Photo by John Dorton/ISIPhotos.com
By DAN KARELL
For the first time in 2014 the U.S. Under-17 Men’s National Team are heading abroad for an international tournament, the Aegean Cup.
Head coach Richie Williams has selected a 20-man squad for the Aegean Cup (Jan. 20-25), taking place in Turkey, featuring 16 players from the U.S. Soccer residency, two players in academies abroad, and two players from the 99′ class. Placed in Group B with France, Scotland, and Norway, the U.S. U-17s are hoping to build off their Nike International Friendly’s title that they won last month in dramatic fashion.
First off the ability to get three international games is great for our group, for our team just to get experience,” Williams told U.S. Soccer. “International experience against good teams is the number one reason why we travel to these tournaments.
“Secondly, being in this tournament, we want to go and play well. We want the team to do well and we want the team to be successful at the same time. It’s a great tournament to achieve all these things. I’m not going to measure it as winning one game vs. winning three games as being successful or not. We’re just looking to get to Turkey, get some training, play three very competitive games and play well. Hopefully that will make for good results also.”
The tournament, which has been won by France in each of the last four years, is big for Williams because it gives him and his players a chance to challenge themselves against some of the best players in their age group in Europe.
“It gives us the ability to play teams from different parts of the world,” Williams said. “In this case, three European teams that we don’t get a chance to play all the time. We get to see their style of play, how their teams implement their style and again, just the experience in terms of playing these teams, which will help our guys develop and help our team develop. That will lead to being successful in [U-17] World Cup qualifying next year. We wouldn’t see these European teams in qualifying, but hopefully we qualify for the World Cup and there’s a chance we see these teams again.”
As mentioned above, Williams called in two players in the class of 1999 into the 20-man squad after being impressed with them in camps within the last six months. With Danny Barbir of Manchester City and Joshua Perez at Fiorentina unable to join the U.S. squad, Williams selected U.S. U-15 defender Edwin Lara (San Jose Earthquakes) and midfielder Nicolas Nicholas Taitague (Richmond Strikers) to take their places.
“Edwin has been in with us from day one. He’s a left back who’s done very well for us over the last six months. We think he, as a younger player, has developed physically ahead of some of the other ‘99s, and he’s helped us over the last six months. Nick is the other ’99. He came with us to Mexico back in August. He’s done very well with the ‘99s. He’s one of their best players. He can play as an attacking midfielder; he plays out wide as a number 11 and is a very good talent that we think can help our team.”
The last time the U.S. U-17s took part in the Aegean Cup was in 2012, where they failed to make it out of the group stage. Williams and his squad will be hoping that history won’t repeat itself, and that their recent run of form, with plenty of goals coming from Joe Gallardo and Haji Wright, can help propel the U.S. into either the final or third-place game.
Here’s a look at the full U.S. Under-17 MNT roster for the Aegean Cup:
GOALKEEPERS (2): Carlos Avilez (FC Dallas Academy; Dallas, Texas), Will Pulisic (Richmond Strikers; Mechanicsville, Va.)
DEFENDERS (6): Hugo Arellano (Chivas USA Academy; Norwalk, Calif.), Tanner Dieterich (unattached, Tenn.), Edwin Lara (unattached; San Leandro, Calif.), John Nelson (Internationals; Medina, Ohio), Matthew Olosunde (New York Red Bulls Academy; Trenton, N.J.), Alexis Velela (San Diego Surf; San Diego, Calif.)
MIDFIELDERS (7): Eric Calvillo (Real So Cal; Palmdale, Calif.), Luca de la Torre (Fulham; San Diego, Calif.), Thomas McCabe (PDA; South Orange, N.J.), Logan Panchot (St. Louis, Mo.; St. Louis Scott Gallagher Missouri), Christian Pulisic (PA Classics; Hershey, Pa.), Nicholas Taitague (Richmond Strikers; Midlothian, Va.), Devin Vega (San Antonio Scorpions; San Antonio, Texas)
FORWARDS (5): Pierre Da Silva (New York Soccer Club; Port Chester, N.Y.), Orrin McKinze Gaines (Lonestar SC; Austin, Texas), Joe Gallardo (Monterrey FC; San Diego, Calif.) Elijah Rice (Chicago Magic PSG; Highland Park, Ill.), Haji Wright (LA Galaxy Academy; Los Angeles, Calif.)
What do you think of this squad? Think that the U.S. Under-17s can compete at this year’s tournament? Impressed by their recent run of form?
Share your thoughts below.