All Systems Go: Men's Youth National Teams Thriving in 2017

The end of a cycle usually means that things are winding down and people are preparing for what’s coming next. The opposite is true for U.S. Soccer’s Men’s Youth National Team programs, which have kicked into high gear and are shining brightly as the culmination of the current cycle draws near. As the full integration of the Youth National Team setup begins to reap benefits, take a look at the recent successes on the men’s youth side, with a follow-up article to come soon on the Women’s Youth National Teams.

The Under-20 Men’s National Team kicked things off in February at the CONCACAF U-20 Championship in Costa Rica, making history when it defeated Honduras 5-3 on penalty kicks to earn the U.S. its first CONCACAF title at the U-20 level. The road to the championship was not an easy one, with the U.S. kicking off the tournament with a 1-0 loss to Panama. The defeat provided a spark to a team that would go on to beat Haiti 4-1, St. Kitts and Nevis 4-1. In the Classification Stage, Tab Ramos’ side earned an historic victory against Mexico 1-0, handing El Trí their first defeat at the CONCACAF U-20 Championship since 2009 and ending an unbeaten streak that spanned 20 matches.

With the 2-1 win vs. El Salvador, the USA qualified for this month’s FIFA U-20 World Cup in Korea Republic where the USA will face Ecuador (May 22; 4 a.m. ET), Senegal (May 25; 7 a.m. ET and Saudi Arabia (May 28; 5 a.m. ET). All three group games can be seen live on FS1.

After witnessing the success of the U-20’s in Costa Rica, Under-17 Men’s National Team head coach John Hackworth and his team were eager to head down to Panama to write their own history. They did just that, opening the CONCACAF U-17 Championship with a statement 5-0 win against Jamaica, followed by another historic 4-3 win against Mexico that marked the USA’s first World Cup Qualifying victory against El Trí at the U-17 level and ended the side’s 25-match unbeaten streak in CONCACAF U-17 Championship play. A 1-0 victory against El Salvador launched the U-17 MNT into the Classification Stage, where it took down Honduras 3-0 and Cuba 6-2 to clinch a berth at the 2017 FIFA U-17 World Cup taking place in India this October. The U-17 MNT’s tournament run ended on a bittersweet note, however, falling to Mexico 5-4 on penalties after drawing 1-1 in the championship match when Mexico scored the tying goal in the waning moments of second-half stoppage time.

Even though the team was not able to earn the regional crown, the tournament saw the likes of Andrew Carleton and captain Josh Sargent rise to the occasion, with the latter earning a call-up to the U-20 World Cup roster. If he plays in Korea Republic and then joins the U-17 MNT in their World Cup this fall, Sargent would become just the second U.S. player to feature at two different youth World Cups in the same year, following Freddy Adu who did the same in 2003.

“John Hackworth and I have been discussing Josh for the last six months, trying to provide better and more competitive opportunities for him from a National Team standpoint,” Ramos told reporters during a teleconference following his roster announcement. “We even discussed the possibility of him going to qualifying with the U-20’s, but at the time we thought we wanted to leave the U-17 team alone and have him go to help the team qualify for the World Cup, and he did a great job with that. So now we moved him up, and he’s already been in January Camp with us this year, so we know Josh fairly well at this level and I think he’ll do a great job.”

While the U-20 and U-17 MNT’s were busy conquering the CONCACAF region, the U-18 Men’s, U-15 and U-16 Boys’ National Team were taking care of business in Europe.

The U-18 MNT traveled to Slovakia in late April to defend their title as 2016 Slovakia Cup champions. Omid Namazi’s side tied Hungary 1-1, defeated Belarus 2-1 and later took down hosts Slovakia 4-3 in penalty kicks to reach the final against Russia. The U-18’s fell just short of capturing a second-consecutive title, falling 3-1 to Russia in the championship match while claiming a respectable second-place finish in the tournament.

Led by head coach Dave van den Bergh, the U-15 BNT took first place at the 14th edition of the 2017 Torneo delle Nazioni held in Italy and Slovenia. The U-15’s beat co-hosts Slovenia 4-0 and Russia 2-1, and later fell 3-2 to England in their group finale. The team advanced to the semifinals, where they took down Portugal 4-2 and set up a rematch in the final versus England. This time the USA came out on top, with U.S. MNT legend Claudio Reyna’s son Giovanni scoring the game-winner in final minute.

Over in France, the Under-16 Boys’ National Team competed in the 45th edition of the Montaigu Tournament. In 2016, the U.S. took home the championship for the second time, and first since 1992, thanks to a 3-2 victory against hosts France. This time around the U-16’s defeated Belgium by a 1-0 margin but fell to Japan 3-2 in group play. In the following placement matches, the team downed Mexico 3-0, but was defeated by Brazil to finish the tournament in sixth place out of the 12 competing nations. This competition marked the first tournament of the year and the third gathering of 2017 for the U-16 BNT player pool.

Although results are not the primary measuring stick for a program ultimately tasked with developing players for the senior National Team, it has become clear that the benefits of having a dedicated staff focused on elite youth players and sticking to a unified philosophical approach are in full effect. With both U-17 and U-20 World Cups around the corner, it is crucial to continue riding this momentum forward towards the potential success of years to come.

Youth Men’s National Team 2017 Results

Team

Opponent

Result

Competition

Location

Notes

U-20

Panama

0-1 L

CONCACAF U-20 Championship

Costa Rica

Haiti

4-1 W

CONCACAF U-20 Championship

Costa Rica

St. Kitts and Nevis

4-1 W

CONCACAF U-20 Championship

Costa Rica

Mexico

1-0 W

CONCACAF U-20 Championship

Costa Rica

El Salvador

2-1 W

CONCACAF U-20 Championship

Costa Rica

*Qualified for WC

Honduras

0-0 D (5-3 PKs)

CONCACAF U-20 Championship

Costa Rica

*First CONCACAF Championship at the U-20 level

U-18

Hungary

1-1 D

2017 Slovakia Cup

Slovakia

Belarus

2-1 W

2017 Slovakia Cup

Slovakia

Slovakia

1-1 D (4-3 PKs)

2017 Slovakia Cup

Slovakia

Russia

1-3 L

2017 Slovakia Cup

Slovakia

*Took second place in the tournament

U-17

Jamaica

5-0 W

CONCACAF U-17 Championship

Panama

Mexico

4-3 W

CONCACAF U-17 Championship

Panama

*Beat Mexico in WCQ for first time in history

El Salvador

1-0 W

CONCACAF U-17 Championship

Panama

Honduras

3-0 W

CONCACAF U-17 Championship

Panama

Cuba

6-2 W

CONCACAF U-17 Championship

Panama

*Qualified for WC

Mexico

1-1 D (4-5 PKs)

CONCACAF U-17 Championship

Panama

U-16

Belgium

1-0 W

45th Tournament of Montaigu

France

Japan

2-3 L

45th Tournament of Montaigu

France

Mexico

3-0 W

45th Tournament of Montaigu

France

Brazil

0-2 L

45th Tournament of Montaigu

France

U-15

Slovenia

4-0 W

2017 Torneo delle Nazioni

Italy

Russia

2-1 W

2017 Torneo delle Nazioni

Italy

England

2-3 L

2017 Torneo delle Nazioni

Italy

Portugal

4-2 W

2017 Torneo delle Nazioni

Italy

England

2-1 W

2017 Torneo delle Nazioni

Italy