Don't blame the player pool for U-17 debacle

By Mike Woitalla

The U.S. U-17 boys national team was long a source of pride for American soccer.

From 1985, when FIFA launched the biennial U-17 World Cup, to 2011, the USA was the only nation that qualified for all 14 U-17 World Cups. Quite an achievement.

In the 1989, the USA beat Brazil at the U-17 World Cup and in 1991, it beat both Italy and Argentina. In 1999, the USA famously finished fourth as Landon Donovan won the Golden Ball and DaMarcus Beasley the Silver Ball.

By the 2000s, the USA reaching the second round at the U-17 World Cup became the norm, five knockout-stage appearances from 2003 to 2011.

The big failure came in 2013 after U.S. Soccer named Richie Williams head coach of the U-17s. The Americans lost 3-1 to Honduras in the quarterfinals of the 2013 U-17 Concacaf Championship and the world-record streak ended. The Federation kept faith in the Williams -- even though he failed to achieve the minimum of what the job demanded, what all seven of his predecessors had accomplished.

While there were signs that Williams had at his disposal a very promising pool of players -- teens courted and signed by Mexican and European clubs -- alarm bells went off when Williams’ team needed a penalty-kick shootout win over Jamaica to finish third at the Concacaf Championship and secure a spot at the 2015 U-17 World Cup in Chile.

Last Friday, the USA lost, 4-1, to Chile to finish in last place of Group A following a 2-2 tie with Croatia and a 2-0 loss to Nigeria. Each U.S. game followed a familiar pattern: A decent first-half performance and a second-half collapse.

A coach, one would think, has a good amount of influence on second-half play because that’s when he’s making substitutions and he’s had halftime to articulate the game plan for the remaining 45 minutes.

But it was the Federation that entrusted Williams with the team despite that he failed in the 2013 qualifiers and barely succeeded at the 2015 qualifying tournament.

The USA’s dismal showing in Chile will raise questions of whether we are failing as a country in developing young players. But I don’t believe that is what this team’s performance demonstrates. This was a small group of youngsters who needed better guidance.

38 comments about "Don't blame the player pool for U-17 debacle ".
  1. John Lander, October 26, 2015 at 5:20 p.m.

    Let's continue with the same coaches, the same system, and the same players. It will eventually turn around. Let just move those same players to the U20 and U23 teams and they will eventually succeed. And when they get to the senior team we will be able to beat Mexico and Belgium. US Soccer... What a joke.

  2. Chicago Soccer3, October 26, 2015 at 5:23 p.m.

    It is so rooted and so deep, you have to look at well pre-JK for the problems that are manifesting themselves now.

    JK has his hands full U20 and up, look at who is in charge U-11/12 ID to U17 and was also U14s coach to many of these players to really understand what has gone on here, and the man in charge of it and the DA, Tony Lepore, and his introduction to Manny Schellscheidt in 1974. Yes, 1974 at 7 yrs old by his father! That is how long and deep this problem is. You would not believe it if it was not true..can't make things like this up.

    For a look at the group see:

    "Bradenton, for example, isn't a job that will appeal to the top youth developers worldwide. That's okay. But from the perspective of American coaches, a captive labor market with virtually zero overseas job prospects, it's a job with prestige and visibility. If we can't bring in top foreign youth development talent, the least we can do is establish a domestic meritocracy."

  3. j bapper, October 26, 2015 at 5:27 p.m.

    How does Richie Williams still have a job? Oh yea, he's buddies with the other overrated coaches in our US Soccer system. I agree with this article.. we already have so many talented young players in this country but we have incompetent leadership at the top (Gulati) and incompetent coaching at almost every level of US Soccer (Klinsman, Williams, etc.) We are going backwards as a country while all these smaller nations with far less resources continue to pass us by.

  4. R2 Dad replied, October 30, 2015 at 6:40 a.m.

    Yes, we want change, and maybe the coach gets pushed out, eventually. But where will Richie land? Regurgitated, back as an assistant somewhere in US Soccer on the next cycle. This is just stubborn laziness on the part of US Soccer. Hey, Jurassic managers of Carson, you're not going to find anymore "guys like you". The meteors are falling all around, the sky has darkened, and all you can think of is, "Yeah, let's keep doing what we're doing, it's worked the past 120 million years, let's ride this out and maybe reboot the Uxx team with my good buddy (old white guy X)". Your scouting has failed miserably, the resultant player pool for the Boys U teams is a joke. There seems to be some misunderstanding on your part, wherein repeated camps year after year are supposed to help develop players. WRONG. Any player you'd actually need is ALREADY practicing at or above the level of these camps. You are actually retarding development by classifying these players as Acceptable (attended camp) instead of Work In Progress. Rethink this whole gatekeeper rec soccer mentality--that's more useful for kids who want to get in to their college of choice. Democratize the process using internet tools. If you want to be useful, find out a way to filter players for high soccer IQ--that's something clubs can't provide but is desperately needed.

