When the 2018 FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup is staged in France next August, the teams will be made up primarily of players born in 1998, which is the birth year cut-off for the tournament.
Should the USA qualify through the 2018 CONCACAF Women’s U-20 Championship being contested in January in Trinidad & Tobago, the American team will bring to France its share of 1998s. (Fun Fact: 1998 was the year France won the FIFA World Cup at home).
While the 1998s will be vital to the team’s success, U.S. U-20 Women’s National Team head coach Jitka Klimkova and her staff are doing their best to make sure players born in 1999 and even 2000 are given chances to grow through training and opportunities to play for the U-18, U-19 and U-20 player pools. These opportunities are teaching players the things that will help them be successful at the international level.
To that end, for the 2017 Nike Women’s International Friendlies, Klimkova called up nine players born in 1998, 11 born in 1999 and four born in 2000. The 2000s are also age-eligible for the 2020 FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup. During the college season, when there are no U-20 WNT camps, the 99s and 00s (most of whom are not yet in college) have gotten valuable experience at U-18 and U-19 events.
U-20 WNT head coach Jitka Klimkova is relishing this new streamlined coaching philosophy between all the youth teams for the USA.
“As we get ready for CONCACAF qualifying, we are looking for players who are performing the best,” Klimkova said. “Having these younger players in National Team environments so regularly means we can better influence their development. They have so many camps under their belts with the age groups, and a few played in a big tournament in China this year with the U-19s, so we can really see them improving and that will help them make this team. They are developing faster, which is a big advantage for us and for them. They really understand our style of play and understand how to implement that style.”
This concept is nothing new, of course, as the USA’s U-20 Women’s World Cup Teams have long had rosters that spanned several birth years. During the past three FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cups, the USA has brought
That said, with the increased programming for the USA’s Youth National Team program, which has seven teams (U-14, U-15, U-16, U-17, U-18, U-19 and U-20) and full-time coaches for the first time ever for each age group, the process is becoming even more streamlined and productive.
This is vitally important, says Klimkova, not only to make sure the best talent gets the experience of playing CONCACAF qualifying and World Cup events, but also that there is a symbiotic process through all the age levels.
“It’s been absolutely incredible what’s happening now,” said Klimkova. “We are fully integrated as coaches. We have one style of play, and myself as U-20 coach, I am coming to U-19 camps, helping (U-19 WNT head coach) Keri Sarver and going in with the U-18s and helping (U-18 WNT head coach) Jaime Frias. Jaime and Keri are coming to U-20 camps so we are on the same pages as coaches. When players come to camps at all three age levels, they are hearing the same coaching philosophy and we teach the same style of play. It’s been really helpful for both the coaches and the players that we are all on the same page and understand how we want to play. It’s the same for the players and coaches for the U-14s, U-15s, U-16s and U-17s.”
At 17-years-old, Smith has already been to a U-17 WWC and has trained and played with the U-18s, U-20s and U-23s. She was also invited to a senior WNT camp in April of 2017.
It’s no coincidence that three of the four players born in 2000 who were named to the Nike Friendlies roster are among the most experienced on the team. Defender Naomi Girma, forward Sophia Smith and midfielder Brianna Pinto were all members of the USA’s 2016 FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup Team in Jordan, earning 16, 19 and 20 caps at that level, respectively.
“International experience and being part of the U-17 World Cup, those are the best teachers for them,” Klimkova said. “It’s a big value to have those kinds of players in the team, and it’s great for the older ones to see how these young players are pushing them every month. It’s good for team chemistry and it’s good for competition with those players who are already in college.”