ussoccer.com: How did you find the process of choosing the 20-player qualifying roster after a year-long cycle over 2017 and 2018?
Mark Carr: “It has been an extensive process that started back in April 2017, when our cycle really began. All-in-all, we have had more than 40 players in camps since then, but having a working knowledge of the birth year gave me a good starting point (Carr coached many of these players on the Under-15 Girls’ National Team). The first focus was to identify the top players in the birth year regardless of their history with our program. Personal performance and form are always indicators we look at, but it was important that we turned over every rock and opened the door to everyone who was talented enough to get a look. We watched many games, consulted our scouts and solicited club coaches and college coaches to make sure we looked in every environment to see if we were missing any player in the 2001 birth year. Ultimately, it’s my job to select the right players.”
ussoccer.com: How important was patience in developing your player pool over this cycle?
MC: “As we all know, players develop at different rates, and sometimes they just need time on their own development journey. We were in tune with this throughout the process. The addition of our Development Academy program and the work of the TAs and extended scouting network were a big part of making sure we got a look at the widest possible pool of players.”
ussoccer.com: You had to make some tough decisions to get down to 20 players for qualifying.
MC: “The decision of the final World Cup qualifying roster certainly was not easy. The coaching staff and I deliberated for days, right up until after our final game with Japan. The credit goes to the players for how they have pushed each other to this point and made the final roster decisions very difficult. It’s never easy to tell players they aren’t in the squad, but my hope is that all our players respond with a positive reaction and know that this is something they must commit to daily. Unfortunately, we got hit with some big injuries during the cycle to Lia (Godfrey), Ainsley (Ahmadian) and Jordan (Canniff), but we have seen players really step up in their absence. Having now selected the roster, we feel good about the group that will go and represent our country in Nicaragua.”
ussoccer.com: What are the qualities you like about this team as a group?
MC: “We have chosen an experienced group of players that possess unique individual skill sets that complement each other in an incredible way. The nature of how we have brought this group along means that we have kept the pool wide and are now we are two deep in every position. It’s a very creative team with a high level of soccer intelligence, but at the same time they possess a high level of technical and physical capabilities to problem-solve in different ways. Collectively, they are highly motivated and a group that loves to compete. All these players understand that they must be willing to put their talents into our team if we are going to achieve our goals together. I am excited to see us perform on this stage and for our players to show what they have learned up until this point in their development.”
ussoccer.com: Your thoughts heading into the qualifying tournament where you will face Costa Rica, Bermuda and Canada?
MC: “I see this as a one-off tournament that will provide the opportunity for three teams from eight to qualify for the 2018 FIFA U-17 World Cup. Every team will be doing anything possible to qualify, and we are no different. Ultimately, the draw is not going to decide our qualification. It will be down to ourselves and how we perform. We will make sure we take one game at a time, respect every opponent and be ready to give our very best performance in every game.”
ussoccer.com: How have you seen this group grow as people and players over the past year in what was a very important time for their development?
MC: “It’s been pretty remarkable to be honest, because we are working with 16 and 17-year-old young women who are not professionals. We sometimes forget this, myself included. When we step back and look at it from a holistic perspective, they are juggling a lot of things – being away from family, school, social commitments, club soccer and National Team commitments. They are balancing all these things in the most incredible way and they all are high achievers.”
“For me, it’s been inspiring to see them grow both as people and as soccer players. There have been many ups and downs for them individually and collectively, and there will be more to come in their soccer careers. That said, the standards are always high in our program, and it’s their coping mechanisms, their responses to failure and setbacks that will always determine their end-point.”
“Of course, on the soccer side we have improved through the domestic camps, our training as well as the many incredible international opportunities that the U.S. Soccer Federation has allowed us to experience. Most importantly, I have seen growth in each player’s character and ownership of her own development pathway and plan. All the players deserve the credit for this, and I feel honored to be a small part in their process. Ultimately, it’s their hours of work and the journey that makes them who they are today and who they will be in the future.”