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Following World Cup elimination, U.S. U-17s now tasked with taking next step towards realizing potential

There’s nothing positive about being eliminated from a World Cup. It’s a bitter feeling, and it’s one the U.S. Under-17 Men’s National Team experienced on Saturday.

In the moment and in the present, World Cup elimination is a setback. However, following a run that saw the U.S. play dominant attacking soccer in spurts, there is plenty of reason for optimism for a U-17 group that provided a little bit of hope following one of the darkest periods in American soccer history.

The U.S. U-17s’ World Cup dream ended at the hands of a vicious England team in a 4-1 loss on Saturday. It was certainly a frustrating performance given everything the U.S. displayed in their five-game run in India. But John Hackworth isn’t trying to let the result distract from a big tournament or the fact that, at the youth level, there’s as much to be gained from every misstep as every success.

“I told the team in the locker room that the one thing that they could do for our staff, who put so much time and energy into their development, is to just make sure this is not the highlight of their careers, that they have many more moments like this and reach deeper into World Cups in the future,” Hackworth said. “That’s what, in my opinion, would be the most gratifying thing about all of this.

“(They have to) have the courage to push to be great. That’s really hard for players because it’s a risk. You put yourself out there. You’re going to do something that is special and there are sacrifices you have to make and hours you have to put into that and lifestyle changes that you have to make, but that’s what this group of players signed up for. That’s what’s been invested in them. Now, they need to make sure to push themselves in the years to come to reach their greatest potential.”

Hackworth hopes the early signs of that potential could lead the team to an even deeper U-17 World Cup run, but the U.S. ran into an English juggernaut on Saturday.

From the opening whistle, England came out hot, scoring two rapid goals to put the U.S. in an early hole. Hackworth said it was always going to be a battle, but England’s fast start was a major lesson to the U.S. group. They came out a step slow, and they were punished for it.

Still, the U.S. pushed, creating several chances. Josh Sargent hit the crossbar. Andrew Carleton pulled a few shots wide. Timothy Weah and Ayo Akinola were active. England goalkepeer Curtis Anderson made some big saves, keeping the U.S. off the board.

Eventually, the U.S. gifted England a third, rendering Sargent’s second half finish as little more than a consolation in a frustrating defeat.

“We didn’t come out the way we wanted to,” Sargent said. “It was a bad start and they had two early goals. We had our chances but, unfortunately, we couldn’t capitalize on them. It was just a bad start to the game.

“Any time you lose, especially in the fashion that we did, it’s an opportunity to learn from it,” Hackworth added. “Nothing is ever achieved at the level that we want to without some setbacks, so I believe that these young men have to face what happened (Saturday), own up to it, reflect on the moment and come back even stronger and make sure, everything that they can learn from it, they do.”

Those lessons, in theory, could lead to a brighter future for the U.S. Men’s National Team. Both the U-17s and U-20s reached their respective World Cup quarterfinals, joining England as the only nation to push two teams so deep in this year’s youth tournaments. It’s a clear sign that there is some talent brewing within the U.S. system, but now that talent needs to manifest itself and push on and up through the different age groups.

Despite all of the frustration and emotion, Hackworth says this year was a “fantastic achievement” at the youth level for the U-17 and U-20 programs, one that should someday help the senior team rebound from what was certainly a bittersweet 2017.

“I think we displayed that we have a lot of good qualities and that this group can do a lot of big things in the future,” Hackworth said. “I think there were a lot of positives that this group can take away, but it’s still awful hard.”

“I’m hoping all of these guys can meet up again at a camp,” said Sargent, who now prepares to join Bundesliga side Werder Bremen. “Whether it’s 18s or 20s or the full team, I’m sure I’ll see these guys again soon.”


  1. Qualifying for the Olympics should be the primary goal for this group going forward. US Soccer cannot afford to miss the Olympic Games for a third straight time.

  2. the results of a U17 team can be misleading because it is common in this age group to have a pretty big disparity between the best and worst player in a starting 11. As a result so match ups really matter. England had really strong attacking players and wings that could threaten our not so good players in the back (especially the weakness of our LB and RB). Add into it the players are even less mature so mental edges can make a big difference during any particular game (which is why games turn into routs far more often then at the senior level). They took their early chances and we did not take our early chances and that was the game. I’m not worried about the England team “exposing” US flaws and frankly that is not the right way to evaluate a youth team’s performance. What you should watch for is if there are any players who seem to pop out to you as you watch them as being difference makers compared to the other players on the field. The U17 team definitely has some of those players in the attacking third but lacked anyone in the back that stood out. Conversely the U20 group had some solid defenders that popped like CCV for instance but no one other than Seargent (who was 17) who popped in the attacking third. The fact that both teams made the QF is an indication of the strength of the players that popped and signify to me that each age group has some solid prospects.

    The key for these prospects at this level is how they will transition from youth player to professional. I would prefer for each of them to get to Europe as soon as possible to learn good habits as a professional and to get the mind set that you need to be constantly improving or you will be replaced. I’m not concerned about the level of play Carlton would be up against in MLS if he made the first tea hindering his development, I’m concerned about the environment in training and the lack of pressure to perform or face replacement if he made Atlanta’s first team roster.