  5. beautiful game, October 26, 2015 at 5:45 p.m.

    Watched the U-17 play and they showed little. It was like watching a younger version of the USMNT.

  6. cony konstin, October 26, 2015 at 5:55 p.m.

    There is no coach in the world that can fix this. This takes radical change. A new vision. New leadership... A 21st century master plan... We have a great deal of work ahead of us but it starts with a cleansing... The status quo needs to move on and in its place unorthodox and radical thinkers need to be put in place so they may have the power to create innovative changes that will impact the beautiful game in our nation.. $400 cleats, gimmicks, or smoke n mirrors are not going to cut it anymore. We need a soccer revolution in the US.......

  7. Soccer Madness replied, October 26, 2015 at 6:08 p.m.

    Of course coaches and the people in charge can change this. System must be completely changed at highest levels by rewarding $$$ clubs for scouting developing top players. We must fire coaches that don't scout the best talent. We must fire the people in charge that refuse to hire anyone that is not their friend. We as a nation must get them fired by emailing the president of USA if needed. Then and only then will the changes yyou ask for materialize. Objectives must be right and honest so the right tools can be put in place, Cony

  8. Bob Ashpole replied, October 28, 2015 at 4:53 a.m.

    We don't need radical thinking. US Soccer has known how to develop players for 40 years. It is not a secret. What we have is a failure in execution. One coach cannot do it. We need about 30,000 good coaches, kids to be active again, and parents to stop interfering. 50 years ago the nation was upset about the lack of fitness in children. There was a national fitness campaign backed by the President. Those children were 10 times more active than today's children and today parents are not concerned. We live in a spectator society, where parents think they can buy success for their children in any endeavor, including sports, just like buying a video game. That is the problem that must be solved, and not just for the development of better athletes.

  9. Scott Johnson replied, October 28, 2015 at 2:59 p.m.

    The nation has trouble producing top-level men's soccer talent--enough of it, anyway, to advance beyond the Round of 16.

    OTOH, we have no problem producing world class women's players, not to mention world-class basketball players, baseball players, hockey players, track stars, swimmers, skiers, and such. (Not to mention sports like American football where we dominate because nobody else plays).

    Basketball is the second most popular global team sport behind soccer, and it is a sport in which the US dominates. Why is that? (And please, no racially-tinged answers; if for no other reason than THAT answer is most certainly wrong).

  10. Bob Ashpole replied, October 28, 2015 at 10:38 p.m.

    The short answer is that nobody in youth soccer is interested in developing world class players. So National team coaches (not to mention college and high school coaches) looking for potential players are seeing less talent to choose from every year.

  11. Ric Fonseca, October 26, 2015 at 5:57 p.m.

    I w says it all and well in a few words. My exact sentiments when I watched the second half and we were tied at 1-1.The rest of the game was a debacle, yet, MW's article says it all, that we ought NOT to blame the kids, but the person in charge, Richard Williams. In fact the Spanish language color commentators made note of Williams, e.g. his overall demeanor on the side lines, that in turn were transmitted to the player's lackadaisical style of play, lacking any sense of urgency. So, then all seem to agree that the coaching was dismal and Williams ought to be one of the first to go. BTW, where was Claudio Reyna or Tab Ramos, as I thought these two guys would be in charge of these younger teams?? And to j bapper, one of the biggest problems that has permeated US Soccer since the early-mid 70's is the firmly established coaching "good ole boy network" that is still a big sore, something that many forget that this is what JK inherited when he was given free rein by Gulati. Go figure!!!

  12. Santiago 1314 replied, October 27, 2015 at 11:41 a.m.

    REYNA is with Man City New York...I don't think he is Working with USuckSF...At Least Hands on...Tab is In-Over-His-Head as Director and Coach...He should be involved in Younger Player Selection...Along with Hugo Perez...We need to make sure, player like them are getting into and Promoted thru the System...Tab seems to be doing well with U20...keep him there...John Harkes for Olympic Team Coach...Peter Vermes to Full National Team Coach...DO AWAY with BRADENTON.!!!... It's Served it's Purpose

  13. Santiago 1314 replied, October 29, 2015 at 12:13 p.m.

    Oh, and STEAL Ernie Stewart away from the Union Technical Director Job...

