“Our goal is to come here and win the World Cup.” That’s what U.S. U17 coach Richie Williams told reporters via conference call today from Chile before his team open U17 World Cup play Saturday afternoon against four time U17 World Cup Champion Nigeria.
Williams started with the one day at a time, try to win our group comments expected of a coach in this situation before switching gears to say, “our goal, just like any team here should be their goal, we don’t go to any tournament saying we want to come in second place, our goal is to come here and win the World Cup.”
Williams’ remarks were in stark contrast to those of his boss Jurgen Klinsmann prior to the 2014 World Cup when Klinsmann answered, “it is not possible,” when asked if the Americans could capture the title.
While Klinsmann was giving an honest, and realistic answer, it was not unanimously well received, with many questioning whether the German legend understood the American mindset.
Former U.S. national team player Williams has no such difficulty, adding, “if any team says any team different they shouldn’t be here.”
That said, the coach is well aware of the challenge facing the team, starting with getting out of a potentially very difficult Group A that includes Nigeria, home nation Chile, and Croatia. Williams has kept faith with the group that got the U.S. back to the age group World Cup after the Young Yanks missed out in 2013, including 19 of the players who represented the U.S. at CONCACAF Qualifying on his 21 man roster.
If this U.S. team is to get anywhere near to winning the tournament, or even getting out of its group, Williams will need a big performance from Borussia Dortmund youngster Christian Pulisic.
Calling Pulisic “a super talented player,” Williams said, “we expect him to lead us in the attack, to score goals for us, set up goals for us, and just to be Christian.” Towering West Bromwich Albion defender Daniel Barbir will likely team with New York Cosmos property Alexis Velela and should give the U.S. a solid defensive foundation.
The American midfield could be a strong point and Williams has good players like Tyler Adams, who can also be played at fullback, Luca de la Torre and Alejandro Zendejas available to partner with Pulisic in the midfield in front of a high scoring front three of Haji Wright, Joe Gallardo and Josh Perez.
While United States men’s soccer has been shrouded in negativity of late, following a run of poor results that included a fourth place finish in the Gold Cup, a dispiriting loss to Mexico in the CONCACAF Cup and a similarly poor effort by the U23 team in a loss to Honduras that makes Olympic qualification a much trickier proposition, Williams is confident that his group will not feel any additional pressure.
“I don’t think so, “ Williams said, citing the team’s youth. “First of all they’re young, so they might not be influenced as much just due to lack of experience.” “Obviously we’ve gotten some bad results with the 23’s and the senior team, but there’s ups and downs, and they (the U17’s) might be too young to understand.” “ I don’t think,” the coach concluded, “that’s going to affect them in a negative way going into the World Cup.”
This is the 15th time that the USA has advanced to a FIFA World Youth Championship or World Cup at this age group. The Yanks best performance was a fourth-place finish in 1999 with a team that included future U.S. MNT players Landon Donovan, DaMarcus Beasley, Oguchi Onyewu, Bobby Convey and Kyle Beckerman.
The legacy of that team remains the standard for U.S. Youth teams and provides a reminder that wins and losses are not the only, or even the most important, type of results to come from an age group World Cup.
Here is the U.S. schedule.
U.S. vs. Nigeria on Oct. 17 (4 p.m. ET, FOX Sports 2 / Telemundo) in Santiago.
U.S. vs Croatia on Oct. 20 ( (4 p.m. ET, FS2 /NBC Universo) in Vina Del Mar.
U.S. vs Chile on Oct. 23 (7 p.m. ET, FS2 / /NBC Universo).
GOALKEEPERS (3): Eric Lopez (LA Galaxy II; Westminster, Calif.), William Pulisic (Richmond United; Mechanicsville, Va.), Kevin Silva (Players Development Academy; Bethlehem, Pa.)
DEFENDERS (8): Tyler Adams (New York Red Bulls II; Wappinger Falls, N.Y.),Hugo Arellano (LA Galaxy Academy; Norwalk, Calif.), Danny Barbir (West Bromwich Albion; Allentown, Penn.), Tanner Dieterich (Real Salt Lake Academy; Nashville, Tenn.), John Nelson (Internationals; Medina, Ohio), Matthew Olosunde (New York Red Bulls Academy; Trenton, N.J.), Auston Trusty (Philadelphia Union Academy; Media, Pa.), Alexis Velela (New York Cosmos; San Diego, Calif.)
MIDFIELDERS (5): Eric Calvillo (Real So Cal; Palmdale, Calif.), Luca de la Torre (Fulham F.C. San Diego, Calif.), Thomas McCabe (Players Development Academy; South Orange, N.J.), Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund; Hershey, Pa.), Alejandro Zendejas (FC Dallas; El Paso, Tex.)
FORWARDS (5): Pierre da Silva (Orlando City SC Academy; Port Chester, N.Y.), Joe Gallardo (C.F. Monterrey; San Diego, Calif.), Josh Perez (Unattached; La Habra, Calif.), Brandon Vazquez (Club Tijuana; Chula Vista, Calif.), Haji Wright (New York Cosmos; Los Angeles, Calif.)