Liverpool's Figueroa excited for the U.S. U-17 team's future, happy to represent the USA
February 25, 2023
THE UNITED STATES U-17 national team has qualified for the World Cup later this year and is set to take on Mexico in the final of the CONCACAF Championships after a perfect record through six games. It’s been an impressive display and engine behind the team’s run is forward Keyrol Figueroa who has seven goals, so far. That outs him tied for the tournamant's Golden Boot.
Figueroa, 16, has come up at the biggest moments for the U.S. team including goals in the 1-0 win over Canada in the group stage, two goals against Guatemala in the definitive 5-3 win over Guatemala which clinched World Cup qualification, and then another goal in the 2-0 win over Canada in the semifinals.
A member of Liverpool’s U-18 team, Figueroa has lived up to expectations as the best pure No. 9 in the tournament.
“I am just enjoying every moment, and it's been a very good experience so far,” Figueroa told ASN from Guatemala. “I mean, this team has people from all over. So the fact that we've adapted and played as a team, as a unit, we should be proud of ourselves for that. We are a very special group. It's something that people should be looking forward to in the future.”
The U.S. team earned its spot at the 2023 U-17 World Cup thanks to Tuesday’s 5-3 win over Guatemala. The win was a true test for the American team and it was played in conditions that often challenge full professionals at the senior national team level. The game was played in Guatemala City in front of an extremely 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. After the U.S. team jumped out to a 2-0 lead, Guatemala raised their 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 or reach at 5-3.
Figueroa scored the team’s second and third goal of the game before being forced out due to dealing with a minor illness. But he felt that the win was true statement made by his team and he credits the captain Tyler Hall of Inter Miami 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. I think it all goes down to our captain.”
Now having been with Liverpool for nearly four years, Figueroa is now playing for the club’s U-18 team. The team keeps him busy with training, conditioning, games, and school. While clubs are never required to release players for youth national team events and Figueroa had only recently returned from injury, Liverpool was very cooperative with U.S. Soccer and they recognized the opportunity for their player.
But they also expected him to represent not just himself or the United States in Guatemala, they also wanted him to use the stage to represent the club as well.
“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 path which has brought him to representing the United States has been a long and winding road. He was born in Honduras to parents who are important to the country’s sports legacy. His mother Sandra Norales, represented Honduras internationally in handball. His father, Maynor Figueroa, is one of the country’s most important soccer players ever.
As a central defender, Maynor Figueroa has 181 caps for Honduras and has featured at two World Cups, one Olympics, and seven Gold Cups. For a long period he was the national team’s captain. At the club level, the elder Figueroa has played in Honduras, in England's Premier League with Wigan Athletic and Hull City, and in MLS with Colorado, Dallas, and Houston.
Born in Honduras, Keyrol Figueroa lived a big portion of his life in England and in the United States while his father played. A transformative moment happened when he was able to acquire his American citizenship around 2020. He remembers the moment he acquired American citizenship and it not only opened the door to him playing for the United States internationally, but it also held a deeper meaning to him.
“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.”
During his childhood, Figueroa has some treasured memories of watching his father play. One of his favorites 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 we able to go on the field and celebrate with Maynor.
The two share a tight bond and Keyrol has relied heavily on his father for advice – even for this tournament.
“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 while 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.”
“My dad has talked to me a lot about these types of competitions,” he added. “It's just something I want to prepare for - because there's going to be a lot of people coming after us. The USA carries a lot of pride. We have a big target on our back, but we've been doing so well.”
There is also the question about Figueroa’s decision to represent the United States instead of following in his father’s legendary footsteps 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 now that he is representing the United States, he has some big opportunities ahead in the coming year. There is the U-17 World Cup later in Peru this November and after that, there is the start of the U-20 cycle where he is likely to play a part. But everything starts on Sunday with the CONCACAF U-17 final against Mexico – Figueroa’s first international final.
Based on what he’s seen in Guatemala, he is optimistic for the future for both the players and the team.
“I'm happy to be on this team because I wouldn't be happy to be playing against this team, to be honest,” Figueroa said. “I'd hate to be playing against these guys. I believe in every single one of them. Every single player that our coaches bring in is a talent - a different talent, a different piece of the puzzle. The fact that these players have done so much to sacrifice to be here, I couldn't be prouder. I'm just happy that I'm on their side.”