  14. Edwardo Brandt, October 26, 2015 at 6:09 p.m.

    Richie Williams should go, that's just part of the job, but we may need to adjust the expectations. To obtain results by playing better "quality" soccer than the rival, requires plenty of time to build the players' technique and confidence, then you need very good field conditions, and referees who aren't permissive of aggressive play. Lacking those factors, it's easier to obtain results by playing very physical, high pressure, simple soccer while avoiding risks in your half. That's why Chile beat Argentina and Messi in the Copa America final. The USMNST loss to Mexico was simply Klinsman's blunder, he gave the wrong instructions to the side fullbacks, who played deep, marking "zone", but idle in most plays(Johnson looked like he didn't do a tackle all night). They weren't pressuring nor initiating attacks, and so our midfielders were doing double duty and playing catch up throughout the game. I couldn't believe what I was watching. But the same comment I made about the U17s style applies to the men's team, unless conditions are very favorable and you have a very technical roster, style can come at a cost.

  15. Santiago 1314 replied, October 27, 2015 at 1:53 p.m.

    Edwardo; Excellent analysis of how Opposition Teams are Breaking Down the USA...NATteam, U23 and u17; All had SERIOUS Problem with Opposition placing Wide "Wing" in "THE POCKET" Between our TOO FLAT Back 4 and Our Wide Attacking Mids in the 4-2-3-1 Formation...This Caused one of Defensive Mids to Chase Outside (and Never get there)...This allowed their Wide Player Free Time to send in Crosses that ALL 3 Teams could not cope with...The Simple Fix, as you pointed out was to Push the USA outside Backs UP...

  16. Lou vulovich, October 26, 2015 at 7:47 p.m.

    This country has enough technical players to field a very technical team, at any age group this is not 1970. The style of play is always determined by the selection of players, and the way any team plays at a high level, is always a reflection of the coach. Don't blame the players or the level of technical ability of US players. All teams are a reflection of the coach-coaches and selection. Where is the accountability and I don't mean the 16 year olds, nor the coach.

  17. Garrett Isacco, October 26, 2015 at 8:39 p.m.

    Deplorable job of coaching. Williams must go as he has proven that he is not up to this job.

  18. Soccer Madness, October 26, 2015 at 9:56 p.m.

    Some of these players needed better guidance but some of them just plain did not deserve to be there. Not their fault. Anyone picked should defenitely go. How many countries offer a Residencyt program? Can you imagine if they did? Were Richie's bosses not aware of his tactics, style of play, etc? I doubt they are surprised. How much longer before complete overhaul of our National Program. The way the commentators spoke of USA Coach is becoming a big joke to the rest of the world.

  19. Forever Blue, October 26, 2015 at 11:13 p.m.

    My Concern is that most of these players (20) have been in the residency program for 2+ years. Are you saying that in 3 years no other players in the US improved to well enough to at least compete for a spot on the team.
    What does that say to other players; that if you are not picked at 14-15 yrs old, you have no chance of making the national team. I can bet my salary that the US is the only country that had that many players from the qualifying tournament, not to mention 2 years ago.
    The boys lost the motivation to compete long ago.

  20. BJ Genovese replied, October 27, 2015 at 9:31 a.m.

    Forever Blue nailed it. Terrible scouting, and player pool managment. They wont bring back a TC players who went at 12... to see how they are after growing at 16. Stubborn and unable to think outside the croney box. The blind leading the blind.

  21. Xavi Hernandez replied, October 29, 2015 at 1:27 p.m.

    BJ and Forever Blue are at the root of the problem. At 13 My son was dropped from ODP. The English coach told him to find another sport because he was too small, weak and slow. Seven years later his realistic goal this upcoming track season is a sub 1:50 800m. Maybe some basic child development courses would help these guys.

  22. Chicago Soccer3, October 27, 2015 at 8:47 a.m.

    Once in a while a player breaks in during the course of the cycle. Trusty was an example in May, and he was a disaster in the first game. So much for their ability to pick em.

  23. Futebol Brazil, October 27, 2015 at 9:08 a.m.

    Maybe this player could of helped. He is over 6'3", a 99, extremely skilled, not picked because he wouldnt play DA. his

  24. Chicago Soccer3, October 27, 2015 at 10:38 a.m.

    Odd that is a DA highlight reel for the 99. The player on the reel has been around Mexican and US camps when he was younger but never really produced at a high level. 5th leading scorer with 3 goals in 15 of 29 games on a bottom of table DA U16 team last year. Good player, but probably not on the current MNT radar. 500 better kids out there that did not make camps, unfortunately.

