by Jason Gatties, Guest Contributor (Craven Cottage US)
The United States U-20's fizzled in Egypt. Luckily, we have the U-17's to look forward to. It all kicks October 26th versus Spain (ESPN 2 & ESPN360.com) at 2:00 pm Eastern. Can the U-17's accomplish what the U-20's couldn't? I think they can, although it's not like that will be all that hard to do.
Following the youth teams is not easy at all because there is so little coverage of this age group. It doesn't help when head coach Wilmer Cabrera leaves off three top players with very little explanation. Sebastian Lletge, Charlie Renken & Joseph Gyau are all missing and some people feel Wilmer had a "falling out" with these players, which makes little sense to me. These three players left the residency program earlier this year in favor of joining academy programs in Germany & England. Apparently, bettering yourself leads to getting left off the U-17 World Cup roster. Pretty petty if you ask me. Since the youngsters mentioned above will not be part of this team, I won't waste another moment on them (thanks Wilmer) but keep an eye out because in my opinion, these kids are the truly the future of U.S. Soccer.
Thankfully, we do have talent left on the team. Let's start with Jack McInerney. The 5'8" forward lead the U.S. in scoring during last summer's CONCACAF U-17 Championship, which was held in Mexico (and canceled early due to the piggy flu outbreak). The 17 year old from Georgia is very quick and creative. When Jack entered the residency program, he wasn't highly touted but he surely made his mark in Mexico, scoring five goals in three group games. With these kids heading to Europe rather than College, expect Jack to be the next to "jump ship". Luckily for him, he didn't take off before this tournament and Wilmer included him on the World Cup roster.
Shall we stick with the forwards? How about Stefan Jerome. I'm willing to bet most of you who follow U.S. soccer have heard of this kid. He's 5'11" tall, so he has three inches on Jack and he calls Davie, Florida home. Stefan joined the residency program in 2007 and he reminds me of a cross between Charlie Davies & Eddie Johnson (the good part of EJ). He is a real attacking forward, which is something I love to see, especially at the youth level. He hasn't received as much "European attention" as the other kids I have mentioned, but playing professionally somewhere is in this kid's future. Call me crazy, but I would like to see him go the MLS route, much like Jozy did. I'd like to see how he stacks up against current MLS defenders before he moves on to a higher level. And hell, it would give everyone here a chance to see what he can do as to me, he's perhaps the most exciting youth player in our system.
Midfield? Not yet. Let's go directly between the pipes. Tony Meola, Kasey Keller, Brad Friedel, Marcus Hahnemann, Brad Guzan, Tim Howard...Earl Edwards. 6'3", 205 pounds of imposing superstar in the making. Brazil will host the 2014 FIFA World Cup and I'm not sure if Tim Howard or Brad Guzan will be our starter five years from now, but I believe I know who the understudy will be. He's like a smaller version of Gooch...playing goal keeper. He gave up only two goals during the group stage of the CONCACAF U-17 Championship and if he performs well in Nigeria, big clubs will take notice. By far my favorite player on this team. I'm not even real sure who I would compare him too, he's in a class all by himself. If for no other reason, please tune in . He plays for Nomads SC. Know who else played for Nomads SC??? Try Frankie Hejduk & Steve Cherundolo.
Midfield? Yes, let's go. A theme with this group seems to be "attack". Luis Gil is a quick 16 year old who loves to do just that. He scored versus Cuba during the CONCACAF U-17 Championship and not only offers us an attacking option, the kid can play a little defense as well. In fact, it was his defense that I was most impressed with during the U-17 tournament this summer. This kid is red hot right now, with interest coming from Arsenal as well as a few clubs in Spain. If he can perform well on the world's stage this week, he very well join Sebastian Lletge, Charlie Renken & Joseph Gyau in Europe later this winter.
The United States are in Group B with Spain, Malawi & UAE. Spain are probably the favorites to top the group (I have no clue, maybe Malawi are the bomb in U-17 circles) but I feel the U.S. have a legit shot at advancing. I'm predicting a Quarterfinal appearance but just reaching the knockout stage is a nice experience. ESPN U & ESPN360.com will offer English language coverage while Galavision will fill your Spanish language needs. If you want to watch the other countries involved, ESPN360.com is your best source. Don't sleep on these kids, this tournament will be fun.
FIFA U-17 World Cup: USA Schedule
Monday, October 26th- vs Spain (2:00 pm ESPN U, ESPN360.com & Galavision)
Thursday, October 29th- vs Malawi (11:00 am ESPN U & ESPN360.com)
Sunday, November 1st- vs UAE (10:00 am ESPN U, ESPN360.com & Galavision)