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.