It wasn't all smooth sailing for American youth soccer in 2016. The turf wars between governing bodies showed no signs of subsiding, the high school vs. club debate intensified, there were plenty of complaints about the transition to birth-year registration, and lawsuits were filed by youth clubs in their quest to receive compensation from professional clubs. But there was plenty to celebrate …
Pulisic and Pugh break through
2016 revealed a pair of players with the potential to be among the best the USA has ever produced. Both Mallory Pugh and Christian Pulisic made their national team debuts at age 17. Pugh played for the USA at the Olympics, where she scored one of her four goals to go along with seven assists in 17 appearances. Three months after the Olympics, she scored twice in the USA's run to the semis of the U-20 World Cup.
Pulisic, whose record-setting debut for Borussia Dortmund in January included becoming the club’s youngest player to start a UEFA Champions League game, became the youngest American to score in World Cup qualifying. He already has three goals and two assists for the USA.
Boys go pro early
They haven’t had the meteoric rise of Pulisic, but his teammates from the USA at the 2015 World Cup have been going pro at an unprecedented rate. Josh Perez became the youngest American to see Italian Serie A action when he made his debut with Fiorentina in Novemeber. Luca de la Torre has made three first-team appearances for Fulham in the English League Cup. Tyler Adams made his MLS debut with the New York Red Bulls. Alejandro Zendejas, formerly of FC Dallas, made his Liga MX debut with Guadalajara. And all but four members of the 20-player 2015 U-17 World Cup roster are with pro teams.
Ashley Sanchez’s double-duty
It was a disappointing year for the women’s youth national team program, as the USA exited in the first round of the U-17 World Cup and posted just two wins at the U-20 World Cup. The silver lining came with 17-year-old Ashley Sanchez, who captained the U-17s while scoring three World Cup goals and started at the U-20 World Cup, at which the SoCal Blues product scored in a 3-1 win over New Zealand and assisted on both goals in the quarterfinal comeback win over Mexico.
FC Dallas leads MLS in
For the first time since the U.S. Soccer Development Academy’s inaugural season of 2007-08, the same club won both the U-16 and U-18 titles. FC Dallas, which has tapped into the Latino talent pool that has too long been neglected in the USA, beat the Vancouver Whitecaps, 2-1, in the U-18 final, and the Los Angeles Galaxy, 2-0, in the U-16 final. Afterwards, FC Dallas lost Weston McKennie to Germany’s Schalke 04 but it signed 2016 DA champs Paxton Pomykal, Jesus Ferreira, Bryan Reynolds and Reginald Cannon to Homegrown contracts. FC Dallas has now signed a record 18 Homegrown players.
Some things remain familiar in the ever-changing
American youth landscape …
Derek Armstrong, in his 35th year since arriving from England to turn the San Diego-area Nomads into a one of the USA’s first fully staffed, multi-team clubs, coached the Nomads U-18s to the final four of the U.S. Soccer Development national championship.
“Soccer is a game that’s been played a long time,” said the 77-year-old Armstrong, whose team fell, 2-1, to eventual champion FC Dallas. “You might put new words on things, but the principles aren’t changing much. … But since I came here I matured a little bit as a coach because I was introduced to Latin American coaches and Latino teams, which was good as an English coach. It broadened my horizons.”
As it’s become increasingly more difficult to compete with the well-funded MLS academy teams, the Nomads added affiliate clubs in Southern California and launched a residency program run by Armstrong’s daughter Mary Armstrong-Kaliff.
BW Gottschee of Queens, New York, celebrated its 65th anniversary in 2016 and remains among the elite. Both its U-16 and U-18 teams were No. 1 seeds at the 2016 Development Academy playoffs. Its U-18s, started by BW Gottschee director Paul McGlynn at U-7 and coached by Dennis McGowan in 2016, posted a 24-1-1 regular-season record while notching wins over five MLS club academy teams: D.C. United, Montreal, New England, Houston and San Jose.
“Since I’ve been involved in the Academy, for eight years, we’ve lost 20 players to MLS Academies,” McGlynn said. “It’s a testament to what we do here -- that they’re interested in our players.”
BW Gottschee's 2016 U-18s.
So Cal clubs win four USYS Championships
South California clubs won a pair of US Youth Soccer national titles in both boys and girls competitions. FC Golden State beat FC Florida Elite to win the McGuire Cup, the U-19 boys competition that is the nation’s oldest youth trophy, dating back to 1935. In an all-Southern California U-18 boys final, Santa Barbara SC White beat FC Golden State. Five Southern California teams reached girls finals, with So Cal Blues winning the U-19 title and Carlsbad Elite prevailing at U-16s.
Slammers FC tops
The Newport Beach, California-based Slammers FC was named ECNL “Overall Club Champion” after winning 2016 ECNL national titles at U-15 and U-18 divisions and its teams reached the quarterfinals in four of the five ECNL age group national championships and the semifinals in three.
U-17 boys finish on a roll
The U-17 boys national team, which is preparing for 2017 U-17 World Cup qualifying, had remarkable run of victories at the Nike International Friendlies. Coach John Hackworth’s team beat Portugal (7-1), Turkey (5-1) and Brazil (3-0).
"Our soccer and tactical understanding are getting better,” said Hackworth. “The players are technical enough now that we can play against the best teams in the world and in some cases, not only compete with them on a technical and tactical side, but be successful like we were this week.