mexico in penalty kicks in the semifinals. Forward Ashley Sanchez and defender Kiara Pickett, who recently helped the U-20 WNT earn its berth to the World Cup at their qualifying tournament in Honduras last December, join them in Grenada.
“I think that the U-20 qualifying experience really helped get me ready for this,” said Sanchez. “I wasn’t playing a huge part at first, but when I got on the field, it gave me exposure to the high level.”
Sanchez leads the U-17 team with 12 goals in nine U-17 internationals. She was one of the younger players on the U-20 WNT last December, but was a key player in notching five assists and scoring three goals, including the game-winner in the USA’s 1-0 championship game victory against Canada.
Now she wants to bring that competitive mentality to her U-17 teammates.
“To be plugged in the whole game,” Ashley said of her takeaway from the U-20 qualifiers. “As soon as you drop off they’re going to come at us. We want to have a mindset to go at teams and keep going until the final whistle.”
Pickett was the youngest player on that U-20 team at just 16-years-old. After sitting out the opening match, she started against Panama but injured her left knee, forcing her to miss the remainder of the tournament. She underwent a procedure on her knee in late December but has come back to make the qualifying team.
“I want to be a leader of the team,” Pickett said. “I want to show them the path because I know it’s hard. I’m ready and I understand that whatever role you have, you have to do it the best you can. With the 20s and at the NTC Invitational, I was on the bench most of the time, but I wanted to be the best cheerleader, water girl, picker up of the equipment, pushing the girls at training – I didn’t care what role I had as long as it was helping the girls.”
Pickett admitted to shedding tears of joy as the U-20s lifted their trophy, seeing the team’s hard work rewarded. Now she wants this group to get their opportunity to experience the same.
“I’m trying to do it step-by-step, giving them encouragement and letting them know that they are ready for this, bringing the joy and excitement of being at the actual qualifiers,” she said. “It’s amazing opportunity.”
While the Under-17 team’s primary focus is development and preparing for the next step, the competitor in each player comes out when the whistle blows.
“We want to win it,” Sanchez said of the team’s goal in Grenada. “Obviously our first goal is to qualify, but our main goal is to win the whole thing.”
After Friday’s match against Jamaica, the U-17 WNT will face Mexico (March 6) and Costa Rica (March 8). The top two finishers from group play will advance to the semifinals. The winners of the semifinals and the third place match will advance to the World Cup.