If you need a break from the lamentations over lack of coaching, poor talent, and general malaise of the U.S. Men’s National Team, perhaps the U-17s, where international soccer teams with players younger than 17 compete, can offer some respite. The United States faces England in the U-17 World Cup quarterfinals on Saturday (10:30 a.m. EDT/FS2). A win would see the U.S. U-17s advance farther in the World Cup than they have in nearly two decades.
Put simply: They’re a fun team to watch and promise a potentially bright future for the senior national team. In the group stages, they beat host India 3-0 and eternal foe Ghana 1-0 before losing to Colombia 3-1. They ended the group stage tied with Ghana and Colombia on points, but dropped to third place because of that loss to Colombia (they advanced as one of the best third-place finishers). The “Baby Nats” put on a clinic against their first knock-out opponent Paraguay, scoring five goals that you most definitely should watch.
Three wins in four while playing the style of soccer that many American fans wish the senior team could, including three minutes of possession to close out the Paraguay game. It’s enough to give hope to even the most cynical fans.
Youth Development Is Paying Off
This side also enjoys a more professional set of players, showing the sort of youth development this country needs for future national team success. A handful ply their trade outside this country, with one each at Monterrey (Mexico), Ajax (Netherlands), Benfica (Portugal), and Paris Saint-Germain. About half come from Major League Soccer clubs, with a few having made at least one club appearance (remember, they’re barely old enough to drive).
The U-17 World Cup does not guarantee success at the senior level, neither for players nor nations. American soccer’s biggest “what-if,” Freddy Adu, regularly performed well in youth tournaments. The most successful American squad took fourth place in 1999, and only five of those played any significant role in the full men’s national team. Nigeria has won three of the last five tournaments since 2007, with Switzerland and Mexico taking one each during that time. Those countries have all been competitive in recent international tournaments, but none have made a significant impact.
But that 1999 squad featured Landon Donovan, Damarcus Beasley, Oguchi Onwewu, Bobby Convey, and Kyle Beckerman, all of whom appeared in at least one World Cup. Donovan and Beasley contributed significantly to the USA’s quarter-final run in the 2002 World Cup. And the last four in recent U-17 World Cups includes countries whose success and talents the United States can only envy: Spain, Germany, Argentina, Belgium.
Most importantly, it gives potential men’s national team players experience in playing and winning in an international tournament. That could make a big difference in 2022 or 2026, especially since the national team looks likely to skew much younger for at least the next two years.
The U-17s will face an England side that scored 11 goals in the group stage and has only conceded two goals in four games. But the United States will be boosted by the absence of England’s Jadon Sancho. The Borussia Dortmund prospect scored three goals in the group stage, but was recalled by his club before the knockout stages.
Three Players to Watch
Andrew Carleton—The Powder Springs, Ga. native has two goals and three assists in this tournament. He made his professional debut at 16 with second-division Charleston Battery. The midfielder is Atlanta United’s first Homegrown Player and one of the most promising young Americans.
Tim Weah—Weah has good pedigree as the son of former FIFA World Player of the Year and aspiring Liberian presidential candidate George Weah. He became the fifth American to net a hat trick in a World Cup after scoring three against Paraguay. He’s the first to do it since Adu a decade ago. Weah joined Paris Saint-Germain’s youth academy in 2014 and signed a professional contract this summer.
Josh Sargent—The occasionally goofy-haired forward already played in one youth tournament this year, scoring four goals in the U-20 World Cup this summer. The O’Fallon, Mo. native parlayed that performance into a contract with German club Werder Bremen, following training stints with Dutch club PSV and Schalke in Germany.