  25. Futebol Brazil replied, October 27, 2015 at 11:02 a.m.

    The player on the reel has more interest than ever from MX and European teams as well as Residency offers from out of state DA's. You must be involved with an Academy and sour this kid doesnt play for you. He was invited to play for several 97 NPL teams this year and scored 4 goals in Dallas Cup playing up a year. Videos are proof of how good this kid is and how much he continues to improve. Here's another one from 1-2 years ago where he was 2nd highest sought after player at Alianza National event and only reason he was brought in to National Team Camp by Hugo Perez Apparently Chicago scouts were unable to see his talent in 6-7 Training Centers before this event.

  26. Futebol Brazil, October 27, 2015 at 10:42 a.m.

    This player was injured for most of last season. Hard to score for a bad team but clowned all the so called top teams in the Midwest with mostly 98 rosters. Easily best 99 in the entire Midwest. Others not even close. Played in Futsal nationals up a year. Made finals.

  27. Futebol Brazil, October 27, 2015 at 10:53 a.m.

    Can you mention 2 better 99's from Midwest at his position or at any position for that matter? He scored 2 goals in 4 USA National team games with limited playing time. Only reason he is not on National team is because he refused to play for any of the 3 DA's out of Chicago. National Team Coaches told him that and also told him they were risking their job inviting him. No other player in the country with his skill and his 6'4" frame at 99.

  28. Futebol Brazil, October 27, 2015 at 10:56 a.m.

    This is how all the best Midwest DA's defended against this kid. All of these fouls did not merit a yellow or a red. This is what our top coaches call defending. Then we wonder why we get scored on so easy in World Cup.

  29. Scott Johnson, October 27, 2015 at 4:50 p.m.

    This is probably not the forum to discuss any particular prospects, but one issue with US youth soccer does come to the fore: premature selection of elite-level talent. Some US soccer bigname (was it Tab Ramos?) said something to the effect of "if you don't have the ball at your feet when you are five, you won't become a world class player". While that advice is debatable (many elite athletes don't start until older; and many five-year-olds are still mastering large motor skills), someone apparently turned that into "if you aren't playing for tournament clubs when you are five..."--and many clubs reward those players who get in (and show talent) early, when many late bloomers (or late arrivals) ultimately will become better players if given the proper opportunity. Many clubs, likewise, seem to take great pains to ensure that players prematurely identified as elite only train with and compete against other elite players, lest these player be sullied (or embarassed) by competing against lesser talent. But doing so widens the talent gap between the elite kids and the others deprived of the ability to train with top talent; and if it turns out that the coaches guessed wrong, and the hotshot eight-year-old becomes an average athlete after puberty, then you have a problem.

  30. James Madison, October 27, 2015 at 8:04 p.m.

    The U-17s looked as raggedy-ass as their U-23 counterparts. If they are the future of the MNT, we are in DEEP trouble.

  31. Andrew Kear, October 28, 2015 at 4:53 a.m.

    This is yet another symptom of the negative influence of the Klinsmann reign. Under Klinsmann every level of US soccer is in crisis. This cancer caanot be allowed to further spread.

  32. Greg Milton, October 29, 2015 at 11:52 a.m.

    Look you guys, the US has the same problem as England too now. The US is not going to beat anyone with the talent pool. I will say it is not a very talented pool. The kids selected are selected for a number of factors, but shear athleticism and soccer brilliance is not the criteria used. Someone pointed out how often times, the true wizards with the ball are pushed out to make way for players who do what they are told. The problem in soccer is that no team can win at a high level playing scripted soccer. As the competition knows what you are going to do and it makes the team look defensive and restricted. And even then, the point becomes that the kids who are coached to play that WAY DO NOT BUD INTO THE SUPERSTARS YOU THINK we are due. Well it does not work like that, and the harm done to the US team happens long before JK has any chacne to screw it up. It happens at the club level, and the academy level when many of the kids are selected based on whether their parents can afford the fees. Many times, the coaches themselves will select a certain kid because he has a great attitude and has a great work ethic, and leave out the truly talented players. And this happens in what kids are nominated as All State or All America, and therefore these less talented / boy scout players become the players who are identified by college and club scouts. And truly, if any coach is genuine enough to be honest with a kid, who is extremely gifted as an athlete, he would take his 6.2 forward and introduce him to the football coach and have him play WR or DB and watch him become a millionaire playing in the the NY Giants Ordell Beckham Jr. But the problems in the US is that the US system excludes the poor kids, and I am sorry, even though that Neymar is a millionaire now, he was not comfortable like growing up and the attitude you get from coming from nothing, like Clint Dempsey, will generally best the kid who does not have to worry about playing for his and his family's welfare. Klinsmann is not to blame for these fatal flaws, and neither will his replacement who will not fare much better until the grassroots of American soccer changes..The good thing, is now with the internet, and street soccer being cool, I think it will get better, but only if the old school - coaching good ol boy network is dismantled.

