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USA Out of U-17s

The U.S. team's disappointing run in the U-17 World Cup came to an end today with a 2-1 loss to Germany in the round of 16 in Cheonan, South Korea. Richard Sukuta-Pasu scored in the 66th and 89th minutes before Mykell Bates halved the deficit in added time and the Americans nearly struck for a late equalizer. The U.S. team finished the tournament with one win, three losses and nine goals allowed.

By Steve Goff  |  August 30, 2007; 8:50 AM ET
Categories:  U.S. men's national team  
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Disappointing, to say the least. This team was not prepared for this event.

Posted by: Joe Doc | August 30, 2007 9:08 AM | Report abuse

Wow, 1 win! They did better than the Men's team did in Germany. Way to go boys!

Actually, it just caps off what has been a dissappointing World Cup for the US's Men/Boys. Let's hope the Women can make us forget that our Men's team is severly lacking in quality.

Posted by: TCompton | August 30, 2007 9:14 AM | Report abuse

I wouldn't call the U-20's a disapointment.

Posted by: SteveJW | August 30, 2007 9:31 AM | Report abuse

It's disappointing and I'm sure that no-one is more disappointed than the players. But these are high school students. Let's not be critical of them.

Posted by: I-270, Exit 1 | August 30, 2007 9:34 AM | Report abuse

We shouldn't be critical of them, but at the same time we put so much money into our residency program and many of these players will have proffesinal options in the next 2 years. My blame is put on the coaching staff who have failed to prepare a talented team.

Posted by: SteveJW | August 30, 2007 9:44 AM | Report abuse

I agree with I-270. I'm kind of surprised we've made a big deal of and are actually analyzing U-17 players on the blogs. It seems to me that trying to judge these players at this point in their development is a little much. Certainly there are situations when individual phenoms can rise in a sport like tennis or golf, but to expect 21 17 year-olds to perform at a consistently high level is a bit much in my opinion.

That said, if we do want our kids to perform well in these events, we need to get them into professional academies sooner. Look at our roster list compared to England's, it pretty much says it all.

US Roster:

England Roster:

Posted by: DJC | August 30, 2007 9:51 AM | Report abuse

Initiate rant sequence...3-2-1:

These guys are high school students, playing other high school students. Actually, I take that most other countries, particularly Europe, kids finish high school at sixteen. So at sixteen they become adults and must get a job (or live on the dole). Those with footballing ambitions are already academy/trainees with a club. Others are making the move to apprentice status. Better players are moving into reserve teams at that age. The best are actually signing professional contracts.

Why can't 16 year old American players handle criticism while multitudes of 16 year olds overseas are dealing with the cold realities and pressures of professional football?

Let's keep our elite players insulated so that when they go overseas at 16, they seize up because they are not used to being treated realistically - Landon Donovan is a textbook case in point. After a lifetime of coddling as a "special player" (some would say prima donna) some of these kids are totally unprepared mentally for the rigors of professional - or even academy - football, where everyone is an "elite" player. Elite players in the U.S. are treated with kid gloves, for fear they will quit the game, or switch to another team, etc. (Witness the audacity of a 16 year old Freddy demanding his coach play him in a preferred position. In any other country, this would attract a requisite b!tch-smack from the manager. Inconceivable. Far-better teenager players - Messi, Rooney, etc. - knew better.) In the rest of the world, if an elite player does not show the talent or commitment, there is a seemingly endless supply of elite players to replace him (or, in the case of big Euro clubs, young African and Latin American players who are too expensive for local clubs).

We do a disservice to these boys, in the long run. They always know that if they wash out, they have a parachute (lower leagues, college scholarship, etc.).

Then again, our low-pressure footballing society can't even allow us to fire long-failing coaches or managers, either (ahem, paging Mssrs. Yallop and Lalas).

Shutdown rant sequence.

Posted by: Erick | August 30, 2007 9:59 AM | Report abuse

Why can't 16 year old American players handle criticism while multitudes of 16 year olds overseas are dealing with the cold realities and pressures of professional football?


Completely agree. Well stated, Erick.

Posted by: Goff | August 30, 2007 10:23 AM | Report abuse

Gotta say in having got up to watch their 2nd game (the first half anyway) the team looked to be extraordinarily naive in a tactical sense. No attempt to control the flow of play.

Their run and gun style is unfortunately becoming far too common among elite youth teams, poor MLS teams, and and throughout the womens game. The prototype seems to be the UNC women, where if you throw out 11 better athletes and charge eventually the other team breaks. But when you play a team (like a national team) with similar levels of athlete and more ability to control the game you're at a distinct disadvantage.

