Some believe that the U.S. U-17 national team will use this year's World Cup in Nigeria to show American audiences a form of the game little seen in this country, an attacking one. "In the past, what our country's kind of been known for is sitting back and playing the counterattack," the team's goalkeeper, Earl Edwards, said. "I think we're looking more to go at teams with intimidation from the start, really pressuring them up top, not sitting back and relying on our athleticism to counter."
The impetus behind this shift in
paradigm is Colombian coach Wilmer Cabrera, who took over the Bradenton academy development program two years ago after a poor performance at the 2007 U-17
World Cup, where the USA lost to the likes of Tajikistan and Tunisia in the group stage. "What I'm trying to do is get that confidence to the players," Cabrera said. "When you have a team that is
working and they have the confidence they can play, they have to have the personality to play even, against any team. It's how I live, and how I feel about the game and my passion for the game. I
give that freedom to the players to express themselves on the field with the ball, with a little bit of organization."
The team breezed past its group opponents at the CONCACAF U-17
qualifying tournament in Tijuana back in May -- scoring 12 goals in three games -- before a potential showdown with Mexico was cancelled by worries over the outbreak of swine flu. The team, however,
has not suffered from a lack of competition. It has traveled to Europe and South America multiple times to play friendlies, battling Spain to a late loss in Madrid and twice beating African
champion Gambia last month in England, where the Americans also overcame Chelsea's U-18 team. Despite losing some of its most highly touted prospects -- startlets Charles Renken, Joseph Gyau and Sebastian Lletget have all been left off the team's roster -- the U-17
team still has a deep pool of talented players that will attempt to improve on America's best-ever fourth place finish at the U-17 World Cup. "I think we have a strong chance on improving on that,"
Edwards said, "and we're hoping to prove it to the rest of the world."