Raphael Wicky, a former Swiss national team player who coached youth academy teams at FC Thun, Servette, FC Basel, was named U.S. U-17 boys national team coach in March. His playing career, which ended after his 2018 season with Chivas USA, included stints in his native Switzerland, Atletico Madrid and the Bundesliga.
Assistant coach Ante Jazic is a former Canadian national team player who began his 18-year pro playing career in Croatia, from where his parents hail. He also played in Austria and Russia before finishing his playing career with eight seasons in MLS, with the LA Galaxy and Chivas USA.
Upon retiring after the 2013 MLS season, Jazic worked for the Canadian federation, running identification camps for the U-15 national team. He joined Arkansas’ Little Rock Rangers Soccer Club as a technical advisor in 2016 and became its Director of Soccer Operations and Youth Academy in September 2017.
Assistant coach Barry Pauwels arrived from Belgium in 2018 to take charge of U.S. Soccer coaching schools.
Assistant coach Matt Pilkington, an England native who came to the USA to play at George Washington University, is New York City FC U-19 academy coach. He was previously Technical Director at Downtown United SC after coaching at Bethesda-Olney, whose alum include Gedion Zelalem and Jeremy Ebobisse.
Goalkeeper coach Mike McGinty is the former St. Louis University head coach and a frequent U.S. youth national assistant coach. He served as an assistant coach at the University of Virginia in 1999-2009 and at his alma mater, Wake Forest (1995-1996).
The most important measure of a U-17 program is the number full national team careers it helps launch, which in this team's case we won’t know until further into the future. Although three players from Coach John Hackworth’s 2017 U-17 World Cup squad have already been capped: Timothy Weah, Sergino Dest and Josh Sargent.
As far as results go, reaching the second round would be a minimum expectation. Two years ago marked the first time the USA won a knockout-stage game at the biennial U-17 World Cup since the Landon Donovan-led USA finished fourth place in 1999. In 2017, after its 5-0 win over Paraguay in the round of 16, Hackworth’s team exited in the quarterfinals with a 4-1 loss to eventual champ England.But what will drive significant scrutiny to the USA at this U-17 World Cup is the degree of skepticism about the overall state of U.S. Soccer.
After the USA failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia, there was optimism to be found in the youth national team program. The USA reached the quarterfinals of both the 2017 U-17 and U-20 World Cups, the U-20s won back-to-back Concacaf U-20 Championships and again reached the quarterfinals at the 2019 Under-20 World Cup, and the signing by professional clubs of youth national team players reached an all-time high.
And this U-17 World Cup marks the first world championship since every youth national team head coach who had been in place before Carlos Cordeiro’s election as U.S. Soccer president departed. Wicky, who was hired in March 2019 to take over the U-17s, is the only full-time head coach for a program whose seven teams haven’t been fully staffed since late 2017, just before the leadership change from Sunil Gulati to Cordeiro.
Even a successful run by these youngsters won't allay deep concerns about how U.S. Soccer has failed to manage a fully operational youth national team program, but a disappointing performance will fuel even more skepticism and disillusion about U.S. Soccer leadership.
THE SQUAD. Those lucky to have watched previous U-17 World Cups got early looks at the likes Christian Pulisic, Jozy Altidore, Eddie Johnson, Landon Donovan, DaMarcus Beasley, Taylor Twellman, Tim Howard and Claudio Reyna, whose son, Gio Reyna, is one of most promising players on the 2019 squad.
In years and decades past, the USA's coaches often pointed out the advantage opponents had because their players were already in a professional environment. Wicky's players have more pro experience than any previous U.S. team.
The move to sign U-17 players earlier to pro contracts follows the disbanding of the U-17 Residency Program, which had been in place in Bradenton, Florida, since 1999.
Gianluca Busio of Sporting Kansas City has 29 MLS games under his belt.