Posted by: Matt | August 30, 2007 10:29 AM | Report abuse

"Why can't 16 year old American players handle criticism while multitudes of 16 year olds overseas are dealing with the cold realities and pressures of professional football?"

I think you answered your own question in your rant. It's because we expect our 16 y.o. kids to be in the educational system whether they play sports or not, whereas (according to you) European 16 y.o. are expected to work. In the US we consider minors to be a "vulnerable population" and have many, many laws addressing their employment, education, and medical care. It's not that they can't handle criticism, it's that they are not expected to (and should not) endure the same level of criticism as adults. Soccer blogs tend not to consider age when criticizing performances.

Hey, I was critical of Michael Bradley losing his temper in the U23 WC, despite others defending him because of his youth. But he is a professional, not a HS student, so the yardstick is different.

Posted by: I-270, Exit 1 | August 30, 2007 10:44 AM | Report abuse

I wonder if young basketball players in this country go through something similar...

Posted by: Juan-John | August 30, 2007 10:56 AM | Report abuse

Overseas, even a 20 year old player is considered "young" and expected to make mistakes.

My assertion that in Europe kids at 16 are essentially adults, it is no invention of mine. It is fact. At 16, you finish high school. Your options are either University, vocational school, work, or unemployment. Those kids essentially graduate high school with the equivalent of a U.S. baccalaureate degree, which is why our Master's matters to them - our college B.A. or B.S. equates to their high school diploma.

Apparently, there is no problem with us heaping attention, praise or critcism on a teenage LeBron or Kobe. In Texas (lived there six years), high school football players are put through the ringer (heck, read about Tabb football in Hampton Roads - a million state championships, but they recruit in middle school and regularly convince parents to voluntarily hold their child back a year - repeating a grade - so that the kid is bigger and older, come high school). Why is soccer so different? Don't we heap attention, pressure and (thanks, boosters) money on teenageers playing major college basketball and football?

Messi signed with Barcelona at 12 or 13. Hmmm. English footbal clubs have specific "schoolboy" contracts for players under 16 (players younger than that must live within 70 miles of the club - big clubs, like ManYoo, get around it by moving the family into new digs.) Once they hit that magic age, all bets are off. Residency, citizenship, etc. all play into the player getting a WORK PERMIT. In other words, they are treated like adults, as far as the accounting books go.

Does a quality European coach treat his 18 winger the same way he treats his 29 year old veteran midfielder. Of course not, he knows better. He knows the young player is a work in progress. Does that mean the 18 year old gets a free pass? Hell no. Especially when he is making 30, 40 or 50 thousands dollars a week.

Numerous Americans who left the US system and joined English academies as teenagers (often thanks to Mom and Dad having a Euro passport). Convey went over and had to make major adjustments (admitted by himself, and coaches Coppell and Arena) due in no small part to the difference between the U.S. development model and that in England (he came up before the MLS reserve system was put in place). Convey had to make the adjustment later than his compatriots and suffered for it. Some guys (Landon) never make the adjustment. Only truly exceptional players can make the adjustment later in their careers (props to McBride).

Now, there are numerous shortcomings in the youth development systems in Europe. Scotland, England and Germany have been widely criticized. Especially in the U.K., these shortcoming have become manifest in the decline of their national teams and lack of domestic players in their leagues and overall shrinking pool of world-class players for national teams.

That being said, their academy teams are not results oriented (think West Ham), but rather performance oriented. They could care less about wins, only that the player pool is developing and learning the skills necessary to contribute at the senior-level. A prospective academy player knows he is out if he fails to maintain a certain level of quality. It is a step by step process, if they fail or stop at one step, they will not progress beyond that. No one has to remind them.

There is a great show on GOLtv called Soccer Academy. It is a reality show following trainees at the Nantes Academy in France. It is hearbreaking to see hopes and dream get crushed. But it is also reality at the professional level outside of the States (that is to say, the rest of the world).

If you want more Americans to be able to compete at the top level, they have to become accustomed to the same environments that opposing players take in on a daily basis. If a key to national team success is getting U.S. players overseas experience, our players need to be given the tools for success, rather than protected indefinitely.

If they do not begin to play as "adults" until their twenties, they will always remain years behind the opposition. Actually, that brings to mind the main failing of the "college player" system we depended on for so long. We had 20 year olds playing 16 competitive games a year, while their counterparts in other countries are starting UEFA Cup matches in front of 50,000 people. No one can argue that such a system worked to our advantage.

As soon as someone puts on the national team shirt, or inks a professional contract, they implicitly accept the pressures that come with it. No one forces them to play at that level. (Think of how we mock Hollywood actors that plead for privacy after accepting millions of dollars spend by the same public they seek to conveniently avoid.)

