U.S. Youth National Teams

U-17 USMNT coach Williams confident ahead of international tournaments

Head Coach: Richie Williams and Coaching Staff

Photo by ISIPhotos.com


The Under-17 U.S. Men’s National Team embarked on their third cross-Atlantic trip of 2014 on Thursday, carrying a level of confidence not often seen from a U.S. youth team.

In their last two European trips, the U.S. U-17s returned home champions, winning both the Aegean Cup in Turkey and the Josip Katalinski Tournament in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The wins against European powers including Turkey, France, and a pair of victories over Croatia in international friendly matches, only boosted the confidence that this squad is playing with since defeating Brazil to win the 2013 Nike Friendlies.

U.S. head coach Richie Williams and an 18-man squad are heading to play in the 2014 Nordic Tournament, where they will face Denmark, Norway, and the Faroe Islands in the group stage on Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday, before Williams heads off to Mexico to coach an 18-man squad in the Copa Mexico de Naciones beginning Aug. 2.

Though player development and evaluation is incredibly important, Williams’ and the team’s goal remains the same: to win.

“When you look at the results that we’ve had….we feel like we can compete with the best teams in the world and we can go and win the tournament,” Williams said in a phone interview. “That’s going to be our goal. We want to be confident but we don’t want to be over confident and cocky. We want to go out there and show the rest of the world that we’re talented and we’re a good team.”

In early July, Williams and the U-17 coaching staff hosted a week-long camp at the National Training Center in Carson, Calif. to evaluate players as well as select two squads for the two tournaments, which slightly overlap. During the camp, Williams was able to take a hard look at many of his residency players as well as some players based internationally, and wound up selecting 34 players from across the nation for the two tournaments.

Four players, goalkeeper Will Pulisic, defender Edwin Lara, and forwards McKenzie Gaines and Elijah Rice will take part in both tournaments, as Williams wanted to give them more games to play.

“We knew we had an opportunity with two tournaments that overlap so we couldn’t take the same group, so we figured that it was a good way to give an opportunity to some players that performed well, especially in residency, but hasn’t had the opportunity to get international games,” Williams said. “It’s been a pretty strong group, and its been hard for some guys to break in, especially with the success the team has had.”

The squad selected for the Copa Mexico de Naciones looks to be the strongest side, with many players playing key roles for the U-17s over the past 12 months in tournaments at home and abroad. The team features stud forwards Joe Gallardo and Haji Wright, midfielders Luca de la Torre and Christian Pulisic, powerful defenders, Alexis Valela, Hugo Arellano, and Danny Barbir, and goalkeeper Will Pulisic.

While the squad heading for Denmark may lack some of the star power or name appeal, there are a number of players that Williams is excited to have a look at, including dual national Kai Koreniuk.

The 16-year-old forward is a native of Ormond Beach, Fla. but thanks to his Dutch mother and a scout from the Netherlands, Koreniuk was able to secure a trial with Vitesse Arnhem’s academy before being accepted last winter. According to a report in the Orlando Sentinel, Koreniuk was invited to train with Holland’s U-16 after some strong performances with the Vitesse U-16 squad.

Koreniuk’s call up to the U.S. U-17s was his first official call-up with U.S. Soccer at any level, and despite struggling with an injury, Williams likes what he sees.

“He’s at times looked promising but the injury has held him back and the injuries he’s had also hurt his fitness,” Williams said. “The two things that we addressed at the end of the camp were that we feel he has some talent and we feel that he’s a guy that can help us but we need to get him really healthy and we need to get him fit.

“With the talent that he has and the ability to score goals, he can help our team and that’s what we are hoping for.”

Dates for CONCACAF’s qualifying tournament for the 2015 Under-17 World Cup have not yet been officially announced, but based on previous tournaments, it’s likely to be held in March or April. This means that time is running out for Williams and his staff to find his best squad for the U.S. to qualify for the U-17 World Cup, a task they failed to achieve in 2013.

For Williams, that’s what these tournaments against international opponents are all about. Testing his players against some of the best in the world in their age group, and seeing how his players respond to adversity.

“Any time that we have the opportunity to get international games, to travel to Europe, to travel to Mexico and play the best teams in the world, we’re going to take those opportunities, that’s our goal,” Williams explained. “Its just another way for our team to get better, to play against international competition. It ends up working out really well with these two tournaments that we’re going to be able to see a large group of players and they’ll have opportunities to show us, moving into qualifying, who we can count on for our 20-man roster to qualify us for the World Cup.

“I’m looking forward to the next three weeks and really seeing the team improving, the players improving, getting good results and at the same time developing, and then learning more about the players in terms of who we’re going to bring come (qualifying).”

  • Adver

    “Though player development and evaluation is incredibly important, Williams’ and the team’s goal remains the same: to win.”
    Sadly, this is why we don’t develop quality players.


