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With Chile tournament in rearview mirror, Williams and US U-17s look forward to Nike Friendlies

Head Coach: Richie Williams and Coaching Staff

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For all the success that the U.S. Under-17 Men’s National Team has had in international tournaments and friendlies, it was easy to forget that they could be susceptible to a poor performance here or there.

Coming off a long-distance trip to Chile to take part in the Copa Libertador Bernardo O’Higgins tournament, a warm-up for this weekend’s Nike Friendlies, the results did not go the way head coach Richie Williams and his staff planned.

The U.S. conceded late goals in each of their first two matches, drawing host Chile, 2-2, and falling to Brazil, 4-3, before settling for a 1-1 draw with Qatar in their final match. It was one of the rare occasions where the team flew home without any silverware.

“I think (overall) things have been going very very well for the team, we’ve been playing well but also getting different results, and we want to continue to play well and continue to develop (the players),” Williams said in a phone interview. “But they also need to start learning as they get older, especially with (U-17 World Cup) qualifying and that with many of these players being professionals or will become professionals, results matter and you need to take your chances and have a shutout mentality and not give up soft goals.”

Williams was encouraged by the amount of chances that his team created in all three games in South America, but was clear they needed to convert more of those chances and not take them for granted. At the same time, he stressed that “shutout mentality” and the need to lock down their defending to keep their opponents at bay.

The coaching staff will be hoping that the results from the Chile tournament will be a teaching moment for a team that has won 16 games this year.

“They were disappointed,” said Williams of the player’s reactions, “and of course we let them know that we were disappointed. Moving forward, especially in the Nike Friendlies with the quality of players and with qualifying right around the corner, it’s really important to make sure that we perform better and again, results do matter at that (level).

“Again, we’re not just going to play a direct style of soccer or change our style of playing just to get results, we’re going to continue to play the right way, but they have to make sure when they’re out there they’re not taking it for granted when we have 10 chances that we only score two goals. We’ve got to score more than that. And when the other team has three or four chances, they have to make sure that we shut them down defensively. If we don’t, then it will be what just happened in Chile.

“They were disappointed but again maybe it’s ‘lesson learned’ before the Nike Friendlies and before qualifying.”

One of the recent standouts for the U.S. U-17s has been Pierre Da Silva. The diminutive winger, listed at 5 feet 9 inches, plays on the left side of the forward trio in a 4-3-3 formation. The Port Chester, New York, native scored his first goal of 2014 in the draw with Chile and has provided eight assists this year.

Da Silva’s performances have pushed him into the conversation for U-17 World Cup qualifying next February in Honduras, despite being on the fringes of the team 12 months ago.

“Pierre’s been a good player with us here at the 17’s through the whole cycle and he’s continued to develop and improve,” Williams commented. “He scored a nice goal for us in the Chile game, he goes at people, he’s good at one-on-ones, taking players on with no warning, he serves a good ball into the box and he can work the whole flank and get up and down offensively and defensively. It’s great to see players like him that maybe really weren’t in the national team picture too much before they came to residency but now obviously he’s been one of our main guys on our 20-man roster.”

Another player who has continued his development, albeit outside of U.S. Soccer’s residency program, is center back Danny Barbir. Unlike Da Silva, Barbir stands at 6 feet 3 inches tall and is being groomed to play center back not only with the U.S. U-17s but also in West Bromwich Albion’s academy. Barbir joined the English Premier League club’s academy full time last summer, after reportedly spending some time on trial and training with Manchester City’s youth program.

More similarly to Da Silva, Barbir is actually a converted attacker, and while his defensive instincts and skills are still coming along, he’s a huge asset to the U.S. squad for his passing from the back.

“The thing we have been stressing to all our defenders is that the first thing they need to do is defend,” Williams said. “It’s great to be able to pass out of the back and start the attack out of the back but if you don’t have the ability to defend, it’s going to be hard to have you on the field.

“To Danny’s credit, I think he’s been improving on that. Obviously it’s been a little more difficult for him just because he’s never played the position compared to the other guys in terms of their development on the defensive side, but it seems like when we came into the Panama trip, the defending got better in this trip that we just had in Chile and obviously he’ll be part of the Nike Friendlies group.

“The biggest thing for Danny is just the ability to be able to defend one-on-one, group defending, working in our back four, and we’re hoping that he continues to develop that part because he continues to develop that part of it because he’s a very good passer and he helps us playing out of the back through out back four.”

The U.S. U-17s won’t have much time to stew on the disappointing results in Chile, as Friday kicks off the annual Nike International Friendlies, a four-team competition that this year sees the USA take on England, Brazil, and Australia at the Premier Sports Campus in Lakewood Ranch, Florida.

Williams’ side begins the tournament facing England on Friday evening before facing Australia on Sunday and wrapping up with Brazil on Tuesday. Last year, the U.S. recorded blowout wins against both England and Brazil, beating the Three Lions 5-1 and routing Brazil, 4-1, to win the tournament title.

Like last year, the U.S. players will also be watched by U.S. Men’s National Team head coach Jurgen Klinsmann, and Klinsmann will also take an opportunity to speak with the team and likely remind them that they could be in the USMNT picture sooner than they realize.

“I’m sure the players are excited to have their national team coach there observing and watching games and they want to do well for themselves, for the future, and hopefully some day, you see a perfect example of that with Rubio (Rubin),” Williams said. “He was just with us last cycle, did very well with us, and only about a year and a half later, he’s gotten opportunities now with the senior team. That can definitely happen for our players if they keep developing and improving, so it will be a great opportunity for Jurgen to see some of our young talent again.”

Think Da Silva and Barbir have bright futures with the USMNT? Disappointed by the Chile results? Will you be keeping an eye on the Nike tournament this weekend?

Share your thoughts below.


  1. Why? Because he parks himself in space on the wing and is good at running past kids half his size? At a higher level Haji will need to pass out of pressure and will not be able to rely on his outsized physical ability.

    • Look, all these players at this age need to keep developing and completing their skillsets if they are going to become future stars but christian and Haji are as promising a pair of youngsters as we’ve had in a long time. Maybe not since LD and DMB has there been a pair as impressive as they are at this age, but the key will be their ability to keep learning and nuancing their games as the competition ramps up.

  2. “the diminutive winger, listed at 5’9″”

    Pretty sure the writer is expressing his doubt here. You might want to google the menaing of the word “diminutive”

    • Lol I could have sworn it said 4 feet 9. Did it get edited? Of course I know what diminutive means. Anyway 5 9 is not diminutive for a winger.

      • And go look at his pictures. It does not make sense that the writer was expressing doubt. Pierre is now at least 5’9”

  3. Also, for all u17 fans out there, can we please jump off the Haji Wright hype train, just a little? The kid has learned that he can face up to any pubescent 15 year old he wants and skin them 50% of the time. Yes, one v. one he is phenomenal. But in cramped quarters Haji’s awareness and speed of thought need to improve. Vastly. He does not look to pass until the one v. one fails.

    Why aren’t we paying more attention to de la Torre? He’s the one bossing Premier League u18s from the #8 position and getting minutes for u21s. All at the tender age of 16.


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