Posted by: Erick | August 30, 2007 11:28 AM | Report abuse

Bradenton has clearly failed. We have gotten worse each year. We need some new concepts for youth development like MLS youth team not the 'special' setting that produces poor results.

Posted by: Hank | August 30, 2007 12:23 PM | Report abuse

For all the money being poured into Bredenton the result is shocking.

Especially when you consider one of the teams that bounced the US was just a club team with some other guest player because the country doesn't really have a u-17 National Team program.

I say scrap the whole program. Its about as dated as the US National Team in residance under Bora.....

Posted by: Nick from Big Soccer | August 30, 2007 12:43 PM | Report abuse

Erick makes an interesting point about results versus performance in the development system. In the US system, with so many club level teams, results matter, clubs aren't there to develop players, they are there to win tournaments and attract other good players to their systems. If you are a club that has a U-14 and a U-16 team as your top levels, how much work are you going to put into a 15 year old who is just begininning to show real promise? if you have someone playing better now, you are going to use them, because if you spend a year developing the 15 year old, he's gone. if you are an Academy, you are looking to develop players to hit their stride at 18-20, except for the superstars, of course) you have the time, and the incentive, to let talented players learn and understudy, if needed. compare this to the MLS academy system. Who cares who wins the MLS youth cup? I mean it's nice that DC did, but the real winners are the team that develops someone who starts for them in two years, or sells them overseas.

ironically, MLB does this better than any other sport in the US. They sign a player young (often at 18) and put them in the minors, in the development system, and no one questions why they aren't playing in the bigs yet. Take David Price, the top pick this year. he just signed an $8.5 million contract, and will start his career taking the bus out of Columbus, GA, or Durham for a year or two until they think he's ready. No one will care about his win-loss record, only how he pitches, to decide when to move him op. No one will over work him to win a minor league game. The goal of the Durham Bulls is not to win baseball games, but to prepare players for the Devil Rays.

Posted by: northzax | August 30, 2007 12:51 PM | Report abuse

This team played terribly together in the tournament; I chalk that up mostly to coaching, both of this team and of the coaches who prepared them to play on this team.

The talent didn't show, but the roster selections will be borne out in time.

Posted by: Blench | August 30, 2007 1:00 PM | Report abuse

Erick - excellent comments. Right on all counts.

Without belaboring the point, I think this touches on some of the hypocrisy regarding sports that is prevalent in the US.

For example, we insist on calling our elite 18-19 year old football and basketball players "students" when they are anything but that. Does anyone doubt 95% of the elite college football and basketball players would NOT be attending State U if not for their athletic prowess?

Yet, we insist that they remain "amateurs" to preserve the "spirit" of college athletics, while the schools and conferences rake in millions from their performance. Even worse, and as you point out, this charade begins long before they ever step foot on a college campus. And it's only going to get worse now with high school sports being nationally televised.

I suppose this pretense of having our best teenage athletes remain "amateurs" and not becoming professionals until they are 19 or 20 years old somehow makes us feel better - as though they are not being exploited. Hogwash, of course.

When it comes to football, basketball and baseball (especially the Caribbean imports), we DO have in place a professional development system for our elite teenage athletes much like the Euros and Latin Americans do in soccer.

The other countries simply choose not to put lipstick on that pig but instead call it what it is. I think it's about time soccer in this country do likewise and create a true, bona-fide youth development system that bypasses the college hypocrisy altogether.

Posted by: Matador11 | August 30, 2007 1:07 PM | Report abuse

I really like what BYU did in creating a PDL team as apposed to the normal college soccer program. There's an article on ESPN soccernet about it.

Posted by: Sean G | August 30, 2007 1:36 PM | Report abuse

Matt, counldn't have said it any better myself. Thx ... Matt.

Posted by: Matt | August 30, 2007 2:45 PM | Report abuse

The common thread here is that there is not enough coaching sophistication in this country, from the youth systems all the way up to the college teams. I won't mention the national team ... that's a debate for another time. But the good news is, I think it's getting better. As soccer becomes more prevalent in this country, and more people grow up with soccer backgrounds, the level of coaching will improve. Many of our youth soccer coaches grew up playing baseball or football. Now they're coaching their sons' and daughters' soccer teams. But you can see now that the younger coaches, twenty-something, are pretty savvy tactically. It's all about the background and the culture, and that stuff takes time to build. There's no doubt that our national team has grown by leaps and bounds in the past few decades, and I believe it will continue to do so.

Posted by: Matt | August 30, 2007 2:59 PM | Report abuse

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