7-1 over Portugal, 5-1 versus Turkey, and 3-0 over Brazil! The U17 team coached by John Hackworth put a smile back on the collective face of U.S. Soccer by racking up those frankly astonishing results over the course of six days in Lakewood Ranch, Florida to claim the Nike International Friendlies.
Just two weeks ago when U.S. Soccer cut Jurgen Klinsmann loose failures at the various youth levels had played almost as much of a role in the axing as had the dispiriting losses to Mexico and Costa Rica in World Cup Qualifiers.
Hackworth, like Klinsmann’s replacement Bruce Arena, is in his second term at this job, returning to take control of the U17 side in 2015 after having been dismissed in 2007 to conclude a three-year stint. Hackworth was recalled by U.S. Soccer eight years later and Sunil Gulati will be hoping that Arena’s team can provide a few days like Hackworth’s youngsters just have.
The Nike Friendlies are just that, a series of friendlies and these results in no way assure that Arena or indeed his successor(s) will replicate these results at the senior level but with the scouts from all around the globe on hand and searching for the next Christian Pulisic the stakes were high and it is encouraging that the young Americans rose to the challenge.
U.S. soccer fans may be familiar with Andrew Carleton, the 16-year-old has already made his professional debut with Atlanta United FC affiliate, Charleston Battery, after becoming the Atlanta franchise’s first Homegrown Player signing when he put pen to paper in June.
The best-known name in the U.S. side is surely Timothy Weah, the son of the legendary George Weah. Young Weah plays his club football in the PSG system, having moved on from the New York Red Bulls Academy.
Weah scored twice for the U.S. as part of a 15-2 onslaught by the Americans over three games. The U.S. got four goals apiece from Carleton, Josh Sargent, Ayo Akinola, plus one from Rayshaun McGann, in addition to Weah’s brace.
Oddly, given the lopsided scorelines the U.S. did have some defending to do, thanks to a couple of slow starts. The Young Yanks even fell behind Turkey in the fourth minute of game two before storming back with a brace each from Carleton and Akinola.
In those tense early moments, keeper Justin Garces stood tall and the Miami native walked away with Goalkeeper of the Tournament for his efforts.
What all this means for the future of the men’s program will be learned at some point down the road. The next few years, 17 to 22, 23, can be troublesome in a player’s career and it will be worth watching to see how Carleton develops with Atlanta, Weah at PSG, and to see who else can emerge.
So, it will take some time, but for the time but for now John Hackworth’s talented youngsters have succeeded in bringing some badly needed hope to a U.S. MNT program badly in need of just that.