PHOTO BY ISIPHOTOS.COM
BY ADAM SERRANO
The U.S. Under-17 men's national team has the talent to bring the United States its first men's World Cup title, but maximizing that talent will be the major issue for head coach Wilmer Cabrera's men at the U-17 World Cup in Mexico.
The United States U-17 squad prepares to begin its World Cup Journey on Sunday with a date against the Czech Republic. They enter with the tournament as one of the seeded teams as well as with an established pedigree as the United States is only nation to qualify for all 17 editions for the U-17 World Cup.
For the Americans to make a deep run, they will need to show greater composure than the team exhibited during the CONCACAF qualification tournament. During the tournament, the team frequently struggled allowing late goals and developed a habit for picking up costly yellow and red cards. To send a message to his team about the importance of maturity, Cabrera dropped CONCACAF qualfying tournament leading scorer forward Andrew Oliver due to disciplinary issues.
With Oliver watching from home, the team will need to compensate for absence in attack while still dealing with a defense that has been prone to lapses at times. However, the U.S. will be aided with their inclusion in a winnable Group D that includes the Czech Republic, Uzbekistan and New Zealand.
More Information about the U.S. drive at the World Cup after the jump:
ALEJANDRO GUIDO – A San Diego native, who spent much of his childhood in Mexico, Guido is the key clog in head coach Wilmer Cabrera's offense. A playmaking midfielder, Guido runs the American attack with his proficent passing skills and superior vision. As the team looks to push forward it will be up to Guido to provide the service and the goals to take them to the knock out stages. However, while he is skilled in the attack, he will need to add more to the defense after struggling during qualifying in Jamaica.
MARC PELOSI - With Oliver gone, much of the attacking responsability falls to Pelosi, who scored five goals during the team's qualifying run including the winning goal against El Salvador that clinched the team's berth in Mexico. The speedy attacking midfielder has shown a quality ability to beat defenders and his nose for goal makes him one of the most dangerous player for Cabrera's men.
FERNANDO PINA - The Houston Dynamo academy goalkeeper has been as shaky as he has brilliant and will be heavily reliant on the defense led by Mobi Fehr, who has done a phenomenal job to shore up a U.S. defense that has been leaky at times. For the Americans to make a deep run in the tournament, Piña and Fehr will be expected to come up with big stops to keep the team's hopes alive. Should Piña struggle, Cabrera is unlikely to waste time going to Kendall McIntosh, who performed well while Piña was suspended during the qualifying tournament.
Sunday, June 19: Czech Republic, 7 p.m., ESPNU – The Czech Republic are stingy defensive side that is led by the play of star goalkeeper Lukas Zima, who backstopped the Eastern Europeans into the World Cup. The Czechs are hoping to create much more offense during the tournament, but it is likely that the U.S. willl have enough offense to crack the Czechs. This match as well as the match against Uzbekistan will take place at Estadio Corona in Torreon, where the Americans have trained for week leading up to the tournament.
Wednesday, June 22: Uzbekistan, 4 p.m., ESPN3 –The Uzbeks are lead by the strike force duo of Timur Khakimov and Abbosbek Makhstaliev. Khakimov having scored five goals during qualifying while Makhstaliev scored two goals in the AFC semifinal. It is the Central Asian nation's first time qualifying for the U-17 World Cup, but it is likely that their strikes will cause a major test for Pina and the rest of U.S. defense.
Saturday, June 25: New Zealand, 7 p.m., ESPNU – The Kiwis qualified for the second round in their last run and are eager to make more of an impact this time around. Cabrera's group will want to have their qualification into the second round assured before they face the Oceania champions, who could pose a serious challenge for U.S. The match against New Zealand will take place in Pachuca at Estadio Hidalgo and it is likely that both clubs will need to deal with the altitude issues that the city provides.
The U-17s were able to win the CONCACAF qualifying in Jamaica despite uneven performances and costly mistakes that nearly led to an early exit. The group stages will provide a real test for Cabrera's group, who will look to continue their formidable offensive play despite the loss of Oliver. Without Oliver, players like Guido and Pelosi are vital to the goals needed to advance.
While there are questions on the offensive end, the defense is perhaps the most key as they will need to show more composure late than they exhibited during qualifying. Look for this team to be able to break out of the group stages, but it will need to string together more conistant play if the team is going to challenge for the title.