U.S. U-20 women: Klimkova picks young squad for 2018 World Cup qualifying

Coach Jitka Klimkova  has named the USA's 20-player roster for the 2018 U-20 Women's World Cup qualifying tournament, which kicks off in Trinidad & Tobago next week.

Sixteen collegians and four youth club players -- defender Naomi Girma (California Thorns FC), midfielder Jaelin Howell (Real Colorado), midfielder Brianna Pinto (NTH Tophat) and forward Sophia Smith (Real Colorado), all high school seniors -- made the final cut.

The 17-year-old Smith, recently named 2017 U.S. Soccer Young Female Player of the Year, is the youngest player on the squad.

Smith, Pinto and Grima were born in 2000, making them eligible for the 2020 U-20 World Cup as well.

Six players were born in 1998, the cut-off year for the 2018 U-20 World Cup, and 11 were born in 1999, in addition to the three 2000s.

“We’re always talking about finding the correct balance between development and winning," said Klimkova. "Of course, we always want to win, but we also want to create an environment for the players so that they can develop to their maximum potential. Continued development also means winning, especially when we get to the World Cup qualifying tournament."

The USA faces Nicaragua (Jan. 19), Jamaica (Jan. 21) and Mexico (Jan. 23) in the first round at the 2018 Concacaf Women’s U-20 Championship in Trinidad & Tobago from which three teams will advance to the U-20 Women's World Cup in France (Aug. 5-24).

Defenders Tierna Davidson and Kiara Pickett, midfielder Savannah DeMelo and forward Ashley Sanchez were part of the USA's 2015 Concacaf Women’s U-20 Championship-winning team. DeMelo and Sanchez played in the 2016 World Cup in Papua New Guinea.

U.S. U-20 women's national team
GOALKEEPERS (2): Laurel Ivory (Virginia; Surfside, Fla.; 5/0), Amanda McGlynn (Virginia Tech; Jacksonville, Fla.; 2/0).
DEFENDERS (7): Tierna Davidson (Stanford; Menlo Park, Calif.; 6/0), Naomi Girma (California Thorns FC; 6/0; San Jose, Calif.), Tara McKeown (USC; Mission Viejo, Calif.; 11/0), Zoe Morse (Virginia; East Lansing, Mich.; 9/0), Kiara Pickett (Stanford; Santa Barbara, Calif.; 2/0), Isabel Rodriguez (Ohio State; Canton, Mich.; 8/0), Karina Rodriguez (UCLA; Torrance, Calif.; 3/0).
MIDFIELDERS (5): Samantha Coffey (Boston College; Sleepy Hollow, N.Y.; 7/1), Savannah DeMelo (USC; Bellflower, Calif.; 23/4), Jaelin Howell (Real Colorado; Windsor, Colo.; 12/0), Brianna Pinto (NTH Tophat; Durham, N.C.; 9/0), Viviana Villacorta (UCLA; Lawndale, Calif.; 10/1).
FORWARDS (6): Abigail Kim (California; Vashon, Wash.; 11/3), Civana Kuhlmann (Stanford; Littleton, Colo.; 12/8), Ashley Sanchez (UCLA; Monrovia, Calif.; 20/6), Sophia Smith (Real Colorado; Windsor, Colo.; 11/8), Taryn Torres (Virginia; Frisco, Texas; 3/1), Kelsey Turnbow (Santa Clara; Scottsdale, Ariz.; 8/2).

At the World Cup qualifying tournament, the USA was drawn into Group B and will open on Jan. 19 against Nicaragua, face Jamaica on Jan. 21 and finish group play against Mexico on Jan. 23. Group A is comprised of host Trinidad & Tobago, Canada, Costa Rica and Haiti. Each group’s top two finishers advance to the semifinals, whose winners along with the victor of the third-place game earn berths to the 2018 U-20 Women’s World Cup in France (Aug. 5-24).

The USA has qualified for all eight previous biennial U-20 Women’s World Cups and lifted the titles in 2002, 2008 and 2012. It finished in fourth place in 2016, after which Klimkova replaced Coach Michelle French.

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