  33. Lou vulovich, October 29, 2015 at 3:06 p.m.

    Greg, you make some valid points, but here is where I strongly disagree. England has a huge talent base, always great young players coming up, with horrible choices for NMT coaches by the FA. Look at the list of players from England in the last 10-12 years, amazing quality. As for the US we have a much deeper pool of players than is been identified and much better coaches available right here, once they change the ( once your in as a player or coach, you are in for life system)
    I also will never agree with the notion that for players to be great they have to come from a environment of survival to be great. Germany just won the World Cup, not one player came from the ghetto .

  34. Lonaka K, October 30, 2015 at 7:53 a.m.

    The US Soccer federation needs to start immediately, but getting rid of all coaches except JK. Tell JK do not hire his crony buddies but to look for qualified US coaches to help him develop a solid national program. Current coaches for the Olympic, U20, U17 teams have NOT demonstrated coaching skills. What they have demonstrated is a skill to call in players, decide a roster and HOPE the players can get them results.

  35. David Mont replied, October 30, 2015 at 11:36 a.m.

    Funny. I think the first coach in the US program who should be fired is JK, our illustrious Technical Director.

  36. aaron dutch, October 30, 2015 at 2:29 p.m.

    We need to take a long term approach and revamp coaching education in the US. Our NSCAA/USSF/NCAA/NHSC/AYSO development is a mess. Until we have a UEFA badge system to at least control for basic standards in coaching we will never improve the total player pool. How do you have real discussions about different styles or patterns of play which leads to tactical evolution and the technical development required for execution. Our coaches have so many uncompetive layers of soccer welfare to feed off of. You can and many do spend a lifetime doing it. Our coaches dont see any other places, dont compete for jobs, dont try to be the best. 1-3% are trying but that is not a system.

  37. Greg Morris, November 6, 2015 at 6 p.m.

    I share many of the opinions noted above regarding our youth development. It is fair to criticize and point out the areas where we believe the U.S. is so far off base. However, I do think we need to step back sometimes from the emotional gut reaction. We all fire off our opinions on this player, that formation, a different coach, with the benefit of never having to risk being wrong. It seems that the least we can do is go back and and put things in perspective, reexamine our initial response. The U17 "Debacle," as the headline reads, might be a good example. Criticism of the level of play and Williams, I believe, still applies BUT, debacle? The U.S. was in the group with the home team, always a challenge. They also had Croatia, who made the final 8 and sent Germany home. Finally, they had the defending champs Nigeria, who have stormed back to the final knocking out Brazil and Mexico along the way. Disappointing, evidence of our shortcomings in development and selection? - I'm on board. But let's try and keep things in proper perspective - even if Woitalla won't - and stop pretending that this is simple and easy to solve in a country this size.

  38. Raymond Gilsoul, November 8, 2015 at 11:55 p.m.

    it seems to me that the higher one goes in youth soccer here in the US, the glory of the coach comes first, supported by the clubs and the governing bodies. Rules concerning recruitment, the way tryouts are run, who coaches odp, who plays or gets a chance, all has to do with appeasing coaches and their egos with little to do with the best interest of the players. If I have to see one more tryout where the teams have already been picked . . . This raises its head in Ugly ways. Where I live, in the "official" keague, you have too many Latin kids then you get snide comments about cheating and recruiting. Some kids I know have club scholarships and playing on a team has changed their life, but no, rather than emulate that, some choose to snear about unfairness of "buying" players. Again, it is not about what is fair or good for the kids, it is the rivalry of the coaches that matters. Or the rivalry between clubs, or the self perpetuation of the members of the governing body. Until we become a little less selfless, try to include everybody, even the poor kids, and leave our egos behind, we will always have problems, Oh well. At least other countires have their own problems, sometimes the same ones! Still, until there is more public interest and money at stake in the US there will never be enough attention to focus the public eye on the problems and see real change, More money would see some old cronies shoved aside in place of the ambitious and successful. More public interest would mean more scrutiny with teeth, Not enough ordinary people give a damn here for any of that.

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