After the Final Draw today for the 2018 CONCACAF Women’s U-17 Championship, U.S. U-17 Women’s National Team head coach Mark Carr and his players now know their path to the 2018 U-17 Women’s World Cup in Uruguay.
As the team begins to focus on group play at the qualifying tournament in Nicaragua that will be held from April 19-29, ussoccer.com checked in with Carr on the challenges ahead, the overall development of his young players and the tremendous value of international competition at this age.
ussoccer.com: You’ve been working with many of these players for quite a while now, first coaching this core group at the U-15 Girls’ National Team level. How have you seen their growth over the past two-and-a-half years?
Mark Carr: “It’s been really great to see how all the players have evolved over this period they’ve been together. Extensive U-17 programming, an impressive amount of international games and our age-appropriate training philosophy have all contributed to their continued development. We’ve also benefited tremendously from the collaboration and partnership with their club teams and coaches during the time between camps. That has been an important catalyst to their development. Ultimately, the players deserve the most credit as they have been the drivers in this whole process.”
ussoccer.com: What has impressed you most about how your players have approached this cycle?
MC: “From day one, this has been a group that doesn’t look back on their past successes and accomplishments. The next event is the most important thing. They are a humble group of players with an incredible mindset for growth and improvement. They understand that there are no guarantees and that they have to earn everything, every day. Their mentality to train, openness to being coached and ability to absorb and apply information over the long haul has been really impressive.”
ussoccer.com: It sounds like the players have been all-in on learning what it takes to succeed at this level.
MC: “They really have. After these two-and-a-half years, all the players have a clear understanding of what it means to be a player in the USWNT program and what is required to play and compete to win at the international level. Whether that’s been dealing with different opponents, styles of play or systems, or traveling across different time zones and embracing the wellness components, we have experienced some invaluable lessons they can use moving forward in their careers.”
ussoccer.com: Usually, this U-17 CONCACAF qualifying tournament is the first major competition for this age group, but many players in your group played in the 2016 CONCACAF U-15 Girls’ Championship. How did that experience benefit them?
MC: “Looking back, I think there are 11 players from the team that won that U-15 tournament who are still in our U-17 program. Back then, the 2016 CONCACAF U-15 Championship was an incredible experience for all of us. Being together in a tournament atmosphere with a lot of international teams for an extended period of time was a major milestone. We were able to play seven games against international opponents with a championship on the line, and you just can’t replicate that kind of experience. For World Cup qualifying, there will be some familiarity with some of our opponents, but a lot has happened since 2016 and I know, just like ourselves, every team would have improved massively.”
ussoccer.com: The level of women’s youth international soccer in the CONCACAF region has improved quite a bit over the past 5-10 years. How does that impact your preparations for the tournament?
MC: “That improvement is important to recognize, for sure. I think seeing our U-20 WNT go through it, with all the games being so tight in Trinidad, just shows the growth and parity that we are experiencing in our region. Add to that, anytime a team plays the USA, they will go all out to frustrate you and try to get a result. We go into every game with our eyes wide open and know that every team we play will be determined to make it hard for us, and will try anything to compete for a World Cup spot. The challenge for us is to always put forth the best version of ourselves and to find that consistency to execute the way we want to play against every opponent over the course of an entire match. That’s not easy for any team, and especially young players, but that’s our goal and we’ll keep working to achieve it.”
ussoccer.com: The team got to play 13 full international matches last year and already played two this year. There’s a trip to Argentina on the horizon. Can you speak to the importance of getting games like these?MC: “We have been so fortunate that U.S. Soccer has given us the international opportunities we’ve had with this group. We’ve had experience in Italy and China, and a series of games against England, Mexico and Venezuela to date. In all these environments, we have been able to come away with valuable lessons both individually and collectively. Being able to travel through different time zones and experience different environmental conditions have taught our players how to manage themselves during international competition. We’ve played different opponents who playing different styles and present different tactical challenges. Combine that with the added pressure of performing on the international stage as a U.S. National Team player and you have experiences that have been fundamental parts of each player’s development journey.”