    • For Carleton MLS would be great for his development. The teenagers who break through are always under pressure to perform and prove their worth. MLS is a great opportunity to play professionally for those guys and show off to scouts. The issue is once established as a first 11 player whats next? MLS is trying desperately to hold on to their young promising players for obvious reasons. By the time a guy is 22-23 and played a few years of MLS it is time to move on to the next test. If they stay in MLS they risk stagnating. That has been happening too often, and we havent seen the promising U-23 MLS players turn into very good professionals who contribute to the national team.

  3. As regards US youth players playing in Europe, we have already had a number do that. Spector is one, Marc Pelosi, another, Pulisic, of course. While there are limits, many American youths do have the availability to have European passports. Plus, there are probably still some German American kids growing up over there. While we don’t have the same access as kids born there, it is not hopeless. Also, it sometimes seems like the rules are, shall we say, flexible. Giovanni dos Santos went to Barcelona when he was 11, as did Messi.

    • Article 19 was put in place in 2001 the same year Messi joined Barca. Gio moved the following year, but the ruling wasn’t really enforced until years later. Remember Lederman was originally able to play with Barca for several years before FIFA finally ruled against him.

  4. When Japan a physically smaller team gave England a run for their money, it shows me is our NT program that needs fixing. And by the way, Japan’s coach is also Japanese so there is no foreign help. Don’t expect major changes as long as we continue to work with these kids like is 80’s.

    • Players at this age are wildly inconsistent. Looking at 1 result vs common opponent doesn’t necessarily tell you who has the better team. We had an off night where England played very well. On another night the roles could be coimpletely reversed.

      Great message from Hackworth to not let this be the highlight of their careers. If averages play out half of these guys won’t even make it as professionals. Maybe a 2-3 really contribute to the senior team in the long run. They have talent in this team and need to keep working to make it to the next level.

  5. One thing I noticed people calling for some of these players being called up to national team already and some may make it but let’s not forget that some players like CP(19yrs), Arriola(22)and probably Wright(19), McKennie(19) and Gonzalez(19) arnt much older and will probably be around before any of these u17s get called up that’s not to mention Emo(22) Gooch(22) and Green(22). Sometimes players just come up at a time when there are stronger or equal talent out there so some players that might be good just might not get that much of a chance anytime soon unless injuries or something comes up and it’s not to say they are not quality players just wrong time. And any CBs hoping to come through will have to bypass Brooks, CCV, Miazga, EPB and probably Gladd so no easy task as all are fairly young. Basically what I am saying is there is a nice youthful foundation they can build upon and some of these u17s might not be in it except for 3 to 4 and I think that would be a decent number

    • The US doesn’t have a meaningful match for so long. Maybe we should just focus on putting together the best U23 group we can to qualify for the next Olympics. The full national team is just in a dark place at the moment. Thinking we can just throw a bunch of kids out there now to save it or give us hope is silly.

  6. The English player with the hat trick, Brewster, is in the Liverpool system. Carleton, one of our best, is in the Atlanta FC system. Which player faces tougher competition day in and day out? The answer is obvious. Weah is in the PSG system, but most of our players are with MLS teams and until the MLS improves or we start getting more youth in Europe, you will continue to see this kind of talent gap. The good news is that it wasn’t all that long ago when we didn’t have anyone in this age group affiliated with a pro team and this team showed some real skill. We can compete well with non-European teams, outside of maybe Brazil, but Europe is still a step above.

    • For better or worse the answer has to be MLS development improving. It’s just not realistic to think enough guys under the age of 18 can go to Europe. Not everyone can get an EU passport to make that possible. Everyone would have to be a dual-national of some kind.

      I believe we realized a while back we had done as much as we could with Bradenton and have been transitioning to leaning on the MLS academies. There was a dip as that switch was first made but the trend has been upward over the last few U20 and U17 groups. It’s not going to be over night but there are signs of progress.

      • @Jack, Agree, but its also about the quality of coaching going on at the development level. If coaches are teaching kids to “run hard” and “kick it forward” that doesn’t really help. Whether it was JJ’s comments or others over the years with an outside perspective on the American player all have had a similar criticism of the American player which is that we lack understanding of the game.

        I really wish they would be more specific in the criticism but it keeps getting said this way. I think it means we lack spacial awareness in regards to tactics and shape. We don’t attack the space given by other teams and don’t properly close the space we open up when defending. Who knows really though its such a vague criticism and also could just mean there are some many things we do wrong its hard to single one or two out.

        We did re write the youth coaching guidelines about 6-7 years ago while Claudio Reyna was youth technical director. Seems to have moved it in the right direction at least but just like anything, can we make it even better? Let’s bring in some outsiders and have them evaluate what we’re doing and tell us what they’d change so we are developing better players.

    • Gary, our players are with MLS teams because most of them don’t have a choice. They can’t go to Europe due to the age restrictions. Obviously MLS needs to keep improving, but that’s not going to happen over night.


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