Big expectations for U17 prior to World Cup

Big expectations for U17 prior to World Cup
by J.R. Eskilson
September 22, 2017

The U.S. U17 Men’s National Team is set for the 2017 U17 World Cup in India. Head coach John Hackworth released the 21-man roster on Thursday, as the group departs for a training camp in Dubai on Sept. 24. The tournament kicks off on Oct. 6. 

On Friday, Hackworth talked with reporters about the roster, the selection process, and the upcoming World Cup. 

“This has been a fantastic process, but a difficult one,” Hackworth said in his opening remarks. “The reason I think it is fantastic is the quality and depth in this age group.”

It was not always easy though. Hackworth revealed that the final spots on the roster were not solidified until the last two days. While the official roster for the World Cup is 21 players, the U.S. will have 22 players in camp in Dubai for the event leading up to the opening game. LA Galaxy Academy standout Ulysses Llanez was named as an alternate to the roster and will travel with the team. 

“We are taking Uly [Llanez] because he deserves it,” Hackworth said. “He did not come into our program specifically at the start for certain reasons. He has done a fantastic job [since joining]. It’s a full credit to Uly to beat out the guys who were ahead of him previously. We have until Oct. 5 to name an injury replacement, and we want to keep him in the program as much as possible.”

Hackworth said that none of the players on the 21-man roster are dealing with any injuries at this point, but he did say that star forward Josh Sargent picked up an injury while the group was in the Czech Republic in August. Hackworth noted that Sargent has fully recovered from the injury though. 

On the flip side, defender AJ Vasquez was also injured during the trip to the Czech Republic, which forced the FC Golden State prospect to miss the World Cup. 

While timing did not favor the Southern California-native, Tyler Shaver’s drive to get back on the field helped him return to the roster in time for the World Cup. 

“[Shaver] was in the Residency Program last year,” Hackworth said when asked about the new players to the roster who were not part of the CONCACAF Championship. “He tore his PCL last summer. He wasn’t released to return to training until late May. Before that, he was one of our top center backs. He has been with us, and a really important guy at the beginning.”

Shaver’s return is an added boost to the U.S. defense, which should face some challenges in group play with games against Colombia, Ghana, and host India. However, Hackworth believes he is taking a very strong team to the event. 

“This is the fourth time I’ve been to a U17 World Cup,” Hackworth, a head coach for two and an assistant for two others, said. “I look at Richie [Williams]’s team in the last cycle. There was so much talent on that team. This team is comparable to the type of talent from the last world cup. The expectation is pretty high.”

The 2015 U17 World Cup squad went 0-2-1 in group play, and exited the event after group play in unceremonious fashion after a lengthy successful build-up to the event. The aftermath of that team is still to be seen, but Christian Pulisic’s rapid arrival on the main stage has certainly helped erase the scars from the failure in Chile. 

One of the lingering notes from the 2015 is the players who were left behind and missed out on the event, players like Weston McKennie who recently made his first start in the Bundesliga for Schalke 04. Hackworth acknowledged the challenges of the roster and the issue with leaving some players behind. 

“The growth of those individuals is important,” the coach said. “For the guys who didn’t make this roster who are looking to prove they should’ve been on this roster.” 

Hackworth cited that those players are going back to good environments thanks to the success of the Development Academy in improving the every day training for the player in the U.S. 

Player development remains the main catalyst for this age group, a successful run at the World Cup would certainly be a welcomed outcome for many in U.S. Soccer circles. After the U20 success in June at the 2017 U20 World Cup, there are some lofty expectations for this younger group. 

Forward Josh Sargent was a key player for the U20s in Korea during the World Cup, and he will be in the spotlight in India after recently pledging his future to German club Werder Bremen. 

“The only way to improve on his U20 performance is to win the Golden Boot wiat the U17 World Cup,” Hackworth said almost in awe of Sargent’s successful run with the U20s. “He doesn’t let that change his daily focus. He is very confident in his ability. His work ethic is excellent.”

Hackworth and his staff will be counting on Sargent, but it’s far from a one-man team. Six players on the roster have already signed Homegrown contracts with their respect MLS sides. Andrew Carleton is probably the most notable name out of the half dozen, as he could be among the best in this region when he is on his game. The flair he brings from the wings adds a dimension the U.S. attack that could separate the group from previous editions of this team. 

The domestic contingent is buoyed by a group of international players including George Weah’s son, Tim, who has been on fire for PSG in the UEFA Europa Youth League this season. Weah is another wide attacking player who will be fighting for playing time with this group. 

With a bounty of talented prospects at his disposal, Hackworth and his group are looking to make history with the best finish for a U.S. team at a Youth World Cup. The 1999 group, the first Residency Program team, finished fourth at the U17 World Cup. 

The 2017 group, the last Residency Program team, will have a tough road to top that appearance, but as Hackworth noted. This group has already beaten 10 teams in this World Cup and will be eying a few move in October when play kicks off from India.  

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