42717_isi_hackworthjohn_usmntu17cbl041517177 Casey Brooke Lawson/isiphotos.com
U.S. Youth National Teams

U-17s and U-20s Deliver Results, Show Real Progress

Last night's U.S. U-17 victory over Mexico made it two in a row for American youth teams facing off with El Tri in World Cup qualifiers. ASN columnist Brian Sciaretta puts those wins in perspective below.
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
April 27, 2017
9:00 AM

JOHN HACKWORTH'S U.S. U-17 TEAM put on a very solid display of soccer Wednesday night to defeat archrival Mexico 4-3 in an important World Cup qualifier. Results at the youth stage can be misleading but these American youngsters deserve credit for how they won.

It was not a perfect performance. There were defensive errors and the team struggled to close out the game in the final five minutes when Mexico scored one and pressed hard for the equalizer. But for the first 85 minutes of the game, there was absolutely no doubt as to which was the better team.

Mexico scored the game’s opening goal early when a through-ball spit the United States defense. That lead did not last long, however, as Josh Sargent took over in what would be a man of the match performance.

The Missouri native equalized with the best goal of the game when he took a pass from Blaine Ferri and broke through the Mexican defense singlehandedly before finishing with ease. He then put the United States on top finishing off his own rebound for a 2-1 lead.

With the game tied 2-2 in the second half, Ferri gave the United States a lead it would not relinquish with a goal from distance.

And the final American goal came when Sargent led a lethal counterattack before playing Ayomide Akinola into the box. The Toronto FC product then capitalized with a perfect finish on his first touch to give the U.S. team a 4-2 lead in the 83rd minute.

Here are a few thoughts on the game

U.S. youth teams defeating El Tri

It's dangerous to draw conclusions after one game but even when putting things into the bigger picture, Wednesday's result is part of an impressive run for American youth soccer.

Six weeks ago the United States U-20 team defeated Mexico in a World Cup qualifier for the first time in 29 years. Days later, the Americans defeated Honduras to win its first-ever CONCACAF title at that age group.

Wednesday’s win was the U.S. U-17's first-ever over Mexico in a World Cup qualifier.

The United States has had impressive wins over Mexico on the senior level during the past two decades but Mexico has always been the benchmark. There is no denying that Mexico has a much longer history in the game and has more overall financial investment in the sport—including in developing talent.

But the United States is outplaying Mexico right now at the youth levels. When the U-20 team defeated Mexico, El Tri didn’t even muster a shot on goal and the U.S. team thoroughly out-possessed and out played their rivals. The U-17 team was on another level technically, athletically, and tactically.

This U-17 team is ascending

This U-17 team lost decisively to Mexico last August in Mexico City—by a lopsided score of 6-3. But things started to change quickly and in the Nike Friendlies people began to take notice. In that tournament in Florida, the U.S. team swept Brazil, Portugal, and Turkey by a combined score of 15-2.

That momentum has continued in 2017 and now it looks it will be the team to beat in CONCACAF. Credit here should go to head coach John Hackworth who seems to have selected and built up a squad that has great chemistry and plays a very attractive style of soccer.

This is no small feat. Just two short years ago, the U-17 team featured Christian Pulisic, Tyler Adams, Josh Perez, Haji Wright, and Luca de la Torre—but barely qualified for the World Cup. After a loss to Jamaica in the group stages, the Yanks needed to win a rematch against Jamaica in a play-in game to qualify for the World Cup. It only managed to prevail in a shootout (where the U.S. fell behind after Pulisic missed his kick). Then at the World Cup, it was terribly outplayed in the group stages.

While this team might not have anyone at Pulisic's talent level, it is a much better team and the chemistry is far superior.

Of course there are areas of concern and no U-17 team is ever a complete package. This team looked vulnerable in the backline a few times and Mexico made them pay. If Hackworth is able make improvements towards the World Cup, this team can certainly be dangerous.

Sargent and others look pro ready

Josh Sargent has been the best player in the tournament so far. Like many others on this team, he will be facing a decision on the next step in his career. Clubs in Germany and the Netherlands are after him and he recently traveled to Europe to train with several teams. He also has the potential to sign with Sporting Kansas City on a homegrown deal, but it's worth mentioning that Sporting has never been among the better MLS teams in terms of playing young homegrown talent (see Erik Palmer-Brown). With Sargent playing the way he is right now, however, he looks likely to head to Europe when he turns 18 early next year 

Others on the U17 squad are facing the same dilemma: Some will choose MLS, some will opt for Europe, and others will head to college.

Some are already signed for clubs. Andrew Carleton is with Atlanta United and Christopher Durkin is on D.C. United's books. The MLS route can be successful: FC Dallas has done a great job with Kellyn Acosta; Tyler Adams is thriving with the New York Red Bulls; and Real Salt Lake's Justen Glad is a key component of that team.

The most important takeaway from Wednesday's game is that the development pipeline appears to be working. Mechanisms such as MLS academies, homegrown signing rules, the improved U.S. Soccer Development Academy, a stabilized USL (in partnership with MLS), and more youth national teams for the U-16 and U-19 levels are now finally starting to bear fruit.

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