The highlight of the U.S. team’s run to the final was the 5-3 quarterfinal win over Guatemala. The win was a true test for the Americans, and it was played in conditions that often challenge full professionals at the senior national team. Played in Guatemala City in front of an hostile crowd of roughly 15,000 people, the field conditions were poor, and the fans were loud and engaging in questionable conduct such as using laser pointers during the game.
It's rare for youth teams to play in such an environment, but this U.S. team showed maturity in its ability to consistently respond to pressure from the Guatemalan team. After the USA jumped to a 2-0 lead, Guatemala raised its game to cut it to 2-1. Then after it was 3-1, Guatemala responded again to make it 3-2, and again after it was 4-2 to make 4-3. Only in the 86th minute was the U.S. team able to put the game out of reach at 5-3.
Figueroa scored the team’s second and third goals and felt that the win was a major statement made by his team and he credits the captain Tyler Hall for the leadership.
“Before the game, we knew what we should expect, but we didn't think there was going to be that many people coming,” Figueroa explained. “We adapted well, obviously, and Guatemala gave us a new experience. It was really different. Maybe some players have never experienced something like that before and maybe some have. I know I haven't — for sure. But I was prepared for all occasions, and I scored two goals. I wanted to mentally prepare myself, but the captain Tyler prepared us too — mentally and physically because he knew that it was going to be a battle.”
Having joined Liverpool's youth program four years ago, Figueroa is now a member of the club’s U-18 team. While clubs are never required to release players for youth national team events and Figueroa had only recently returned from injury, Liverpool recognized the opportunity for Figueroa to go to the U-17 championship and was very cooperative with U.S. Soccer.
But Liverpool also expected him to represent not just himself or the United States at the U-17 Championships, but to represent the club as well in Guatemala.
“People in Liverpool just wanted the best for me,” Figueroa said. “They expected me to always put on a performance, and to always represent the badge. But after all, Liverpool is one of the biggest clubs in the world. I feel like I am representing them. Everyone there always loved the idea of me playing for the national team, so it was just great.”
The Concacaf U-17 Championship was a major introduction for Figueroa into the international game but it is something that also runs in his family. He was born in Honduras to parents who are important to the country’s sports legacy. His mother, Sandra Norales, represented the Honduran handball national team. His father, Maynor Figueroa, is one of the country’s most important soccer players ever.
As a central defender, Maynor Figueroa earned 181 caps for Honduras and featured at two World Cups, one Olympics, and seven Gold Cups – often serving as the team’s captain. At the club level, the elder Figueroa played in Honduras, in England's Premier League with Wigan Athletic and Hull City, and in MLS with Colorado, Dallas and Houston.
Keyrol Figueroa was also born in Honduras but lived most of his life in England and the United States in cities where his father played. A transformative moment happened when he was able to acquire his U.S. citizenship in 2020. It was important for him for reasons far beyond allowing him to represent the U.S. national team.
“I was obviously proud to have it,” Figueroa recalled. “Being a U.S. citizen is not something everyone can have. I know from the experiences that I've been through or my family's been through. Me being an American, I feel proud wear that badge on the shirt. Every time I play, I always play for the people that are behind me — the team, my family, my friends, whoever is there with me through the journey. Getting citizenship was a very proud day for me.”
Growing up, Figueroa often watched his father play. One of his favorite memories was attending the 2016 U.S. Open Cup final where his father helped FC Dallas to a 4-2 victory over the New England Revolution. Afterward, he and his brother were able to go on the field and celebrate.
With Keyrol following in his father’s footsteps, he has relied heavily on his father for advice. Even for U-17 championships, his father was reminding his son about how opponents will raise their intensity coming after the U.S. team.
“For the job that I want to do, play soccer, I think I'm probably the luckiest kid in the world,” the younger Figueroa said. “Having my dad, he's not only my mentor, but also a person I look up to. And the fact that he was playing the sport, it made it easier for me. If you're born into something like that, obviously you are going to play. But with me actually liking and enjoying the sport — trying to learn and get better every day, I thank my dad for that. It was hard not to become a soccer player in that type of family environment.”
There is also the question about Figueroa’s decision to represent the United States instead of Honduras where his father is still regarded as a legend. It is a big topic but one that Figueroa answers quickly.
“A lot of people who know me know that my dad played for Honduras,” Figueroa said. “He captained the country. A lot of people knew that. The fact that people didn't judge — this is what USA is all about. I feel like I'm wearing the right colors.”
And with the U-17 World Cup approaching this year followed by a U-20 cycle, and then an Olympic U-23 cycle, if Figueroa continues to progress, there is a chance he could be wearing these colors for a long time.