[U.S. UNDER-15 MEN] One of the most promising age groups to come along in recent years in the boys national team program is the 1998 age group that will form the core of the next U.S. U-17 national team -- the current U-17s failed to qualify for the 2013 Under-17 World Cup. Coach Tony Lepore says about half the players are already pursuing moves to European clubs.
“We’re very excited about this player pool, the ‘98s," he told USSoccer.com. "We think there’s a lot of talent and their potential is very high. We always try to stay focused on long term at this age and we feel like they’re on a really positive pathway. Part of that we feel our technical advisers and scouts have done a great job helping us scout, evaluate, identify and track many prospects across the country. With this group like others in the past we think their clubs deserve compliments, as well, because we have more players that have moved up to compete with their older-age teams than we’ve had in previous cycles and we feel like this group is more technical than we’ve seen in previous cycles. This team’s also developed really good chemistry with each other, they’re really supportive on and off the field and in our past three domestic camps they’ve really enjoyed playing and training together so we’re very excited.”
Lepore said the two goals for the team is to imprint its own style of play and measure itself against international competition with two trips in 2012 and two more in 2013, including its current trip to Italy.
One specific goal in team-building is to accelerate the development of a core group of players.
"It’s another good setting for us to continue to evaluate our potential," Lepore added, "and as individual players it’s a really good opportunity for them. At the international level and against other national teams, they get a really good picture of their strengths and opportunities to improve, so we’ll help them define that throughout the trip.”
What does Lepore like about the '89s?
"I think this is a core group that appears to be even more ahead than the past couple years, especially with their comfort level with the ball and that’s really important in our style of play," he said. "This group maybe more than others has shown the benefits of playing up. We have a larger number of players in this cycle that are regularly competing against ‘96s and ‘97s and I think that’s really helped to accelerate their development. The other interesting thing about this group from other cycles is there have been more players that have now gained some experience in Europe. Whether that is with a club team or also because they pursued opportunities and trials in Europe and right now about half the group is pursuing options to make a move to Europe. Because they’ve had that experience we think that will carry over not only into this trip, but we’re also excited about some of the opportunities ahead of them.”