U.S. under-17 men
American teams carry high hopes in FIFA world championship.By John Haydon
Special to SoccerTimes
(Monday, November 8, 1999) -- Never before has an American men's team ventured to a world competition with such high hopes as the United States under-17 national team in the FIFA world championship in New Zealand starting Wednesday.
The Americans (23-7-11) enter the 16-team tournament unbeaten in their past 20 international games (16-0-4) and with a good chance of making the medal round. Unlike past American teams, this group of players has an offensive edge. In the past 15 months, the team has scored 71 goals in international games while conceding up just 16.
"This is a squad that respects everyone they play but fears nobody," said coach John Ellinger. "We have just as good a chance of winning it all as anyone else does."
A lot is riding on these youngsters, who have trained together for nearly two years. In January, the U.S. Soccer Federation set up a full-time residency program for the team in Bradenton, Fla., investing more than $1.5 million -- the most ever spent on a U.S. youth team. The camp is part of Project 2010, a program created last year to develop players with the goal of winning the World Cup within 12 years.
"If we ever want to win the World Cup, we have to get it right at the youth level," said Alan Rothenberg, the former U.S. Soccer president who initiated Project 2010.
The current U-17 team will be in its prime when the 2010 World Cup comes around. "This is a results-oriented developmental program," Ellinger said. "If you're going to win a World Cup championship in 2010, the players who are going to be involved in that have to start winning something before then."
The United States is the only country to have competed in all six previous U-17 world championships, reaching the quarterfinals twice. The Americans' best finish was at the 1991 finals in Italy, when they came in fifth after losing on penalty kicks in the quarterfinals to Qatar. At the 1997 event in Egypt, the United States failed to advance and was embarrassed by tiny Oman 4-0.
This year's optimism is buoyed by the fact that this squad has more professional experience than any previous American team in history. Several players, including top scorer Landon Donovan (Bayer Leverkusen) and Raul Palomares (FC Kaiserslautern), already have joined professional teams in Germany, while DaMarcus Beasley (Los Angeles Galaxy) and Seth Trembly (Colorado Rapids) are in Major League Soccer.
Donovan, who has scored an astonishing 32 goals in 35 games, became one of the youngest players (16) in U.S. history to sign a pro contract overseas when he moved to Germany in February.
It will be no breeze in New Zealand for the Americans, who open the event against the hosts Wednesday before facing Poland Saturday and Uruguay on November 16. A crowd of more than 42,000 is expected for the first game.
"It's a one-game tournament for us," Ellinger said. "We have to do well in that first game. New Zealand plays more of a destructive game than constructive. Hopefully, we can take them to a level where they can't compete with us."
The youth tournament is an opportunity for players to display their skills on the world stage. Many past U-17 players have gone on to become professional world class stars, such as D.C. United's Marco Etcheverry (Bolivia 1985, '87), American ace Claudio Reyna (U.S. '89), Arsenal striker Nwankwo Kanu (Nigeria '93) and World Cup star Emmanuel Petit (France '87).
"We're not going into this cocky, but we are confident we can win this,"
said Beckerman who is second in scoring on the team this year behind
Donovan with 18 goals and 16 assists.
John Haydon is soccer columnist for the Washington Times and can be
e-mailed at email@example.com.
John Haydon is soccer columnist for the Washington Times and can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.