    • Mike R


      Kick as hard as you can run as fast as you can. Be the least technical team on the field always


    • Ali Dia

      Congratualtions on twisting this into what you wanted to hear. I will tell Richie Williams that next time, he really needs to emphasize a total lack of concern for winning… perhaps even suggest that we are hopng to breed competitiveness out of the pool entirely as it has become an embarrassing anachronism. He just didn’t hit it hard enough this time to appease the masses.


      • Adver

        And this is why wining is the most important thing. To appease the ignorant masses like this moron. Development be damned. This is why we have to import our NT players.
        Enjoy your U17 trophies. Germany,has our back.


      • James

        First of all, relax. Second, do you really think our standing in world soccer is because we over-emphasize winning in our youth programs? I’d be impressed if you could conjure a single piece of evidence to support this.

        Also, historically, we’ve never done that well at the youth level. We’re not exactly Mexico or Nigeria with a room full of youth trophies.

        Why all the vitriol?


      • Adver

        Seriously? I would be shocked if you can find one single piece of evidence that says that wining at the U17 level should be the most important thing. Just one. Again, this is why we have to import our players.


      • James

        You’re making a circular and nonsensical argument. I’m guessing…..16 years old.


      • Freddy Adu

        Easy Adver, never seen your name once before and Ali Dia is a regular and well informed contributor….and given the garbage you’re spewing I’m certainly glad we don’t see much of you!

        How’s about this, you shove off and go actually watch five minutes of this team play, then perhaps come back and throw around completely baseless observations. This team is quite amazing and plays some of the nicest link-up soccer at this age group in the world.

        Or better yet, how about you just shove off…


  • The Imperative Voice

    When Williams was discussing his Balko-Franco experience, did he have the requisite multiday beard growth, cigarette, and apparent ennui at continued existence?


  • Mike R

    I like how we take some of our least technical ex players and give them the job of developing our youngsters


    • Don the Jewler

      We ant our best technical coaches at the U-9 and lower levels where those skills are learned.. Just saying


      • Mike R

        I agree but our least technical ex players should be on tv next to Lalas not coaching youth teams in a nation devoid of technical and creative players at the sr level


    • Vik

      I believe by 17 you’re already pretty established in your soccer basics. At this level it’s more fine tuning tactics, organization, mentality, and physical fitness as they transition into being adult pros. I don’t think you necessarily need a former technical player as coach, just a good coach.

      Now I’ll for recruiting our most techmical players to work with young kids. I remember an Ajax coach discussing how they have their most famous alumni, like van basten, working with their under 8 and under 5 kids. He was discussing how that’s when technique is developed.


  • Fast Eddie

    Where is Ives? Is he on a post-cup holiday? Haven’t seen him here or over at Goal since the 13th or so.


  • THomas

    I like this. Winning is a habit. You can’t ignore results all the way through player development and then all of a sudden demand winning at the senior level. Obviously it should go hand and hand with player development, but completely ignoring results at the youth ranks benefits nobody.


  • dude1

    I don’t have a problem with him wanting this team to win youth tournaments. That’s more a PDL issue than a U17 issue. When these disparate players get together for a tournament, you want cohesion, skill, a good mentality, and a winning scoreline. Sounds like Williams is getting this out of his players. So why complain?

    For the u17’s, u20’s, and the olympic squad, it’s all about getting a group together that can qualify, then add some players that might not have been available, and hope for a deep run. That’s basically the summation of what these youth teams are about. When they’re not playing together, when they’re with their PDL or other academy teams, that’s where the real development has to happen, you know, where they spend the most time. Brandenton is all about getting the talents under one roof.

    It should also be noted: This team is not the total summation of the USMNT. It’s a pool of young hopefuls.

    In short, Williams is allowed to talk about winning, folks.


    • Ali Dia

      +1. And there you have it. Very well said. I understand the point of view that Adver and Mike R. have presented above, but I think it contains a logical fallacy based on fear — namely, that a development overhaul cannot happen without sacrificing a “play to win” mentality. One need look no further than Germany over the past dozen or so years over to see a prime example. Look at the results on paper at major tournaments, and you could say “well it’s business as usual… semifinals and finals for the Germans”. But any observer of the game knows how far the program has come since Ballack and Kahn dragged the team to the final in 2002. The pool is leagues deeper, the style is infinitely more attractive, and the sky is the limit going forward. Yet they never once stopped playing to win in competitions. At any level.

      The lesson? Winning and developing are *not* mutually exclusive Competing and playing to win in the limited time these groups get to spend together is ALWAYS a “must”. It just isn’t the only goal. And if you want to advance the standard, you have got to be able to pursue and achieve multiple targets.

      The U-17 program understands this. Watch them and it’s obvious. They play very nice soccer. Long ball? Please. Mike R. hasn’t watched a second of this team in the last 2 years if he thinks that. Comments like that embarrass me as a fan. Gotta do your homework before you make cracks.


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