While the US Men’s National Team is on a momentary World Cup qualification break following their four-point performance against Honduras and Panama, the U-17 Men’s National Team is gearing up for a three-match bout in 2017 CONCACAF Championship play.
Beginning with a game against the Jamaica U-17 team on Sunday, the US U-17’s will play three matches in six days down in Panama City, including against Mexico and El Salvador. Together, the four international U-17 teams make up Group C, one of three groups in the North and South American tournament known as the CONCACAF Championship. The top two teams from each group will advance to the qualification stage of the tournament, from which only two of the six remaining teams will advance to the final.
Aside from acting as a one of the most well-defined scouting opportunities for MLS teams and even top clubs around the world, and alongside the international and individual prestige the tournament brings to the winning country and its players, the U-17 CONCACAF Championship moreover acts as a qualification stage for the U-17 FIFA World Cup. In the classification stage of the CONCACAF tournament, when just six teams remain, only two teams will advance to the final match. However, the top four teams will all qualify for this October’s 2017 FIFA U-17 World Cup in India, which is really what makes this tournament such a big deal.
As easy as it is to dismiss the US’s U-17 side as little more than a child’s play version of the US’s senior national team, and perhaps therefore undeserving of fan attention, it is worthwhile to point out how many US stars had originally found their footing on the U-17 team. It’d be a shame to forget that both DaMarcus Beasley and the 2014-snubbed Landon Donovan – a player who, by the way, holds the USMNT record for most career international goals as well as assists – originally helped lead their U-17 squad to a fourth-place finish at the 1999 FIFA U-17 World Cup in New Zealand.
Since then, United States has seen many more of its senior-team World Cup starters track their international roots back to the U-17 squad, including players like Kyle Beckerman, Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley, Omar Gonzalez, and of course the rising 18-year-old star Christian Pulisic. While not every selection on the current 20-player roster for the US’s U-17 squad is guaranteed to make a splash down the road in international (or even professional) play, recent history apparently tells us that this CONCACAF Championship is a relatively telling window into the future of the USMNT.
More than that, if the U-17 team is foretelling of potential USMNT top players, it might be safe to assume that this year’s U-17 CONCACAF squad also hints at the increasing skill and international attention of the MLS. From the 20-man roster, four players are what the MLS calls its “Homegrown Players” – AKA players that were signed directly by a club instead of being subjected to the MLS Super Draft, barring that the player has been a member of that club’s youth academy team for at least a year.
Setting aside future prospects, the U-17 team is unarguably exciting in a here-and-now type of way as well. Beginning with Sunday’s match against Jamaica at 11:30 a.m. ET, the US U-17 MNT will look to take another step toward CONCACAF glory, and moreover a berth into the 2017 FIFA U-17 World Cup in India this autumn.
With young teams packed with hopeful athletes looking to make a name for themselves, this tournament is sure to make for a good show.