By Mike Woitalla
The present and future of American soccer will be on display this Sunday.
First, the USA faces Jamaica (Fox Soccer, 3 pm ET) in the quarterfinals of the Gold Cup, in which the Americans so far have been woefully uninspiring. Later in the day, the American teenagers who are being groomed for the full national team open their U-17 World Cup campaign against the Czech Republic (ESPNU, 7 pm ET).
Only the USA has qualified for each of the 14 U-17 World Cups, a fact not so surprising considering its unequaled investment in its U-17 national team program. (U.S. Soccer has run a full-time residency camp for the U-17s in Bradenton, Fla., since 1999.)
But only once has the USA won a game in the knockout stage of the U-17 World Cup – a 2-0 win over Mexico when the Americans finished fourth in New Zealand under Coach John Ellinger with a team that featured Landon Donovan, DaMarcus Beasley and Oguchi Onyewu.
This modest record and the creation of the U.S. Soccer Development Academy in 2007 has cast doubt on the necessity of the expensive Bradenton program. Its advocates will point to players such as Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley and Juan Agudelo and argue that their Bradenton experience groomed them for early debuts with the full national team.
But if Coach Wilmer Cabrera’s team fails to shine, if it doesn’t feature some individuals who demonstrate potential for greatness, then it’s time to close the camp at Bradenton and consider how those resources could be put to better use.
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CABRERA’S SECOND GO. This summer’s tournament marks the second with Cabrera at the U.S. helm. In 2009 his team lost its opener to Spain and reached the second round with 1-0 wins over Malawi and UAE before falling to Italy, 2-1.
The Netherlands’ Albert Stuivenberg is the only coach at Mexico ’11 who coached at the last U-17 World Cup, in 2009 in Nigeria.
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U.S. U-17s ON TV. Sunday, June 19 vs. Czech Republic 7 pm ET (ESPNU/ESPN3/Galavision). Wednesday, June 22 vs. Uzbekistan 4 pm (ESPNU/ESPN3/Galavision). Saturday, June 25 vs. New Zealand 7 pm (ESPNU/ESPN3/Galavision).
Go HERE for complete tournament schedule.
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OPENERS: The tournament in Mexico kicks off on Saturday. In Group A play in Morelia, Mexico faces North Korea (4 pm ET) and European champion Netherlands meets Congo (7 pm ET). Both games will be televised live on ESPNU and ESPN3.com. Mexico's game will also air on Galavision.
In Group B on Saturday in Monterrey, it’s France-Argentina (4 pm ET) and Japan-Jamaica (7 pm ET), both on ESPN3.com.
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FROM U-17s TO WORLD CUP. Three starters in the USA’s second round loss to Ghana at the 2010 World Cup played at a U-17 World Cup: Tim Howard, Jozy Altidoreand Landon Donovan. Reserve defender Jonathan Spector was also a U-17 World Cup alum. Michael Bradley attended Bradenton but as part of a younger class didn’t play in a U-17 World Cup. (Howard was a U-17 before the Bradenton era.)
2010 World Cup winner Spain had seven U-17 World Cup alums on its roster: Xavi, Fernando Torres, Pepe Reina, Andres Iniesta, Cesc Fabregas (MVP in 2003),Iker Casillas and David Silva.
None of 2010 runner-up Netherlands’ players were part of a U-17 World Cup.
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PAST U-17 CHAMPIONS.
2009 – Switzerland.
2007 – Nigeria.
2005 – Mexico.
2003 – Brazil.
2001 – France.
1999 – Brazil.
1997 – Brazil.
1995 – Ghana.
1993 – Nigeria.
1991 – Ghana.
1989 – Saudi Arabia.
1987 – Soviet Union.
1985 – Nigeria.
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U.S. U-17 PROFILES. Soccer America’s Paul Kennedy profiles the USA's 21 players HERE. The multi-ethnic team includes immigrants from war-torn Croatia and Sierra Leone, a player who commuted back and forth across the border between Tijuana and South San Diego and a player born in New York to a Swiss father and Japanese mother and raised in Tokyo.
(Mike Woitalla, the executive editor of Soccer America, coaches youth soccer for East Bay United in Oakland, Calif. His youth soccer articles are archived at YouthSoccerFun.com.)