The U.S. Under-17 Men’s National Team is coming off a 2014 campaign that had many highs and also a couple key learning moments as the group forges ahead for 2015.
The U-17s enter an important stretch that starts with the 2015 CONCACAF U-17 Championship in late February and early March, opening Group A play against Cuba on Feb. 27. Head coach Richie Williams feels there is a solid base heading into the qualifying stage, with the hopes of advancing to the 2015 FIFA U-17 World Cup in Chile.
“Over the past year and a half to two years, we’ve definitely been making sure we have a team that has some depth,” Williams said from the team’s January camp in San Pedro Sula, Honduras. “We feel confident in our pool, and we approach tournaments by giving them the opportunities, start in games and gain international experience. When we form our 20-player roster, we know we can rely on having a confident group of players, with anybody we put on the field.”
The U-17s recently named their Residency Program roster for the spring semester. A large contingent is returning to Bradenton, Florida, with 24 of the 28 players being a part of this group this past fall.
“This is an important semester for us and an important year for this cycle,” Williams said. “With World Cup qualifying at the beginning of March, it will be important for us to continue training well and performing well. We also need to find a balance with this group and some of the players who are not with us on a regular basis to form a 20-man roster that will head to qualifying to compete and get results.”
The U-17s had a 17-7-3 international performance in 2014, including a 13-game unbeaten streak to open the year. Williams’ group wrapped up its international schedule with the Nike International Friendlies in late November and early December. The USA opened with victories against England and Australia, but the defending champion fell short of retaining its crown with a loss to Brazil in the finale on Dec. 2.
“The first two games went very well against England and Australia, and the Brazil game just didn’t go the way that we wanted it to,” Williams said. “Certain parts of the game we played well and other parts we made mistakes. We didn’t have a consistent enough performance to compete with Brazil that day. In the past, we have had games against them where we’ve competed well, winning the previous Nike Friendlies against them. But it was a good learning experience. When you compete in an international game, you have to show up for 90 minutes, and it is a constant reminder when we go into qualifying.”
The U-20 MNT is coming off a third-place performance at the 2015 CONCACAF U-20 Championship, and for some players who were part of the U-17 group that fell short in 2013 qualifying, it served as a good stepping stone to accomplish this task at the older age group two years later. Among this group, former U-17 captain Shaquell Moore was named to the all-tournament team.
“That is the goal of our youth national teams, to see the U-17s advance to the U-18s, U-20s and senior team,” Williams said. “It was great to see Shaq Moore, John Requejo, Conor Donovan, Tyler Turner, Junior Flores, Bradford Jamieson who wasn’t at U-17 qualifying but was a part of Residency, to be a part of this U-20 qualifying group. I’m happy for them. They worked extremely hard and they deserved it.”