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U.S. Soccer and an Age-Group Success?

May 26th, 2017 · No Comments · Arsenal, Fifa, Football, France, Italy, London 2012, Rio Olympics, soccer, Spain, UAE

In 1999, a U.S. team led by Landon Donovan got to the semifinals of the Fifa Under 17 Championship, in New Zealand.

The young Americans played Australia to a 2-2 draw but lost the shootout 7-6 when Kenny Cutler missed his penalty and Oz’s Joshua Kennedy converted. Brazil won the tournament and the Yanks finished fourth but it seemed like the U.S. had announced its arrival on the global stage, in terms of age-group teams.

Turns out, that semifinal run has not been bettered in U.S. soccer global age-group play — whether it is the U17s, the U20s or the U23/Olympic teams.

But something potentially interesting is going on right now in Korea at the 2017 Fifa U20 World Cup.

The U.S. U20s, led by a precocious, 17-year-old forward named Josh Sargent and by a fine goalkeeper named Jonathan Klinsmann (yes, son of Jurgen), need only a point from their final group game, versus Saudi Arabia in Daejon on Sunday, to secure a place in the Round of 16.

It would represent one of the first chances in a decade for a U.S. side to make a deep run in an age-group tournament.

Looking back at U.S. age-group history, of late, makes for doleful reading, in the main middling results — when, that is, the Yanks have managed to qualify out of Concacaf, and several times they have not.


–The U17s, have qualified for the World Cup in India later this year after finishing second, behind Mexico, in Concacaf qualifying. Sargent, whose club is something named Scott Gallagher Missouri, is the key guy here, too. The U.S. Soccer Federation has put together a a little “who is this guy?” piece here.

John Hackworth’s side has a chance to do something, in India, in October. Which would be unusual, since the days of Landon, Oguchi Onyewu, Bobby Convey and DaMarcus Beasley in 1999.

In 2015, the Yanks qualified, and boasted Christian Pulisic on their team, and got to the quarterfinals by beating Colombia 1-0 only to lose 6-5 in a shootout versus Croatia.

In 2013, the U.S. didn’t qualify at all for the event in the UAE, losing 3-1 to Honduras in the Concacaf quarterfinals.

In Mexico 2011, the Yanks were second in their group then were crushed 4-0 by Germany in the Round of 16.

At Nigeria 2009, pretty much the same thing: Second in the group, out in the Round of 16, this time 2-1 by Italy.

–The U23s, or the Olympic team, as it is sometimes known, has in particular struggled. The Rio 2016 team coached by Jurgen Klinsmann’s protege Andreas Herzog won their group but lost 2-0 to Honduras in the Concacaf semifinals and were done. Only the finalists (Mexico, Honduras) advanced.

Caleb Porter’s London 2012 team also failed to get to the Olympics, going out in Concacaf group play after finishing behind El Salvador and Canada.

In 2008, the U.S. advanced to the Beijing Olympics with coach Piotr Nowak but was third in group play, behind Nigeria and the Netherlands, and was done.

In 2004, Mexico hosted the Concacaf qualifying and somehow finished second in its group, so the U.S., winner of the other group, faced the hosts in the semifinals, and a team that included Donovan, Convey, Beasley, Kyle Beckerman and Eddie Johnson was crushed 4-0 before 60,000 giddy Mexico fans in Guadalajara. Costa Rica and Mexico went to Athens.

The most significant Olympics performance for the U.S. came at Sydney, in 2000, when a team including Donovan, Brad Friedel, Tim Howard, Frankie Hejduk, Conor Casey, Peter Vagenas, Josh Wolff, Danny Califf, et al, as close to “loaded” as an American age-group side has ever been, won its group ahead of Cameroon, defeated Japan in a shootout to reach the semis … only to lose to Spain 3-1 and to Chile 2-0 in the bronze-medal match.

–The Americans qualified for the 2015 U20 tournament in New Zealand and finished second in their group behind Ukraine and defeated Colombia on a goal by Rubio Rubin but lost a shootout 6-5 to Serbia in the quarterfinals.

The U.S. qualified again, for Turkey 2013, but finished last in a tough group led by Spain, France and Ghana. The Yanks drew with France, which had Paul Pogba (now with Manchester United), Samuel Umtiti (Barcelona), Yaya Sanogo (Arsenal) and Lucas Digne (Barcelona).

The U.S. failed to qualify for the 2011 U20 tournament, in Colombia

At Egypt 2009, the Yanks were third in their group behind Germany and South Korea and went home.

And so it goes. Not much going on in age-group play for quite some time.

The U20 side currently one point from the Round of 16 in Korea, appears to have a chance to do as much as any of the age-group side since that 1999 U17 team in New Zealand.

This is the first U20 U.S. team to win the Concacaf championship, while qualifying, and in Korea it got a 94th-minute goal from Luca De La Torre to snatch a 3-3 tie with Ecuador, then defeated Senegal 1-0 on a goal by Sargent.

Tab Ramos, the little midfielder who played in three World Cups, coaches the team and by now he should know his business.

A victory over the Saudis would clinch the top place in Group F and set up a Round of 16 match with the runner-up from Group E — New Zealand or Vietnam. Finishing second would mean a collision with Mexico. A defeat could drop the Yanks into the best-third-place pool, and they probably would advance, with four points already in the books.

Anyway, they may be worth following, to see if they can do what Donovan and those U17s did in 1999, and make some noise on the age-group global level.




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