The United States U-17 men’s national team has its sights set on competing in the U-17 World Cup in Brazil later this year, but they must first get through the qualification stage through the U-17 CONCACAF Championship.
Newly hired head coach Raphaël Wicky is aware of the rigor and grittiness with which most CONCACAF teams play with but confidence is high within the camp that the team will qualify for the 17th time to one of the world’s most prestigious youth tournaments. Though he has just one training camp under his belt with his new team, Wicky knows his squad is arguably the most talented group of players competing in the tournament this year.
“We want to try, of course, to be dominant on the ball and off the ball,” Wicky told Mlssoccer.com via a conference call. “First of all, I want to see a team that works together in all phases of the game. When I was watching footage of this team, I saw that they work really hard and they have a lot of energy. This is a strength of the team, it’s a very positive point.” To his advantage, Wicky is also working with a group of players that hold an immense cumulative amount of professional experience for their age group.
Gianluca Busio will undoubtedly be one of the key players in this U.S. side as he has steadily cemented a first team place in one of Major League Soccer’s best franchises in Sporting Kansas City. With three goals and an assist in MLS already, Busio will be a central hub for most of the offensive creativity and fire power that comes out of the team’s midfield.
Though he lacks MLS experience, Seattle Sounders midfielder Danny Leyva’s performances in the United Soccer League Championship with the Tacoma Defiance have many U.S. fans excited for what is to come when he makes the jump to MLS. For Wicky’s side this month, Leyva will likely sit in deeper role in order to connect defense to offense through the midfield and allow Busio to remain further forward.
At the back, NYCFC duo Joe Scally and Tayvon Gray return to the squad after a strong showing at the Nike International Friendlies last November. Gray, who played as a holding midfielder in the November camp, is listed as a defender for this camp which likely means he will add depth at the center back position. Scally will return to his natural right back position to provide the side with lockdown defense and a threatening offensive presence down the right flank when needed.
A potential front three of Griffin Yow, Ricardo Pepi, and Alfonso Ocampo-Chavez all boast professional minutes across the USL League One, the USL Championship and MLS. Yow was another standout performer in November’s Nike International Friendlies while Pepi boasts four goals between his first two professional appearances for North Texas SC. Ocampo-Chavez joins the squad fresh off winning the Generation Adidas Cup’s Champions Division with the Seattle Sounders’ USSDA squad.
History, however, does not quite lean in favor of the United States as Mexico have won four of the last five U-17 CONCACAF Championships and are in search of a fourth consecutive title this year. Wicky, despite the minimal changes he has ben able to make to his squad, backs his side entirely to go far in this year’s tournament.
“We knew we weren’t going to come in here and change everything, because I don’t have that much time to train with them,” Wicky added in his interview with Mlssoccer.com. “The new things we want to bring in are pretty basic concepts or basic principles. So far, I’m very happy with what I’ve seen.”
Justin Sousa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JustinSousa99.