USA U-17 2019 World Cup roster
No. Player (club/hometown) U-17 caps/goals
21- Aaron Cervantes (Orange County SC; Chino Hills, Calif.) 4/0
1-Damian Las (Fulham/ENG; Norridge, Ill.) 19/0
12-Chituru Odunze (Leicester City/ENG; London, England) 7/0
15-Sebastian Anderson (Colorado Rapids; Highlands Ranch, Colo.) 4/0
13-Adam Armour (North Carolina FC academy; Cary, N.C.) 18/0
3-George Bello (Atlanta United FC; Douglasville, Ga.) 8/1
4-Nicolas Carrera (FC Dallas academy; Frisco, Texas;) 3/0
14-Tayvon Gray (New York City FC academy; Bronx, N.Y.) 17/0
5-Kobe Hernandez-Foster (LA Galaxy academy; Los Angeles, Calif.) 23/3
2-Joe Scally (New York City FC; Lake Grove, N.Y.) 19/1
18-Maximilian Dietz (Freiburg/GER; Frankfurt, Germany) 2/0
17-Ethan Dobbelaere (Seattle Sounders academy; Seattle, Wash.) 3/0
8-Bryang Kayo (Orange County SC; Poolesville, Md.) 8/1
6-Daniel Leyva (Seattle Sounders FC; Las Vegas, Nev.) 7/0
16-Adam Saldana (LA Galaxy academy; Panorama City, Calif.) 25/2
7-Gianluca Busio (Sporting Kansas City; Greensboro, N.C.) 15/7
20-Andres Jasson (New York City FC academy; Greenwich, Conn.) 11/1
19-Alfonso Ocampo-Chavez (Seattle Sounders FC; Merced, Calif.) 24/9
9-Ricardo Pepi (FC Dallas; McKinney, Texas) 15/5
10-Gio Reyna (Borussia Dortmund/GER; Bedford, N.Y.) 15/8
11-Griffin Yow (D.C. United; Clifton, Va.) 12/7
Gianluca Busio (Sporting Kansas City) 29 games (1,076 minutes)
Daniel Leyva (Seattle Sounders) 6 (413)
Sebastian Anderson (Colorado Rapids) 6 (317)
George Bello (Atlanta United) 3 (177)
Alfonso Ocampo-Chavez (Seattle Sounders) 3 (82)
Ricardo Pepi (FC Dallas) 7 (71)
Griffin Yow (D.C. United) 2 (59)
George Bello Atlanta United 2
Griffin Yow D.C. United
Sebastian Anderson Colorado Springs Switchbacks
Kobe Hernandez-Foster Los Angeles Galaxy II
Adam Saldana Los Angeles Galaxy II
Adam Armour North Carolina FC
Nicolas Carrera North Texas SC
Ricardo Pepi North Texas SC
Aaron Cervantes Orange County SC
Bryang Kayo Orange County SC/Loudoun United
Gianluca Busio Swope Park Rangers
Ethan Dobbelaere Tacoma Defiance
Daniel Leyva Tacoma Defiance
Alfonso Ocampo-Chavez Tacoma Defiance
THE USA's GROUP D OPPONENTS.
The top two finishers in each of the six groups and the four best third-place finishers advance to the round of 16.
Sunday, Oct. 27 USA-Senegal in Cariacia. FS1, Telemundo
SENEGAL, which is making its U-17 World Cup debut, failed to reach the knockout stage of the African U-17 Championship but replaced runner-up Guinea as a World Cup qualifier after Guinea was disqualified for using two overage players. Senegal itself then came under scrutiny when it dropped eight players for falsifying their ages. Senegal had lost, 2-1, to Guinea after ties with Morocco (1-1) and Cameroon (0-0). Cameroon won the African title.
Wednesday, Oct. 30 USA vs. Japan in Cariacia. FS2, Universo.
JAPAN, which reached the round of 16 two years ago, qualified as Asian champion. It beat Australia, 3-1, in the semifinals and Tajikstan, 1-0, in the final. Japan's best U-17 World Cup performance came with a quarterfinal run in 2011. The USA has faced Japan twice at the U-17 World Cup with Japan winning both group-stage games, in 1995 and 2001.
Saturday, Nov. 2 USA vs. Netherlands in Goiania. FS2, Universo.
NETHERLANDS won the 2018 and 2019 U-17 European Championships. In the 2019 Euros, the Dutch beat Belgium, 3-0, in the quarterfinals, Spain, 1-0, in the semifinals, and Italy, 4-2, in the final. The Dutch return to the U-17 World Cup after failing to qualify for the four previous tournaments. In three U-17 World Cup appearances, the Dutch finished in third place in 2005, and failed to advance out of the group stage in 2009 and 2011. The Netherlands and the USA have met once at a U-17 World Cup, with Dutch winning, 2-0, in a 2005 quarterfinal clash.
• Defending champion England, which beat the USA, 4-1, in the 2019 U-17 World Cup quarterfinals, failed to qualify for this year's U-17 World Cup.
• The USA and host Brazil hold the record for most U-17 World Cup appearances, each having qualified for 17 of the 18 editions. Brazil, which has won the title three times, finished third in 2017. The USA's best finish was fourth place in 1999.